24.5.2022

Shrine of Everyman

The client wanted to take advantage of the excellent view of the pump house on the river to transform what was once a farm infrastructure, but is now abandoned, into a rest stop for visitors.

“There is something you need to hear …” — Robert Macfarlane 《Underland》

However, I did not want to turn the pump house into a structure that the architects manipulated for form but had no connection with the users and the local area.

One of the key charms of traditional Chinese culture is that everyday places can be elevated into sacred spaces through the construction of shared memories. That’s when the chocolate came to my mind. Milk chocolate, reinvented by Shanghai’s food industry (including the predecessor of Bright Food (Group)) during a time of material scarcity, was a boon to the Chinese people of that period and was once an integral part of Shanghai’s culinary memory. I decided to use milk chocolate as the theme of the pump room to awaken the memories of ordinary people who were temporarily forgotten because of the great material abundance, while still enjoying life, thus turning an abandoned facility into a sacred space for ordinary people – Shrine of Everyman.

I designed a brown semi-circular pool suspended above the river as a base to separate the pump house from the surrounding daily landscape, which symbolizes chocolate. The old pump house was replaced with a new structure of 13 layers of translucent polycarbonate panels standing on the water, symbolizing milk. Using my daughter’s favorite motif, “cloud”, as a symbol, the layers of polycarbonate panels form jagged doorways and overlapping silhouettes to rewrite the flat experience of the landscape as well as provoke conversations and inspirations.

The base of the pump house is cantilevered from the rectangular semi-basement to a maximum distance of 4.6 m. The structural engineers used beam overhangs near the basement and thin slab overhangs up to 2.5 m from the pool. This allows the new pump house to be visually prominent in the surrounding landscape by achieving a floating effect, both from the perspective of the road and from the water surface. The new pump house in the center of the pond is realized by a horizontal 9.6m span with a minimum structural scale of 85mm steel beams and 60mm steel columns. The Shrine of Everyman was created through the connection of thin steel-sheet-roof, framed by light and translucent polycarbonate “cloud-doors”.

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It is the translucent uncertainty and the pools that isolate the landscape that create the sacredness of the place. And it was reinforced by the experience of walking through the straight path into the pump room. You walk into Shrine of Everyman as if you are walking into a shrine shaped by the shared memories of ordinary people. Inside, you can look into the distance and see a beautiful earthly landscape that was reclaimed by countless ordinary people. You know that everyday miracles are actually done by ordinary people.

“You are absolutely completely in void, like being in outer space… You get to the point where there is no God, no past, no future, just now and the next millisecond.” — Robert Macfarlane 《Underland》

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