Wulumuqi Road Apartment
Friday 17 May 2013


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In the re-design of this top-floor apartment, the original flat roof was partially demolished to give way to an attic addition.  This attic took reference from the vernacular form of the dormer window found in the neighborhood.  The triangular form of the dormer window roof served as an archetypal form that was rigorously applied to this project - with all of its implications of structure, envelope and geometry.

On a formal level, the triangulation of the added roof plane - necessary in a dormer window in order to bring daylight into the attic - was extrapolated to give shape to the ceilings, walls and new staircase.  Indirect artificial lighting was achieved by concealing lights along the edges of overlapping triangles that made up the walls and ceilings.  The staircase took on a similar form, where each tread and baluster was separately articulated to mark the culmination of these graduating and transformative triangle surfaces.

On the programmatic level, the new continuous form not only gave rise to the fluid expression of the staircase, but it also gave an organisational logic to other needs of the apartment, such as roof level access to a small outdoor roof patio, as well as a passively cooled interior activated by the double height space.  The rest of the apartment was kept relatively simple, where the existing industrial steel windows, wooden flooring and white plaster walls were retained, in anticipation of the unfolding elements from above.

This project sets out to blend into its surrounding by adopting the city's policy of generating more pitched roof housing with civic character.  Without being embroiled in an aesthetic debate of what constitutes a more contemporary language of architecture, this project took the pitched red-clad tiled roof as the Shanghai 1930s modern vernacular, and reconstructed a new narrative around this genealogy.

The construction of the new attic roof was done with recycled red clay tiles, bricks and timber beams from demolished buildings in the vicinity, and a local builder was hired to build with traditional methods.  Apart from visually connecting to the 1930s modern heritage of Shanghai, this project taps more deeply to the socio-economic roots of its surroundings by searching out the material and labour discarded in the name of progress in a city undergoing rapid demolition and transformation.  The recycling of building materials and retention of original architecture also minimized the carbon footprint of the project. 

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