Cloudscape is the "Best Ideas and Creative Work" award winning project of The 5th China International Architectural Biennial 2013.
Cloudscape is a digital garden, a biological/synthetic interface that traces human perception of nature and frames our complicated relationship with our environment. Our proposal fabricates a mountain landscape, leading visitors up a constructed hill and into a cloudscape of automated lighting and artificial elements, that convey an ostensibly tranquil sanctuary from the outside. Once inside the cloud, however, visitors encounter a disquieting visual/auditory sensorium that suggests our control of nature is anything but secure.
Cloudscape is a contemporary adaptation alluding to traditional Chinese landscape paintings, where solitude and refuge from the chaotic world were sought in nature. During the day, visitors will walk up a faceted mound underneath a large fabric inflatable filled with air by fans and supported on thin columns. Along the ascent into the cloud, visitors pass a diverse variety of vegetation that take advantage of the local microclimate, rising toward the apex immersed in mist while being surrounded by a combination of nature-related news, poetry, and realtime comments from Chinese social media sources. Upon reaching the peak visitors encounter a kaleidoscopic well, which depicts nature’s destructive strength using an LED display and mirrors. At night, lighting emerges throughout the garden and cloud, averaging the color of the well’s visual content, oscillating in brightness with the varying intensities of audible media content.
Cloudscape is composed of four primary parts: compacted dirt with grasses, steel columns and tension cables, fabric inflatable, and mechanical irrigation and electrical systems. First, slender columns with helical pier foundations are installed, reaching 12 meters in height and connected by cables. Gabion retaining walls are installed. Dirt is then brought in, compacted, and sculpted to create the general form, followed by top soil for plantings and detailed form, and then a layer of geotextile to prevent erosion. The galvanized tension cables are then lowered and the inflatable is connected to the cables. In unison, the cables are tensioned, raising the inflatable. After the cloud is aloft, final landscaping can begin; electrical wires and irrigation systems are laid throughout the garden, topsoil is laid, and grasses are planted. Gravel is laid for walkways, followed by benches, speakers, lighting, and misting nozzles. After all of the systems are in place, misting will irrigate the plants and will require some maintenance during the exhibition. A computer will filter nature-related social media content and news feeds using textual analysis and will conduct text-to-speech translations for the speakers throughout the site, available in both Chinese and English. This information will also trigger light displays at night in the cloud and garden. Cloudscape is a zero-waste exhibit. Following the exhibition, all steel components will be recycled. The inflatable, which was selected to create a maximum spatial effect with minimal material and expense, would be transformed into raingear and bags. The plantings, grown for two months, would be transplanted to other parks around Beijing, and the gabion retaining walls can be reused in other projects.
Cloudscape explores our search for “harmonious” nature and the impacts human society creates in the Anthropocene. To challenge visitors’ views on the effects we have on the environment, we propose blurring layers of biological plants and synthetic systems that support them, weaving native grasses and mechanical lines into a synthetic cyborg landscape. Data, through lights and sound, create an engaging and informative space that can help us explore our impacts in an iconic, phenomenological way. As a result, we believe visitors will enjoy hearing the conversations occurring in China about the environment in realtime as much as being immersed in mist and experiencing the large and iconic form of the fabric cloudscape.