From retail to museums, Wutopia Lab’s wide-ranging portfolio is unified by an ethos of play: an approach the Shanghai firm refers to as magical realism. Though perhaps best known for its inventive bookstore designs, which have turned the typology on its head, the studio takes a similarly imaginative approach to its cultural projects, the latest of which have been dubbed Klein Blue Hills and White Cliffs. Completed in October 2023, the two structures bring new life to a former stockyard in Shanghai.

Klein Blue Hills and White Cliffs by Wutopia Lab at night

Hemmed in by conventional-looking industrial buildings, the cultural hub immediately stands out from its surroundings, its red concrete flooring spilling out into the street as if to welcome the public inside. Past the “red carpet,” visitors are then met with White Cliffs, a poetic, tent-like pavilion that appears to levitate atop a circular reflection pool (in reality, it is accessed via a subtly raised pathway).

Pavilion with translucent white PVC curtain wall draped over a solid volume

Its translucent PVC fabric curtain wall is draped overtop a solid geometric volume, opening to reveal a whisky bar inside. Lit from within, it emits an ethereal evening glow, amplifying the façade’s transparency. While the exterior is assertive in its minimalism, the interior makes a bold statement with a graphic flooring pattern that recalls a tiger’s stripes.

Couple dances in a white room with tiger print flooring

Behind White Cliffs, an original smokestack offers a window into the site’s industrial past. At first glance, it appears unchanged. Inside, however, it has been converted into a cigar lounge, at the suggestion of Wutopia Lab co-founder and architect Yu Ting himself.

Klein Blue Hills as seen from outside

But it is Klein Blue Hills that is the complex’s true piece de resistance. Originally conceived as a restaurant, the space was ultimately left vacant making it an ideal multi-use space that can also host performances. Rising 15 metres tall, the monumental structure features an undulating roof that echoes that of White Cliffs, this time clad in vibrant blue aluminum panels, envisioned as a shiny armour that contrasts the softness of the building’s forms. Visible through the glazed southern elevation which faces the square, the all-white interior offers a stark contrast to the colourful shell, keeping the focus on the architecture.  

Open concept performance space with undulating ceiling
Open concept performance space with undulating ceiling

In order for the material to conform to the curves of the wave-like roof, structure and curtain wall consultant FLO suggested the modules be laid in a fish scale pattern. When given the choice between a brushed and frosted surface finish, Ting selected the latter.

Klein Blue Hills and White Cliffs by Wutopia Lab as seen from above

“When raindrops lingered on the misty curtain wall surface, creating an unreal illusion, the people on site understood why I didn’t choose the brushed surface,” he recalls. The façade’s colour was also a poignant choice — an eastern symbol of vitality to honour his wife, who was battling illness at the time of the project’s conception (and also the signature colour of French artist Yves Klein, for whom the building is named). “I conceived the plot through symbols, metaphors, mythology, charms, history, and spontaneous ideas,” Ting explains.

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