Minimal Relaxation is a temporary canopy and landscape installation at the MoCA Shanghai - designed, fabricated, and installed by a team of USC Architecture students. The project is the result of an intensive summer studio co-led by Neil Leach, Wendy W. Fok, and Alvin Huang.
The design of this temporary installation reinterprets the traditional Chinese garden to activate the roof terrace of the MoCA Shanghai as an undulating and responsive multi-layered landscape. The upper (canopy) layer simultaneously produces gradient spatial conditions and framed viewing portals which curate views of the surrounding hi-rise towers, while the lower (landscape) layer articulates a series of back-lit sculptural ground forms which subdivide the terrace and provide atmospheric effect through responsive color-changing LED lighting effects. Inspired by the work of Frei Otto, the entire project extends his body of design research into physical and digital form-finding processes for minimal surface structures through dynamic mesh relaxation techniques.
The canopy examines the potential of gravity forces and internal tensions to derive geometry by relaxing a tensioned net, in which every web member reveals its load path to express its funicular form in multiple dimensions. It is further articulated by a series of carefully calibrated apertures, each oriented to frame a specific view out of the roof terrace to frame a selected tower in the surrounding skyline. Each aperture responds to a corresponding landscape feature which swells out of the ground plane of the roof terrace.
The flowing membrane of the landscape, in close relation with the hanging net, gives a new character to the terrace. The landscape consists of a fractal forms divided into the grid-like geometry from the net above. This forces the eye to fill in the voids creating a fluid geometry. The four sides and the base are intentionally flat and matte to show the clear division but the sixth face is where the form finding properties of the shrink wrap are revealed. The different edge conditions of the four sides of each box create a unique geometry on its sixth and most visible face, when seen as its whole, creates a fluid and undulating surface.
The combination of the spatial acrobatics of the canopy in confluence with the emergent landscape swelling out of the ground plane creates a series of gradient spatial conditions which articulates the continuous roof terrace space into series of relaxation zones, each focused on a curated view of the surrounding skyline. The final installation was realized through a series of tensioned net structures to articulate an undulating roof canopy and a series of shrink-wrapped plastic skins which articulate a generative landscape. The undulating landscape is embedded with color-changing LED's connected to motion sensors, with color changing responses to express intensities of occupation. The highly successful installation activated the previously under-utilized roof terrace into a popular summer evening destination, while also serving as highly visible civic landmark viewable from surrounding high-rise towers.
Faculty: Neil Leach (USC / AAC Program Director), Wendy W. Fok (Uni.Houston / atelier//studio WF), Alvin Huang (USC / Synthesis Design + Architecture)
Students: Ethan Barley, Chi Bhatia, Gabby Gertel, Ty Harrison (Canopy Team Leader), Luya He, Justin Kang (Landscape Team Leader), Michelle Kraintz, Xiaoyun Li, Xinyue (Amber) Ma, Arjun Mahesh, Xiaojin Mi, Nicole Stitzel, Yimeng Wang, Sahar Youdai, Chaoxun Zhang
Photography: Wandile Kraai