Studio Yuxin Wu
*is not an architectural office.     *constructs physical architectural ideas with independence from the physical construction of their realities.
`The Dream of the Metropolis: An Anthology

For the Love of Architecture

2020/21 M.Arch Architecture RIBA2

Teaching: Prof. Peter St John, with James Hand, Fabienne Sommer and Ben Speltz

London Metropolitan University, School of Art, Architecture and Design

In his Letter from Zurich written in 1988, the swiss architect Marcel Meili writes about the underlying characteristics of his home city, and the process of its urbanisation. He describes how the complex transformation of the city centre, from an area of industry to a financial centre, had resulted in interruptions and unresolved places in the middle of the city, situations that allowed modest or temporary places to survive, preliminary situations to flourish, and where fragile and precious social structures were protected, without having to conform with their surroundings. His dream of the metropolis is an ambiguous urban milieu of reality and myth, in which these diverse and contradictory worlds can coexist. The letter today sounds like an elegy to a more open city of a previous time, whose differences have since been ironed out and increasingly privatised, as they have been in London.

Meili’s letter describes what he calls the dream of this metropolis, an ambiguous urban milieu of history, reality and myth, in which these diverse and contradictory worlds are allowed to coexist. The letter about the dream was a manifesto for heightened reality growing out of the disturbed earth of the city. He contrasted these possibilities with what he saw as the terror of the boredom that he felt in the purified and carefully planned parts of the city. The letter today sounds like an elegy to a more open and mixed city of a previous time. The differences that he describes have since been filled in, ironed out and increasingly privatised in Zurich, as they have been in larger European cities such as Berlin and London. This loss of authenticity, difference and social expression is what we want to address. We want to look at architecture that supports the idea of metropolitan life, architecture that is separate from the staged and permanent buildings of the city, and is instead (as in the letter) immediate, short term, diverse, independent and public.

Making a Life:

Lehrstück for Everyday Life

In collaboration with Lucia Medina
Table serving set (after Josef Albers), 1:1 model, paper and card.

Bottle and wine openers (after Trix+Robert Haussmann), 1:1 model, paper and card.

(From left to right) Furniture in Cabaret del Diavolo, Rome; Eduardo Chillida Painting an oxido sculpture.

(From left to right) Florian Beigel Architects, 5th Block Jamsil, Seoul; Trix+Robert Hausmann, Möbelkollektion Manhattan Barschrank.

Dear Lucia,

I have been thinking of this pair of the bottle and wine openers in my mind, and I have been working on a 1:1 paper mock-up for a while.

The openers we find in our everyday life, functional to be used, however awkward in its form, always lying flat on the table, never stand up with pride. I think that’s very pity. In my mind, the two openers should be able to stand staidly on their own. They might be made in cork, the same material of wine stoppers, in solid prism shape, with decoration painted in black ink, just like the labels or texts sometimes appeared on the wine stopper. The metal parts are clipped or inserted in the cork. They are designed with more characters than usual, one is wider on the top than the bottom, like a face of a little devil, with a big mouth and two sharp teeth and altogether the screw in the other opener may be regarded as a black tail of the devil. They are lacquered in matt black to match the ink on the cork. The “evilness” in these objects is certainly very funny, however, embody a long hedonism theme in cafés and cabaret culture, one famous example might be Cabaret del Diavolo in Rome.

Although the geometry of these objects is rigid and almost perfect, it will be reformed by the touch of hand through time, very likely to be left with the press of a handprint by the servant or by many hands. The ink and lacquer may also wear out through the years. It is not just a beautiful object to look at, but also about use and time. I am thinking of an image of Eduardo Chillida painting an oxido sculpture, an object which you can hold, make and use with your own hands.

When I was working for Florian Beigel, I just turned 20, and it was my first architectural job. My first task in the office was to adjust a site model for a masterplan of high-rise towers in Seoul, Korea. The physical model is made in wood, in 1:2500 scale, each tower model is about 7cm tall and 1.5cm wide, I made a series of new towers and Florian looked at them for a while and was not happy with them. “The wood grain in your models is horizontal. However, you should remake them running vertical, so the towers can be visually slimmer and more elegant.” It was probably my first architectural lesson from Florian, and I still remember it firmly. In our profession, every gesture is very important, from a skyscraper in a high-profile land to a little scrap of wood you can hold in your palm. That’s probably explained why I designed those strips in vertical.

Trix and Robert Haussmann call their furniture and object pieces ‘Lehrstücke”, which means “didactic piece”, they are based on the reflections about “furniture as architectural quotes: In so doing, you applied quotes of Mannerist architectural forms to furniture design, while the functionality of the furniture circumvented their design formulation, questioned them or dealt with them ironically”. However, vary in scales, the microcosmic world speaks as loud as the actual architectural project. They can be manifestos, not commodities, not pieces of furniture in the classic sense.

In our case, with some imagination, I am thinking the openers are like infrastructures, a water tower and a signal station standing on an infinite open field. I designed a tablecloth at the very last minute, running in grids with light blue and orange stripes, one is slightly finer than the other. The field echoes with the pattens on the openers, more subtle and delightful, and giving space for those objects somehow to be free.

All the best,



Sink and water taps (after Salvador Dalí), 1:1 model, paper and card.
Ladle and weight scale (after Eileen Gray), 1:1 model, paper and card.

Since I was a child, I never dreamed flying with wings on my back. I can only dream with my feet on the ground. 

The gravity of my dreams is the matter of life.

Shopping baskets and doormat (after Josef Hoffmann), 1:1 model, paper and card, in collaboration with Lucia Medina.

Mirrors Displacement

A tribute to Trix+Robert Haussmann and some reflections from our current time.
Trix+Robert Haussmann, Da Capo Bar, Shopville, Zurich main railway station, 1979.

When Haussmann first arrived at the De Capo Bar, the site was a service mezzanine at the train station. The walls and ceiling were stripped and left bare. “The trace of the building is lost and the history is now a ghost”, they said. With the limited budget, Haussmann proposed a highly decorated internal space with painted faux marble arch and fake arch windows filled with mirrors. The “headstones” and “beams” were also indicated with the mirror to break the unity of the space and extend the visual width in a narrow internal space. In coincidence with the debate of the preservation of the train station in Zurich at the time, Haussmann gave their critical thinking on the matter of history and architectural preservation. Echoing the use of mirrors in Trix+ Robert Haussmann’s Da Capo Bar. The outcome of this study results in a series of physical drawings on mirrors. Each mirror drawing was engraved by hand with a diamond tile drill.

Mirror Displacement I, 90x60cm, hand engraving on mirror.

Mirror Displacement I, 90x60cm, hand engraving on mirror.

Mirror Displacement III, 90x60cm, hand engraving on mirror.

Click on the thumbnail to watch the video.

“The idea of drawing on the mirror, to make a ghost-like disembodied representation over the more vivid life of the real reflections, translates the De Capo’s use of  mirror to break the unity of the interior. But the displacement frees it from the source too, and gives the project a life of its own. Like all good things, it works at several levels. The lightness of the mirror makes it elegant and glamorous, while also undercutting these qualities with something that is mysterious, ambiguous and drawing in the real.”

- Peter St John

I Want to Be Close to You

Design intervention for a pair of shop fronts in Shoreditch, London.
I WANT TO BE CLOSE TO YOU, I-IV, charcoal on newsprint paper, 80x45 cm

“When I was looking back at you, you closed your eyes and your face blushed.”

I WANT TO BE CLOSE TO YOU, V-VIII, gouache on newsprint paper, 80x45 cm.

Urban Duality: Reflection and Inflection

Design intervention for a café and grocery shop in Shoreditch, London.

In collaboration with Lucia Medina.

Site Situation, Arnold Circus and Boundary Estate.

“Inflection in architecture is the way in which the whole is implied by exploiting the nature of the individual parts, rather than their position or number. By inflecting toward something outside themselves, the parts contain their own linkage: inflected parts are more integral with the whole than are uninflected parts. Inflection is a means of distinguishing diverse parts while implying continuity. It involves the art of the fragment. The valid fragment is economical because it implies richness and meaning beyond itself.” 

-Robert Venturi, The Obligation Toward the Difficult Whole in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 1966.

Grocery, street front, 1:10 model, paper and card
Café, street front, 1:10 model, paper and card.

Grocery, front window looking out, 1:10 model, paper and card.
Café, front window looking out, 1:10 model, paper and card.

Grocery, long section, 1:10 model, paper and card.

Café, long section, 1:10 model, paper and card.

Grocery, looking from the back room, 1:10 model, paper and card.
Café, looking from the back kitchen, 1:10 model, paper and card.

Click on the thumbnail to watch the video.

“An understanding of the interior was built up first with objects. Every corner and moment of the interior was a still life of the beautiful everyday. In parallel with this fragmentary representation, was the ambition to play with and work against the integrity and complacency of the planned estate and the existing solid-edged interior. Mirrors and illusionistic painting fragment around the corners and junctions, creating moments of expanded or slipped reality, undermining the solidity of the existing walls and creating a more dreamlike atmosphere, independent of reality. The project was a tour de force of ideas, ambitions, and hard work.” 

- Peter St John

A Real Living Contact with the Things Themselves

Learning from Schinkel and Lenné, Study of Klein-Glienicke Palace and Park, Potsdam.

In the 17th century, Schinkel and Lenné were commissioned by Prince Frederick to design the master plan in Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. They decided to keep the existing farmhouse and agricultural infrastructures on site. 

Schinkel’s proposal bridges old and new, transforming mundane farmhouses into palaces for leisure and entertainment, with the prospect of new technology and vivid city life coming in trend.

The existing agricultural layout implies the art of fragmentation, each patch of land with a distinct landscape feature was guarded by individual buildings with autonomy. The complexity of this organisation was preserved and celebrated in Schinkel and Lenné’s design and united by the serpentine pathways throughout the park.
Map of Klein-Glienicke Palace and Park.

Nature / Human Nature

“The original nature is being ruined. The flora is simplified and vulgarised, the fauna is almost extinct. There are hills where the grass is worn off entirely, so that it most of all resembles a landscape with barren, sandy slopes. Everybody who walks there has some object or other, something to do, either kicking at a ball or diving into a lake or flying a kite and thereby keeps his own nature pure and unspoiled. He is not moved by second hand emotions, he does not love the place because it reminds him of something which he knows is considered refined and civilised. We have in the middle of the great city an instance of the right preservation of Nature - the human nature.”

- Steen Eiler Rasmussen, LONDON: the unique city, 1934

Burgess Park, London

After studying the Klein-Glienicke Palace and Park in Potsdam designed by Schinkel and Lenné, their idea was later translated into the landscape design for Burgess Park in London. To reinterpret the historical informal layout of farmhouses in the 17th century Potsdam, the design proposed a multi-programmed urban park, engaging with the full circle of ecology and economy, including farming and agricultural production of foods, sports and education facilities and a recycling plant dealing with the afterlife of our daily wastes.

Linocut printed with Chinese seal paste and printing ink on paper, 30x40 cm.

Open Body Land In Stacy Alaimo’s queer ecologies theory, she examined Andre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, where Lorde blamed her breast cancer on the interconnection between body and environment. Addressing her cancer would probably be the result of daily consumption of chemical by-products, animal fat, radiation, air pollution, etc, Lorde investigated the transformation of the materiality inside one’s body where the interior of the body can be regarded as a trans-corporeal environment spontaneously interchanging with the land we live in. Lorde’s body-practice recalls the conception of “ecological body” in 19th century America. The settlers at California would predict the pollution and toxins in the fields when they were sick by taking the substance from the air, water and soil, etc. The workers read their bodies as a kind of instrument whose limits and illness measured the heath of the land. Their knowledge emerged not from official discourses but embodied experience. From the quality of soil, water and air to the animal and human life, fulfil the gap and suggest no separation between the study of human body and non-human environment.

This idea of Body-Land can be traced back to the haruspicy ritual from ancient Rome. At the time, a haruspex was a person trained to practice a form of divination, the inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals, especially the livers of sacrificed sheep and poultry. This form of Roman divination allowed humans to discern the attitudes of the gods and react in a way that would maintain harmony between the human and divine worlds. In an act of cosmos, this is one of the earliest ritual in human history that the body was connected with the fortune of the city. In a dialectic relationship between human and the animal we breed on the earth, in both iconographic and systematic metaphor, there was something special and mystical between animal’s body and the land we live in. 

Haruspex model of a park, clay, approx 60x100cm.
Haruspex model of a park, clay, individual pieces in the size of two hands.

(Left) Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas; (right) Haruspex cast in bronze.

The model is a tribute to this primitive ritual. Hand built in clay, reading and touching the textures of entrails were mimed in the intimate act of forming the clay with hands. In a proximate size of an organ, individual fragments can be hold by two palms. A plate of clay equals a piece of city, and the weight of organ and the weight of earth felt and measured almost same in our hands.

Haruspex model of a park, clay, approx 60x100cm

In Georges Didi-Huberman’s book Ouvrir Venus, Didi-Huberman studied Botticelli’s set of pantings on the story of the knight of Ravenna, known as Nastagio degli Onesti. Didi-Huberman pointed up the thematic correspondences between the scene where a young solider cuts open a beautiful vulnerable female body, clearly modelled on Botticelli’s Venus type.

However, Didi-Huberman suggested another source of the image of body, an anatomised statue, known as the Venus of the Medici by Clemente Susini. Medici in Italian means doctor. Similarly, in an art historical operation, Didi-Huberman revealed a different body of Venus, not the perfect and idealised one that conventional art history has swooned over, but a darker and less known body of Florence.

Botticelli, Nastagio degli Onesti.

Haruspex model of a park, clay, approx 60x100cm.

The ugly reality of Venus’s interior fascinated the Marquis de Sade. Stopping off on his Italian travels at the Museum of the History of Science, in Florence, he cast a cruel and measured eye over the instruments of medical dissection on display, not forgetting the Venus of the physicians. This, as Didi-Huberman notes, was the Florence of the anatomists and obstetricians, not the composers of romantic poetry nor the frequenters of renaissance pageants. We are a long way from the light and sun of Medici art and closer to the dark side of the city of Florence.

It is interesting to see different reactions and comments on my work from audience. While at the crit, from a professional aspect, architects tend to relate the geometry of fragments with the form of islands, archipelago and enclaves, perhaps once similar in the eyes of O.M Ungers and Rem Koolhaas.

(Above) Botticelli, Venus and Mars; (below) Clemente Susini, Venus of the Medici.

Haruspex model of a park, clay, approx 60x100cm.
It is true that following the way how the story was told throughout the history, it is natural for us to relate the idea of city with light, air and greenery, far from its hidden dark side. However, this project is trying to do something else, in a real contact with the land itself, an alternative way to tell the story in a full aspect. 

(Left) Screenshot of text messages with Fabienne Sommer; (right) Clemente Susini, Venus of the Medici.

Like the image of Venus, flora and fauna are symbolically connected with the beauty of goddess’ body. Anatomisation and cruelty are unquestionably depicted in Botticelli’s art, this has rarely been confronted in the literature of art history. The duality of the body is the metaphor for the tale of two cities, the ugly interior of the body as the dark reality of the metropolitan life.

Haruspex model of a park, clay, approx 60x100cm.

In discussion the nature of architectural design, Gaston Bachelard once said in The Poetic of Space, “We cover the universe with drawings we have lived.”

Among all the drawings we have lived, first of all, it is the image of our own body. 

And there is no image of the body without the opening of its own imagination.

Click on the thumbnail to watch the video.

Wasted Ideas on Waste Land

“Pieter Brueghel’s painting Kinderspelen shows many different kinds of play. Most can be classified in either of two ways. You can see people performing with one another, body games, like in these details. Or you shall see people using tools or instruments, stick-bats and balls, dice, masks, hoops, etc. But the artist does include one activity which is a bit different from the others. A child leans over a large pile of shit. What game narrative is served here? Shit is unusual. It is natural part of the organic pre-technological world, at the same time: man-made. You can even say it is the first man-made product, and it is not without its uses or its charms. One of its uses is to embody these paradoxes of production and waste, use and lack of using, inside and outside. Brueghel was surly aware of these symbolic aspects. The position of this child and the pile of shit can be no accidental of the composition. The drawing is a dramatic exercise in perspective, it stretches all the way up as far as it takes at the top of the canvas. So, among all the objects and activities featured, the pile of shit positioned at the very bottom centre of the canvas, reads as virtually the closest thing to us, literally foregrounded. Perhaps Brueghel had it exactly right, all the way we invented to make the time pass, surely it is something unique in our sensation with our own waste. ”

- Seth Price, 2017, “Lecture on Waste, Guggenheim New York” in Redistribution

“In reading The Waste Land we should take the title of the poem literally as well as figuratively. With Eliot’s keen eye for surroundings and landscapes, he is both writing about a barren, postwar land that is marked by pollutants, vulnerable to smog, littered with trash, and in a sense , dying, while he is inviting us to understand this bleak setting and ecology as offering symbolic and metaphorical commentary on our own wasted (and wasteful) existences.”

- Gabrielle McIntire, 2015, The Waste Land as Ecocritique in The Cambridge Companion to The Waste Land

“We should develop, I think, a much more terrifying new abstract materialism. Kind of a mathematical universe, there is nothing, just formulas, technical forms and so on. The difficult thing is to find poetry, spirituality in this dimension. To recreate, if not beauty, then aesthetic dimension in things like this - trash itself. That is the true love of the world. Because what is love - love is not idealisation, … love means you accept a person, … you see perfection in imperfection itself. That’s how we should see the world. A true ecologist loves all this (Žižek points at trash). ”

- Slavoj Žižek, 2008, Examined Life: Philosophy is in the Streets

In The Gleaners and I, Varda turned her mini DV-camera on an old practice, foraging for wheat left after the harvest, to create a portrait of modern day “gleaners” as in Millet’s painting, those hungry people who live on the leftovers the rest of us have discarded, and those, like herself, who create art of the images and materials they collect. “Gleaning itself is not known - is forgotten. The word is passé. So I was intrigued, by these people in the street picking food. And then I thought, what’s happening to the fields of wheat? Nothing is left in the fields of wheat. So I went to the potatoes, (a vast pile of produce deemed too misshapen to appeal to consumers), and I found these heart-shaped potatoes, and it made me feel good. Made me feel that I was on the right track.”

- Agnès Varda, 2000, The Gleaners and I

Rubbish Love Palace Recycling plant at the edge of a metropolitan park with public terrace connected by escalators. A palace for rubbish, for love, for loving rubbish and for rubbish love.

Network Fever

The Weight of Feet

“We are talking about junk, remnants, their valuation - like Walter Benjamin discussing the valuation of vestiges at the feet of Klee’s angel - is given not from the fact that these relics seems ‘precious’ in view of some ideal construction, but from the fact that they are traces of something that has lives.”

Smiljan Radić, Fragile Fortune in Rough Work, Santiago: Ediciones Puro Chile, 2017.

A Crush on the Escalator

I am going to design an escalator next to a rubbish conveyor. A pile of rubbish will crush down towards you while you are going up for a fancy cocktail on the terrace.

It is like a crush in love. Isn’t it?

(Left) Escalators at Norman Foster’s Hong Kong HSBC building; (Right) Rubbish conveyors in recycling plant.

Wheelie Walls
Move on wheels just like wheelie bins in front of your house. I must admit they look surprisingly good in translucent white and 10-metre height.

Canary Summer Rotunda Temporary theatre hosting seasonal festivals.

The recycling plant and the summer theatre come as a pair, twins, literally like ‘doppelgängers’ in Charles Dickens’ stories. 

Architecturally, they are extremely monumental, and at the same time very temporary, almost ephemeral. 

Like a bird, trying to fly away.

Water Sports Loggia Public lounge and facilities for outdoor lido and viewing balcony.

Horizontal concrete boxes embrace me from behind. So I stretch my arms and embrace the lake.

“Did you see the red canoe?”

“Like the one in Peter Doig’s painting? It is floating towards me.”

Chame-Chame City Farm Culture and cultivation programmes with homes for our common equals in the city.

Definition of “Chame” on edited by user “Bad Situation” on Nov 28, 2010.
Lina Bo Bardi, Chame-Chame House, Salvador de Bahía

Tea House and Pee House Since the 1950s, parks became popular cruising grounds in metropolitan cities like London and New York. The public toilets where intimate activities were performed were known with the nickname of “Tearoom”. The design of Tea House and Pee House is a commentary on the less known history of love and desire in the city parks.

“A simple explanation can be given through the example of language. Humanity, thinking analytically, gives names to distinct components, thus inventing articulate language, a vehicle of information. A dog’s language is not articulate; it does not use ‘names" for things. It is not a vehicle of information. It is emotional, perhaps even poetic.”

-Yona Friedman, Interpretation of the city in Pro Domo, 1958

Less of a Venturi’s decorated shed, more of a Warhol’s decorated penis.

On a sunny summer afternoon, I took a walk in my local park and saw the wide flowers blooming all over the grass, like a sea of stars. This beautiful project of Venturi and Scott Brown immediately came to my mind, the showroom for BEST Company in Pennsylvania. The flower imprint has a clear connection to Andy Warhol’s flower print serise. However, the use of flower patterns first became Andy’s interest in his early line-drawing of body parts, where he decorated the penis with floral and heart-shaped patterns and tied it with a big bow, like a figure wearing an embroidered negligee dress. Playing almost against the ritual of “tattooing”: a declaration of property owned by its subject, the feminine ornamentation disassociate the image from its original masculine subject. Like Warhol’s drawing, the design of Tea House starting with a direct exotic form, a series of transformations disassociate the house from its masculine "name". Ornamentation sometimes can be regarded as a breathless bandage play in the field of contemporary architecture, however, it can also be a path towards liberation and joy of life.

Spine Cell Tower and Green Hills Gymnasium Two gymnasium pavilions mimic the viewing hill nearby, cladded with the translucent green panels and mesh screen for climbing plants. A cell tower providing Internet and signals for the region stands on the top the viewing hill. The structure is inspired by the spine, bending and swinging with the wind. Standing as the tallest structure in the park, the height is comparable with the growing skyline at the background.

If we never get chance to meet again; in front of my phone and screens, texts, images, sounds are the only pathways, 

I would like to think it is the wind delivered those messages. 

Sometimes the connection is unstable, for true or some excuses, perhaps just clouds get in the way.

Clouds Get in the Way

An ecological understanding allows us to identify “things” - rain, cloud, river at the same time that it reminds us that these identities are fluid.

Even mountains erode, and the ground below us moves in giant plates.

It reminds us that - while it’s useful to have a word for that thing called a cloud, 

when we really get down to it, all we can really point to is a series of flows and relationships that sometimes intersect and hold together long enough

to be a “cloud”.

- Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing

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