While renovating this 543-sq-m historical house in central Shanghai, local studio Wutopia Lab was not allowed to alter building code-protected elements. Originally, the house sheltered six families in a labyrinthine layout, but the architects could not touch the original façade, structure, room function, old trees, mosaic tiles or wooden floors. So instead of modifying form or space, Wutopia used colour and texture to 'trace' the underlying architecture, reshaping the house into 'a secret place', a home that now includes a home office, courtyard and small private gallery.

To establish a strong relationship between new and old through contradictions and harmonies, the architects limited themselves to various subtle textures and tones, constantly modulating shades of grey and highlighting contrasts between black and white, dark and light, throughout. In fact, the Hypocam House, as it was dubbed, exhibits both the graininess of old black-and-white film and the smooth gloss and geometries of the avant-garde. Their choice of materials and colours generate layers of time and memory.

The second-floor office area represents the greatest contrast with its glossy black wall skirt and refurbished antique white walls, while the three-level private areas are rendered in a middle-grey with black and white terrazzo and coarse grey stucco paired with dark antique wood furniture. The meditation room, in grey, is bathed in mellowed light. 

The team considered the courtyard, concrete façade and interiors as a single, unfurling fabric. Old black-and-white tiles continue from the stoop outside through the front door and into the hallway. In the courtyard, they inserted dark inky materials, mixing matte, glossy and black marble and dark grey gravel, to highlight three existing trees. On three sides, a brass grille screen overlays the original wall, changing the atmosphere of this entrance zone.


Just inside, the small first floor gallery serves as a counterpoint, or counterpart, to the courtyard. Its three small rooms feature a continuous 2-m-high black ash wood wall skirt in three textures: abutting hemispherical or triangular dowels and fields of silver-grey or black tiles bearing a lozenge-shaped relief. Each texture distinguishes the house's social, exhibition or living space.

By removing unneeded interior and patio doors and partition walls, sightlines and light flow through and connect the rooms. Eight arched doorways with gold trim and Yves Klein-blue glass walls also connect once discrete spaces. As they pass deeper into the house, the dimming light also slightly distorts the scale of the space to create a mysterious azure labyrinth – a modern one this time.