Less is more, says a Chinese studio who transformed a 1960s warehouse into a striking photography hub

Beijing – Photography and film lovers in Beijing have renowned Chinese photographer Liu Zongyuan to thank for Utter Space, a new cultural hub. Zongyuan sought out the help of CUN Design to bring his vision to life – a 1000-m2 space to celebrate, showcase and produce photography and film. The striking hybrid space, a transformed 1960s warehouse, integrates work, exhibition and activity functionalities. Utter Space is the product of an iterative design process – the designers achieved their ends by collaborating with the architecture instead of imposing upon it.

During a two-week demolition period, CUN Design stripped down additions that had been made to the warehouse interior to reveal the original architectural form. In uncovering the cement walls and removing exterior windows, the team found that the existing structure had considerable historical character and natural light streams to work with. As a result, their mission became to revive the space rather than build over it – chief designer Cui Shu spent some weeks considering how to reimagine the outcome, after the interior had been properly restored.

‘Sometimes design succeeds in thinking instead of intervening,’ explains Shu. ‘Shede is word in Chinese wisdom which means that you can only get rid of some greed to get unexpected results,’ Shu continues, noting the importance of being considerate in such interventions. ‘Translated to a western design language, it may be equivalent to "less is more”.’

That notion holds up true, judging by the end result. Shu and his team studied the warehouse’s linear skeleton to manifest the futuristic interior, manipulating the established forms and materials instead of utilizing new ones. The visual weight of the expansive concrete surfaces leaves an impact from the lobby to the auxiliary areas. ‘We first set up an empty space with two moving lines according to the moving lines of reception, filming, backstage work, and exhibition,’ says Shu, ‘one of which belongs to the plane line and the other to the vertical line of elevation.’ Looped, closed and linked without crossing, these lines establish division for each need required from the space. The second and third floors were treated with the same solution.

As for the decoration, Shu reiterates the project’s ethos – ‘I chose to exercise extreme restraint and let the most primitive architectural scales and material relationships be the performers,’ he explains. Lighting, both natural and artificial, plays an essential role in the building just as in a perfectly framed image.


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