Chaos Space This project deals with issues of the natural and unnatural, of reality and simulacra. The clients had previously engaged SKEW Collaborative to masterplan and design a series of arts related homestays at an emptied-out village sited in Tonglu, Zhejiang. The desire by urbanites to leave the city – in search of wellness, of respite, of nature – has given rise to an industry aimed towards packaging “authentic” rural experiences for consumption, and which is driven by government policies and a growing urban middle class. The clients presented SKEW with a new provocation for this space that is sited within the dense urban centre of Shanghai – what if, instead of bringing people to the countryside for the consumption of rural culture, we recreate a “productive”, “rural” space within the most banal urban typology: the office tower? The “Transformer” From the beginning, it was recognized that it is neither realistic, nor desirable, to replicate a rural farm. Instead, the provocation led the designers and clients to rethink forms and programmes to be deployed in the project, dubbed Chaos Space. “Production” is not literally farming, but the creation of new experiences through the arts, workshops and other activities. The limited space needed to be reconfigurable, with as little permanent walls as possible. It needed to host pottery workshops, lectures, and function as co-working spaces for creatives. To that end, SKEW Collaborative designed an open office plan dominated by a large donut shaped “transformer” in the middle. This room-sized furniture installation comprises fixed and operable walls that can alter the interior parti and spaces to suit various activities. The walls provide multiple functions – large LED screens, shelving, partitioning, and seating. The “transformer” also touches on the questions of the natural and unnatural, the real and simulacra. When closed, the walls enclose a small indoor garden, reflected indefinitely by the mirrored walls and ceiling. An LED screen projects a live feed from the Tonglu village, adding to the urban-rural/real-unreal readings produced by the “transformer”. SKEW Collaborative also borrowed from the much-used strategies of traditional Chinese landscapes, albeit eschewing its forms – the viewing portals create multiple frames and depth of space, “borrowing” the [artificial] landscapes (借景) found within. Views are multiplied, reflected, distorted. Chinese gardens also often deploy artificial means to recreate miniaturized “landscapes” with complex interplay between the man-made and natural. These gardens, resolutely sited within urban centres, aimed to produce the countryside within their walls. Here, the angles are unequivocably man-made, but recall the organic forms of scholar stones and rock gardens without resorting to the kitschy reproduction of its language. For SKEW Collaborative, the “transformer” is a site of discourse between natural/unnatural/real/simulacra born of the initial provocation of transplanting the rural into the urban. If Palladio’s villas represent ideological sites that mask social, economic and political relationships between the two within the pastoral landscape of 16th century Veneto, Chaos Space is instead a site that speaks to an even more complicated rural-urban topos in 21st century China by raising questions of what is authentic. It is therefore even more poignant that the inaugural exhibition of Chaos Space – “Beyond Garden” deals explicitly with this theme.