siu siu – Lab of Primitive Senses is an experimental project, which in the architect’s words, “explores the environmental transition between urban space and natural forest”. The space was created by Divooe Zein Architects, a Taiwan-based design firm that believes in the importance of nature. Their director and founder, Divooe Zein, views architecture as a medium that can be used to connect nature and humans. Divooe’s ability to retain the essential functionalities necessary for future occupants while making use of the surrounding environmental influences reveals his designs for what they are – not just mere architectural projects, but thoughtful explorations into the complex relationship between man and nature. The majority of their cases involve unique geographical challenges, such as the project site being located on a small outlying island or deep in the mountains. But these difficulties are easily overcome by the team, as the core of their designs is said to be sourced from the “energy of the land”. While in Taipei recently, I was invited to stop by and spend an afternoon at the Lab of Primitive Senses.
Despite the address being listed as in Taipei’s Shilin District, an area most known for the raucous Shilin night market, siu siu is actually quite out of the way and well hidden. On the commute there, Taipei’s familiar cityscape and disarray of colors started to fade away until only trees and lush shades of green filled the view outside the car window. Cars and scooters began to appear less and less on the road. Google Maps indicated I had arrived as the driver turned off the main road and began to drive up a path adorned with Taiwanese Aboriginal totems. A short distance later, a formidable boulder forced the car to an abrupt stop – it appeared that the rest of the way can only be traveled by foot. I stepped out the car into the sticky humidity and began the walk; even though it wasn’t officially summer yet, the unrelenting Taipei heat was already in full effect. The sound of countless cicadas filled the hot air, only getting louder as I made my way up the mountain.
Luckily, a sign that reads siu siu sitting at the base of a stone stairwell came into view not long later. As I made my way up the steps, the Lab of Primitive Senses began to come into view as well. It’s a large and impressive structure built with wood, iron, glass, and paint; but the most obvious and most prominent material is the black agricultural netting that wraps around the framework. Staying true to their core design concept, it’s actually quite difficult to ascertain whether you’re indoors or outdoors even after entering siu siu. The permeability of the netting allows natural light, mountain air, and the sounds of nature to pass through uninhibited. The most striking feature upon entering are the four large trees that twist and extend skywards through the black mesh. The caretaker for the day tells me, “The four trees already existed long before we came along – this is their home. When comparing the lifespan of these trees with own lifespan, it’s easy to see that we’re the guests.”
The interior is separated into four distinct areas: a main communal space and small kitchen; a second floor loft directly above the entrance; farther in is a secondary communal space surrounded by glass; and connected to that is a spacious patio. Originally, the team members found this space in the wilderness because many of them shared an interest in helping stray cats and wanted to construct a shelter for them. But after thoroughly researching the issue of stray animals, they discovered many problems that a design team wasn’t fit to handle. So instead, working with what they know, they created siu siu: a space that actually acts as a sociopolitical statement about how civilization and nature could harmoniously occupy the same space. “This became an opportunity to challenge people’s preconceived ideas. By experimenting with this Lab of Primitive of Senses project, we wanted to open up people’s minds. We want to show them that urban civilization could peacefully co-exist with nature and animals,” one of the caretakers commented. As if on cue, a dog casually wandered in, plopped down comfortably in the shaded confines, and began taking a nap.
Even though Taipei is a city surrounded on all sides by mountains and seas, it’s far too easy to become overwhelmed by the frenetic energy of the city and take the great outdoors for granted. siu siu provides a great opportunity for city dwellers to get out of Taipei and enjoy all that nature has to offer. In the past, siu siu has been known to host diverse events like potpourri workshops, meditation retreats, art exhibitions, weddings, and even shamanic ceremonies. Unfortunately, the space isn’t open to the general public on most days; but to find out more about future events or to make reservations for an event rental, you can visit the siu siu Facebook page.