Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

The Xing Kiln Museum


In the Northen Chinese county of Neiqiu, the Xing Kiln Museum pays tribute to an ancestral craft developed as refined art: white porcelain.

The white wares launched the country’s reputation as a center of porcelain. As hard, dense, and durable as their southern green counterparts, but more immediately appealing due to their sparkling, glossy, clean-looking material, white wares became the envy and aspiration of potters worldwide. Porcelain clays are naturally available in north China, and some rare examples of white wares—made of a pure, white clay, unglazed, but fired at temperatures just high enough to qualify as stonewares—have been discovered at sites of the late Shang dynasty (circa 1600–circa 1050 BCE) at Anyang in Henan province. 


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In 2012, the local government acknowledged this prestigious legacy by opening the Xing Kiln Ruins and decided to build a museum. 


YCA was commissioned to work on the project and their first mission was to separate the site from a busy environment. 


The top of the building acts like an open gallery that surrounds a pool elevated from the ground. Seven pieces of rustic porcelain are floating above the water; below the pool is a continuous space containing the entrance and main exhibition hall; symmetrical but plausible wide steps connect the ring gallery, pool and square on the north side.

The seven bowl-shaped structures offer a picturesque feature in the summer with the ripples of light reflected from the clear water at the bottom of the curved outer wall but also  in the winter when the scenery is turning white of frost.

Porcelain showrooms and corresponding ancillary facilities vary in size. In order to bring them together as a whole, circle-packing algorithm is used in the design as geometric control diagrams.


Xing Porcelain originated in Sui dynasty, and flourished in Tang dynasty. The Great Tang Empire’s vigour and the simplicity of the square and the circle must be related somehow. How to use square and circle in contemporary times? This is our thinking and answer.


Photographs by He Chen

A Huizhou retreat

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A couple based in Shanghai used their life savings to purchase a property and became its custodians more than hoteliers.

For your next trip to China, escape the buzzing cities and find refuge in a rural retreat deep in Jiangxi Province (East China). Wuyuan Skywells has recently finished the modernisation of a 300 year-old Huizhou-style property and turned it into a hotel.

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The owners captured the essence of a bygone era in the millennium-old Yan village. The Skywells project focused on the preservation rather than the modernization, something that has not gone unnoticed as the project continues its winning streak in this year’s design awards circuit. The hotel is named after the English translation of “Tian Jing”—a regional architectural feature comprising of narrow courtyards that let daylight into surrounding rooms.

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The building was once used as an inn for merchants before being neglecting during the 20th century. It was also used by Chinese soldiers during the Japanese invasion of the mainland. One of the key requirements was to preserve not only the recoverable artefacts but to also recreate the elegance associated with the mansion. Original and traditional elements in public areas were retained while the more private spaces for guests were contemporized with playful fittings and modern-day amenities, with the interior design of the 14 suites dominated by cool neutrals interspersed with occasional bright accent colours.

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A unique aspect of the property was the internal timber frame, ornately carved in public areas. Since large parts of the frame had been destroyed, the team searched for and engaged Yuzong, a talented local artisan with the requisite skill and experience. Though the building features skywells, the rooms and suites themselves do not feature generous windows. To avoid polluting the external appearance and original architecture, the team introduced latticed panels on walls facing the skywells. Brick and clay walls were restored and rebuilt according to local tradition and keep the structure cool during hot summers. In terms of energy use, the hotel has a better level of thermal insulation and waste water management than the local standard.

Honours won so far include an ICONIC award, a RED DOT award, and an ABB LEAF award. The project has also been shortlisted by the INSIDE Awards being held in late November in Amsterdam.

Pictures courtesy of Marc Goodwin and Xia Zhi.

A Sensorial Experience in Hunan

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SenseLab has designed a 1,500 sqm retail experience focuses on senses and time inside one of the most important baijiu factories.

In the Hunan province, Xiangjiao Liquor Factory has commissioned SenseLab to work on a full customer experience for their flagship store of baijiu, a typical Chinese liquor.

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Various parts of the factory were designed in order to create a series of educational and retail services in which the constant flow of tourists doesn’t disturb the production. The project was made in collaboration with Shanzhen Backyard Art & Decoration Co., Ltd.

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Inside the retail space, the product is exhibited not merely as a bottled liquor, but as a mix of culture, rituals, expertise, economy... poetry. 

In the factory, visitors will discover olfactive walls made of sorghum waste (baijiu raw material) and music “rounding” and “softening” the liquor taste inside the cellars where giant terracotta jars help the liquor grow old. Throughout the design SenseLab tried to reinvent colour palettes inspired by the historical wood and ceramic traditions and in the same time lean towards the contemporary China.