Chen Xi’s Atelier Xi straddles Asia and America, with a base in Shenzhen and origins in New York City. The studio’s portfolio, all concrete, geometric drama and sculptural forms, is fast growing, and includes Y House, a home on the outskirts of Shanghai for a pair of photographers. It caught our eye as we add Atelier Xi to the 2021 Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory. 

Who: Atelier Xi

This young, yet fast-emerging practice was founded by Chen Xi in 2017. Hailing from China, the architect splits his time between Shenzhen and New York, where the studio was originally founded. Variety is the name of the game with Xi’s work, as he caters to a range of building needs and typologies. However, there are common threads throughout, notably a sculptural approach that produces buildings akin to art pieces, at once functional, minimalist and dramatic. 

‘With our work focusing on public and cultural projects at various scales, we are attentive to the needs of diverse groups,’ says Xi. ‘The studio aspires to create spaces that bring unique poetry and profoundness to contemporary urban and rural environments. We believe that each space, grand or tiny, is a clue to the vastness of our world, and a testimony to the glory of everyday life. By planting these quiet and resilient spaces one at a time, we envision architecture to branch out and blossom with life and narratives.’

For the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory we celebrate Y House, a new-build home for two photographers outside Shanghai (see below). Other works include the award-winning Peach Hut, a pink-hued concrete public building in rural Xiuwu, Henan, dedicated to culture and arts education in the region. 

Y House’s concrete sculptural shapes

What: Y House

When a couple, both photographers, approached Chen Xi and Atelier Xi for a residential commission near Shanghai, the architect jumped at the opportunity to blend a new architectural design with the owners’ personality and style. ‘The couple are well known for their minimalist and surrealist still-life photography works that usually displace ordinary objects and radically recompose them,’ says Xi. 

‘The photos they take always have a background of peacefulness: sometimes with a mottled stucco wall, a dusty cloth, or a muddy swamp,’ continues the architect. ‘There is usually a foreground standing out as well, exhibiting an exquisite layer of glaze. The tranquillity of light colours obscures the lens, capturing traces of shadow, tones, and wind, as if time has stopped.’ Taking these cues, Xi envisioned the house as a sculptural, monolithic formation out of concrete that stands out, clearly delineated in the surrounding rural scenery of woods and countryside farms. 

At the same time, drawing on the region’s traditional vernacular, the house features a version of ‘a gable roof and a flat roof that are commonly seen in nearby villages’, explains the architect. Meanwhile, inside, a series of sculpted voids have been carved out from the monolithic volume and help frame different views of the landscape. A central staircase out of concrete becomes a spiralling centrepiece, connecting levels and providing a visual focus. 

raw concrete interior at Y House in Shanghai

Why: Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2021

Conceived in 2000 as our index of emerging architectural talent, the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory is our magazine’s annual listing of promising practices from across the globe. The project has, over the years, spanned styles and continents, while always championing the best and most exciting young studios and showcasing inspiring work with an emphasis on the residential realm. Now including more than 500 alumni and counting, the Architects’ Directory is back for its 21st edition. Join us as we launch this year’s survey – 20 young studios, from Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the USA, and the UK, with plenty of promise, ideas and exciting architecture.

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