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How can you entice the public to explore and appreciate new farming technologies? One idea is to build a spectacular structure around them. That’s what Clou Architects has done with the Sanya Farm Lab, a timber lattice–wrapped building on China’s Hainan Island. It’s part of a larger push by the local government of Nanfan District to invest in research on “environmental change, land and water scarcity and food production issues,” explains the firm’s press release.

The focus on farming also responds to a growing demand among middle-class Chinese to return to more rural settings, as well as to a recent boom in agri-tourism. It therefore serves both pedagogical and economic purposes, which support and feed off of each other (pun intended).

Inside, the Lab exhibits the latest technologies for the harvest, from agricultural robotics to indoor vertical farming. It also features a restaurant that serves up a farm-to-table dining experience.

All of these inner workings are visible from the outside, through the grid created by the 80-centimetre-deep timber envelope. This is just one of the myriad ingenious ways in which the firm made connections between indoors and out with their architectural vision, which provides many lessons of its own.

Most dramatic is the northwest elevation, which is cantilevered to carve out a semi-outdoor rain shelter on the ground level. From here, a magnificent white staircase spirals into and all the way up the building; its contours are echoed in the indoor landscaping which takes the form of organic swirls across the floor. The cantilevered volume also contains an outdoor restaurant and a children’s play zone on its third floor. A boldly peaked roof that caps it is partially clad in translucent screens that filter the sun’s rays.

Outside, the architects created a stunning assortment of lushly planted areas. It ties the building to its surroundings and to its overarching purpose – to remind visitors of the majesty of nature, which deserves our respect and protection.

A Living Lab in a Stunning Coat

A new building by Clou Architects shows how timber architecture can frame the evolving conversation on climate-conscious food innovation.

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