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White Futura: the Evolution of the Cinema

Explore the origins of humanity and the universe in Alexander Wong’s latest cinema in Shanghai.

  • The magnolia flowers, which also resemble spacecraft

  • The flower versus spaceship debate begs the question: "Where did life come from?"

  • White surfaces give White Futura a pure feel

  • The flower theme continues inside one of the cinemas

  • Seemingly organic curves

  • The 'time tunnel'



BY Tamsin Bradshaw

February 16th, 2017


Based in Shanghai, White Futura is the latest of Alexander Wong’s feats in cinematic design. It’s also the younger sibling of Beyond Future, a cinema Alexander Wong Architects created in Wuhan for China Film Cinema. The two cinemas are like yin and yang: they are opposites, and yet they belong together.

Where Beyond Future, which Indesignlive.hk covered in Space, Time and Cinema Design was dark and mysterious, with undertones relating to the theory of relativity and the dark matter of the universe, White Futura is like the slate wiped clean. It is pure and white, with seemingly organic curves, stem-like lines of light and high-gloss flooring. The ceiling, meanwhile, is adorned with stylised flower petals representative of a pair of white magnolias, Shanghai’s traditional flower.

As with all Alexander Wong’s projects, however, the meanings are many layered. The flower is also symbolic of life beginning. On a deeper level, “perceived as Ground Zero or Tabula Rasa, it is the white origin of our universe,” says Wong, the firm’s founder.

Go deeper and you will find that the flowers at the heart of White Futura’s design have another meaning: they represent space pods. “The spacecraft is a flower is a spacecraft posits the question, ‘What is natural versus what is artificial?’” explains Wong. “We come back to the origin of all life: does it stem from a silicon entity or a hydrocarbon entity? We don’t know where we came from, we don’t really know where our technology comes from, and we’re definitely in fast-forward mode.”

Indeed, it’s hard to tell where artificial begins and organic ends at White Futura – the boundaries, like our own evolutionary tree, are unclear. Wong and his team drew inspiration for this evolutionary theme from the 2004 Summer Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece. At the opening ceremony, as Wong so aptly puts it, “Ancient Greek Minoan sculpture exploded into a series of abstracted spatial islands, exposing more refined artefacts from within, explaining the origin and evolution of Western civilisation in a stunningly beautiful dreamscape.”

There’s also a seemingly infinite tunnel that leads to each of the cinemas, with cinema numbers echoing into the distance. “The Time Tunnel is a golden trail leading us deeper into the mystery of the universe in plain sight, with blazing white light,” says Wong.

Other subtle references include themes explored by The X Files and Stanley Kubrick’s films, and the work of Russian-American author Zecharia Sitchin, who believed human evolution was connected to a race of ancient astronauts. The clues, says Wong, are hidden in the walls of the cinema. Now it’s up to you to find them.