MDes Interior Design School of Design

Xiwei Zhang (she/her)

As an interior designer with a background as a filmmaker, the word ‘montage’ is a link to my diverse experience. Montage comes from the French word for ‘composition,’ which first referred to the composition of architecture and was later widely used to express the editing of films. As a cross-disciplinary designer, I want to use my experience as a filmmaker to direct space, applying transitions from film to it and giving it emotion and story. Throughout the year, I am constantly trying to find the life of the space and let it tell its own story.

The Dialogue of Memory
Sisyphus, Theatre of the Absurd

The Dialogue of Memory

This is an adaptation of the Sishengci street water tower in Chengdu, Sichuan, with the theme Host. For this project, Pierre Nora’s journal Between Memory and History inspired my choice of memory as host. In the journal, he mentioned: “As Maurice Halbwachs has said, that there are as many memories as there are groups, that memory is by nature multiple and yet specific; collective, plural, and yet individual. On the other hand, history belongs to everyone and no one, whence its claim to universal authority. Memory takes root in the concrete, spaces, gestures, images, and objects; history strictly binds itself to temporal continuities, progressions, and relations between things. Memory is absolute, while history can only conceive the relative.” Combining the history of Sishengci Street with this passage, I began to think about the relationship between memory and history. History is an objective presence, while memory is more of a subjective one. I believe that memory as a host can give a subjective dimension to an objectively existing historical building, thus enabling each person who uses the space to have a different experience. I hope that everyone who comes to this water tower will find in it a resonance of their own memories.

Site Analysis

The specific water tower I choose to work with is Sishengci North Street Water tower. The Water Tower on the North Street of Sishengci was built in 1952 and is now 70 years old. Located just one street from the centre of Chengdu, an adult can walk from the Water Tower to the busiest commercial area of Chengdu in just ten minutes. However, unlike the bustling city centre with its tall buildings, the water tower is surrounded by older buildings. On one side of the water tower are modern urban architectures and city lives, while on the other are old-fashioned buildings and traditional ways of life. This water tower has witnessed the historical transformation of Chengdu from tradition to modernity. It’s an anchor point that divides the city’s present from the past. It also holds the memories of several generations living in Chengdu.

Details of buildings in Sishengci Street

To better identify the similarities and differences between the existing and former architectural features of Sishengci Street, I searched for partial details of many of the buildings in Sishengci Street to analyse the structure, materials, shapes, forms and scale of these buildings.

Sishengci Street Collage

The Dialogue of Memory

Sisyphus, Theatre of the Absurd

Inspired by Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, this project is dedicated to translating and visualising the absurdity of philosophical concepts in spatial expressions. Sisyphus is punished with the eternal repetition of pushing a boulder up a hill and watching it roll down; just as his endlessly meaningless repetition of acts, the absurd philosophical view holds that life and human actions have no cosmic significance. Therefore, the way to rebel against fate is to understand that the meaning of life is life itself and to live in the moment. Firstly, through analyzing and comparing absurd literature and theatre works, I have extracted from them the elements that characterise absurdity: cyclical, repetitive actions, clichés; and then visualised these elements in space. Secondly, I want to show the partial details, the sense of the atmosphere, and the changes in the space through physical and digital models. I hope that in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, France, where the theatre of the absurd originated, the staging of the story of Sisyphus will take the audience on a journey of self-discovery.

atmosphere collage

Design Process

Using the area underneath the stage, I partitioned the stage into liftable squares of approximately 7 square metres each. The inaccessible squares in the centre of the stage represent the mountain Sisyphus climbed. Around the hill, the audience will take the path of Sisyphus, going up and down in a loop. Draped from the roof is a turntable of broken stones that follow the route of the audience. In this journey, the audience will also see themselves and Sisyphus, in mirrors and screens, seeing the sunrise and the moon set and the seasons change.

Stage Rendering

Sisyphus Stage in site