Archseeing Presents ‘One-House Zoo’ at Shenzhen Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture


Reflecting on the human side of Shenzhen’s rapid urban transformation, “One-House Zoo” tells the life stories of residents through the creation of a fictive world.

One-House Zoo is a collection of familiar scenes, intentionally abstracted from the everyday life of the ‘urban village’. In this world live more than a hundred characters, drawn from resident interviews but portrayed in animal form. Using animal natures as metaphors for human experiences, the team hopes the exhibit will lead visitors to critique and reassess the real condition of the contemporary city.

About the Biennial

Running from December 15, 2017 to March 15, 2018,  the 7th Shenzhen-Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture is organized around the theme “Cities Grow in Difference.” The main exhibition site is Nantou Old Town, in Shenzhen. An ancient city dating from the Jin Dynasty, Nantou is today one of Shenzhen’s ‘urban villages’ — high-density informal settlements, housing immigrants from across China. With its mix of heritage, worker housing, and new development, the Nantao area is a perfect example of the experiment in contrasts now underway in China’s urbanizing cities.

Design of the Exhibit

The gallery brings some spatial experiences from the surrounding ‘urban village’ inside. A mural introducing the illustrated book wraps around three sides, enveloping the visitor in its fictive world. Five exhibit boxes hang from the ceiling, introducing the constricted scale of the urban village. The spaces between reprise the experience of walking down the narrow streets of the ‘urban village’. When visitors duck into the exhibit boxes, they must share an intimate space. And finally, the suspended exhibit boxes leave the ground level clear for visitor flow, an experience appreciated most directly by children.


The five installations bring different aspects of the fictive world to the visitor’s attention:

“All Creatures in Disguise” A stream of animal heads and human faces, the characters in the stories, are projected in a continuously morphing video, introducing central concepts of identity and transformation, drawn from Chinese philosophical traditions.

“Neighbors” Duck into this exhibit and join six animal heads chatting with each other from their balconies. Touch sensors start a conversation about trivial daily topics, allowing visitors to reflect on the close living quarters and resident’s well-being.

“Book Rain” Images from the book hang on glittering wires, within a mirrored enclosure. An infinite variety of animals and daily scenes seem to play out endless evolutionary growth — a universe of “symbiosis”.

“Deep Drift” Enter into a ‘canned’ world of deep blue. Lights, mirrors and sound create a house under the sea, where the visitor feels swept along by the currents of a shared life.

“Buildings” Facade and section drawings create a scaled version of a courtyard, allowing the visitor to peep into the rooms and observe the life within. With room for just one person, it reinforces the theme of diversity within density.

From the illustrated book:  “Here I live in just 100 square feet. I keep the lights off during the day, with dark curtains. I often dream that I am living down in the sewers, scrambling along, not knowing what I’m chasing, until I’m drowned by a flood of water. Waking, I realize it’s the sound of the neighbor’s toilet flushing.” — Brother Rat

From the illustrated book: A few of us girls had some simple pleasures living in that house. We played together and cooked together, but sometimes in the dead of night a sinking feeling would return, that in this whole city there is not one thing that belonged to me. But somehow there was always a little voice that told me to keep trying …” — Sister Cockroach.

Through drawings, stories, and installations, the exhibit recombines the ‘imaginaries’ of the city’s diverse insights. In contrast to the other exhibits, it creates an open and heterogeneous ambiance, having different effects on different people. Here, everyone can look around freely, finding for themselves the connections between inner changes and outer changes, becoming the agents of a new and heterogeneous ‘urban symbiosis’.  

Illustrated book authors and exhibition designers: Archseeing (Yin Yemin and Zheng Chuling)


Exclusive Sponsor: I-City Think Tank & Urban Research Institute of China Vanke

Collaborators: Interactive Architecture Studio

Two Ten Four Studio


Exhibition Location: Nanshan District, Shenzhen City, Nantou Old Town, Wanli Industrial Park Building A2 First Floor, Area 01

Exhibition Period: 15th December 2017 – 15th March 2018

Photographer: Zhang Chao

Publication: The illustrated book “One-House Zoo” will be published in 2018.


posted 08/01/18 at Designboom