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Into the Wild

Jian Liang

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower”
-- William Blake

Life in today’s world often leads to stress that comes from work, family, friends, money, and fame. With all these pressures, it’s easy to lose touch with reality and end up feeling mentally unwell. That’s why this retreat center suggests getting back to basics by connecting with natural elements like Fire, Earth, Water, Light, Sky, and Plant. By turning our attention to nature, we can find healing through its wildness.

Situated in St. Louis, Missouri, this retreat center benefits greatly from the untamed landscape and the nearby Mississippi River. However, like life itself, this location has its ups and downs. The retreat center falls within a 100-year-flood zone, meaning the area could be flooded every couple of years. In response, the retreat center uses levees and floating pathways to peacefully coexist with these natural floods. Each levee, adorned with different flowers, acts as a protective ring, encompassing existing trees and a themed space that harmonizes with the elements. During floods, visitors board the dock and move around the center using the floating pathway and the levee ring. This way, the entire center seamlessly merges with the wild surroundings.

Through experiencing this elemental-themed space and coexisting with the wild environment, the retreat center seeks to encourage individuals to recognize a world beyond their everyday stressors. Just as floods come and go, challenges are temporary too. As humans, we should embrace nature and dive into the wild.
Elemental-Theme Space
Earth-The shell roof extends from the ground to the levee ring, connecting them. It serves as both a structure and a pathway, blending with the earth. The seamless link between the shell roof and the earth gives visitors a sensation of being within the earth. Boundaries are blurry and space are permeable, which allow you to feel connected to both the earth and nature.

Sky- Encompassed with sunflowers, visitors go up to the “sky”. When they look up, they see a blue sky and cloud-shaped wooden truss structure. A translucent textile membrane covers the wooden truss roof, casting soft shadows on the ground. When visitors look up, they’re greeted by the sky and clouds, prompting them to leave their worries behind and contemplate if they’ve entered a heavenly realm.

Water- Water fills the levee. As visitors walk down the tunnel, they witness water flowing above the glass roof. Eventually, they reach the dock at the tunnel’s end. The curved cave space embraces the water. Meditating here aligns the mind with the water’s flow. Be it serene or rainy, Visitors experience a tranquil serenity and the soothing sound of raindrops.

Fire- Smoke emanates from the grand chimney, catching your immediate attention to the fireplace. Entering a tunnel beneath the levee, visitors reach a spacious hall with a central fireplace. Seated in a circle around the fire, they feel its warmth and gaze upon a sea of red flowers outside. In an instant, memories of fires flood back, often recalling cherished family moments by the fireplace.

Light- Visitors step into darkness before light emerges. They walk through a buried space and experience a rebirth when illuminated. Experiencing darkness makes one appreciate the value of light. Despite being partially beneath the levee, light filters in and illuminates the space where visitors find their renewal, blessed by its presence.

Plants- The coexistence of animals and plants serves as a natural reminder to visitors about the essence of wilderness. Plants, resembling those in their natural state, maintain their raw authenticity here. A radial bench subtly follows the curve of the levee slope, providing a spot for meditation amidst the landscape. Immersed in the sights and sounds of nature, it mends visitors’ hearts and inspires them to dive into the wild.

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