S U B - R O S A   W O N D E R L A N D


Just when we thought that alternative exchanges – credit, information, the bit coin – had replaced gold, we are at the threshold of finding that, possibly, the next supreme currency is anonymity. The robbing and erosion of personal privacy have taken a treacherous path in our social experience. Typological and fictitious models form our legacy. Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and George Orwell’s 1984 are both (un)inhabitable worlds of dystopic propositions where privacy is zero and surveillance – in all its imagined forms – a reality. Investigative journalism is, no less, an operation of this reality where princesses are hounded to death, and where our bodily nakedness might be viralled on cyberspace against our wish. Where can we go where we can be naked and unashamed? Post-Snowden, where can we be where we can know and be not known? How much are we willing to pay for this freedom/place? What might the architectural space of this free world look like?

    Speculating on a phantasmagorical urban future, this design thesis imagines a conservatory world of private residential villas and sanctuary chalets with an internalized and shared system of movement, complemented with recreational space, integrated and forming a close-loop living environment. It cloaks itself with a filtering screen which protects as much as it modulates communication with the outer world. In locating this proposition – Sub-Rosa Wonderland – at an ex-mining lake in Malaysia, it resuscitates conversations on urban escapism in a locale which, not so long ago, witnessed the pursuit of the same vision. The Mines Wonderland theme park was a place of entertainment, fantasy and make-believe combining beautiful landscape, recreation and retreat. Now defunct, the spirit of escapism is given a new definition. Wonderland is not so much about mere entertainment anymore. It is a place where privacy , anonymity and the facility to roam free-from-surveillance is the priced possession.

    Sub-rosa Wonderland takes a critical stance on disseminating the potentiality of uprising surveillance society had on our living environment when it challenges the very basic definition of sheltering and protection in architecture. While the project depicts a possible fantasy, it also communicates satirical value on our current social issue. What is freedom afterall? And what is the cost of it? Or are we just giving up more freedom to reclaim the freedom that we once had? 


In order to be more accurately predict the future possibility of surveillance system, the evolution pattern of it is to be traced. Through close studies, three general structure can be deduced: one, the possible commercialization of mass surveillance; two, the increased subtleness of surveillance in a direct proportionate relationship to individual pervasiveness; three, the generalization of surveillance environment, rendering the public vulnerable to surveillance notwithstanding their responses and acceptance. These analysis suggested that surveillance will continue to grows to an even overwhelming and daunting power in the near future no matter what circumstances, and this matter is in need of an imminent response.


The practice of surveillance imposes detrimental affect of our living environment and questions fundamental question: What is the meaning of “escape” or “retreat” if no place is really out of sight from the gazing eye of drones? The once secluded resorts and even privacy-promised units above a tower no longer stand their positions. Also, the extended surveillance into cyberspace means that privacy intrusions had transcended over mere material world. As one of the prime purpose of architecture is to shelter the occupants, what if the walls is no longer a barrier of external infringement? How do we fabricate anonymity in this becomingly transparent world?


The implementation of defense against surveillance opens to two possibilities: Fortification - utilizing the concepts of zoning, layering and journey by erecting physical or symbolic barriers to choreograph a hierarchical structure within a space in impeding potential intruders; Obfuscation - bridging the ideas of confusing, camouflaging and deceiving through spatial complexity to deter accurate interpretation from the outsiders, allowing occupants to secretly manouevre around and hide among the repetitive and profileless architecture.


The threats arises from surveillance society are subjected to new means of architecture defensive measures. However, a few challenges present which are crucial when rethinking anti-surveillance community. First, the surveillance world easily created daunting images that suggest maximum enclosure, which on the other hand could resulted in a hostile environment that is worse. Second, an easy solution of anti-surveillance design means detaching from the environment and making the living space as a protected whole, in which such polarity means the occupants have to give up the ownership of their own space to the surrounding, and is easily exploitable due to lack of control.


The project will take form by speculating an urban enclave at the lake bank of the Mines North Lake and extending out over the water body like a promontary. The site once stood the highly celebrated Mines Wonderland theme park in its prime days in the noughties – a place of entertainment and fantasy make-believe that combines beautiful landscape, recreation and retreat together. The eventual ran down of it in 2011 has now given new opportunity to rethink the idea of urban escapism through creating an anti-surveillance community, a true form of “wonderland” for the future. The new enclave imagined a conservatory world in the amalgamation of private residential villas and sanctuary chalets with internalized transport means and recreational space, forming a close-loop living environment integrating with dynamic landscape around for natural seclusion & tranquility.


Living in a surveillance society projects stress and paranoia to individual. In countering it, an anti-surveillance surrounding not only needs to deter those eyes from infringement, it also needs to keep a balanced living environment. Instead of predominantly hiding within an enclosure, a mixture of indoor and outdoor spaces for both living and recreational are incorporated into the enclave, forming an internal community by itself. These different spaces are then connected via various means to form a close loop, which on one hand adds the elements of fun into the enclave against the dystopic surrounding, while on the other it encourages the occupants to mingle around without compromising their anonymity. The multiple transportation channels also added an extra dimension of making potential tracking harder.


An escape or a retreat in the surveillance society gets harder due to the increased pervasiveness. Rethinking such hospitality has to go along two ways: First, the maintaining of confidentiality and secrecy throughout, in which it covers both the exact location of where someone is staying and even the process they take to get to their rooms. Any opening along this journey might compromises the total privacy. Second, the keeping of retreat’s definition,  whereby the enclave has to still offer the relaxing and calm atmosphere despite the daunting surveillance environment. In achieving this, it means that the enclave has to have a certain degree of permeability, and the protection cannot by just stationary; it has to be able to move around in the form of a boat so that the guests can enjoy the beautiful landscape peacefully.