paying tribute to everyday heroes


wutopia lab has transformed an abandoned water tower in shanghai into the memorial of everyman, paying tribute to all the ordinary people who performed heroic acts in desperate times. initially, the client wanted to convert the tower into something that complements the conference center hotel next to it, programmed as a cafe or a suite with special features. however, after some medical troubles that the architects went through in their personal lives, they lost interest in creating some novelty space to excite those city dwellers.


while discussing the background of the structure, the wutopia lab team came across a touching anecdote about plugging leaks, which led to their decision to create a memorial site. as a result, the structure takes shape as a tower within a tower, with a 100-step spiral staircase and golden elements symbolizing the heroic character of the project. memorial of everyman by wutopia lab 1
all images courtesy of creatAR images, unless stated otherwise


drawing influence from a historical anecdote


the anecdote that inspired the wutopia lab team is about lu jingjuan, a worker who saw a pipe surge in the dike due to the rough tide, which could lead to a dam failure and thus make the whole sea construction project fail. so, she jumped into the hole to plug it. her heroic move encouraged many other workers to jump into the water, using their bodies to ensure the safety of the dam.


‘people today who are well fed and clothed cannot understand the hardships of those times. during that era, in order to ensure that shanghai had enough food supply, many city youths were drafted by the government to set up farms in the suburbs (…) to increase food production by creating land around the sea. the water tower that provided safe drinking water was the central symbol of the organization’s dormitory area.’ lead architect yu ting shares. ‘the consumerist suites and afternoon tea spaces are in a sense a vanish mask that covers up the real memories of some ordinary people and embellishes the somewhat flashy life of today, as if those struggles have never existed. that’s not right. hence, I convinced our client to turn the water tower into a memorial to all the ordinary people who did heroic acts in desperate times.’ he adds. 

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a monumental staircase with gold accents


the architects designed a spiral staircase with a separate structure to symbolize those heroic people who plugged the leak with their bodies in the cavity of the water tower. meanwhile, gold color is used to symbolize the great gesture of these ordinary individuals. the 100-step staircase, symbolizing a century, is made of 84 metal rods that form a separate golden tower inside the water tower.


at the bottom of the golden tower is a map of shanghai, a chronicle of events recorded on the metal rods. on the walls of the water storage bin, there is a mural of photo transfers of the polder scene back then. finally, the top of the water tower opens so that visitors can look into the distance after ascending to the top. with the lighting design, the tower that provided water for ordinary people back then becomes a lighthouse that honors ordinary people in the present. ‘today there is no need to enclose the sea for land anymore, but those heroic acts of ordinary people are worth remembering.’ yu ting shares.

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image courtesy of wutopia lab



project info:

name: memorial of everyman
designer: wutopia lab

lead architect: yu ting
project architect: mu zhilin
design team: pan dali, xu nan, mi kejie, li ziheng

address: chongming, shanghai, china

area: 25 sqm



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: myrto katsikopoulou | designboom