In each issue we identify a key aesthetic trend evident in our archive of recent projects and challenge semiotics agency Axis Mundi to unpack its design codes. In Frame 140, we look at how a new era of space exploration is inspiring otherworldly forms of interior design and architecture. 

Space Age 2.0 is an era of exponential technological progress, driven by desire for discovery, domination and the continued survival of humanity in light of the environmental crises taking place on Earth. Just as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey aestheticized mysteries of the cosmos during the initial space race in the 1960s, the futuristic affordances of Asian space exploration are now informing new visions of emergent commercial worldbuilding. 

Jinmao Capital J Space office by Daga Architects in Beijing, China. Photos: UK Studio

The liminal nature of interstellar existence is encoded into work, hospitality and retail spaces that behave more like spacecraft than physical destinations. Unassuming concrete exteriors conceal remarkable thresholds, transporting visitors from reality to unreality via steel-clad, fluorescent-lit tunnels and celestial glossy white staircases. Secure from external hostilities, intrepid explorers are admitted into open and transparent internal vistas. Infinity mirrors, parametric formations and exposed infrastructure contribute to a graceful look of emptiness where negative space is charged with existential wonder. 

Moments of congregation are clearly delineated from zones of transition. Activity hotspots appear to emulate iconic sci-fi scenarios, such as the pink-hued dune sea in Star Wars. Sporadic incidents of kinetic media, from mesmerizing plasma-like electrical patterns that dance across dynamic walls to giant screens broadcasting arresting visual content, create a degree of distortion to concentrate passenger attention. Elsewhere, warped glass cases and abstracted tapering icicles translate the ethereal landscape of the arctic tundra into a systematic and a shoppable alien terrain. 

Digital Alchemy store by Gentle Monster in Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea.

Luxēmporium store by All Design Studio in Chengdu, China (cover image).

Fundamental human needs are acknowledged in biophilic approximations. Fertile living walls challenge inertia, breathing oxygen into interstitial areas by encouraging paludal life to take hold in a tangled mantle of tawny lichen and green moss. Samsaric qualities are also threaded into the sophisticated simulation of circadian rhythms, using soft illumination and shapeshifting matter to create an artificial sense of time and energy flow. In more explicit instances, saturated ultramarine carpeting is juxtaposed with chroma key green in an exaggerated interpretation of the colours of Earth as seen from space. 

Sense Salon by Mojo Studio in Chengdu, China. Photos: He Chuan, Here Space Photography

Shaking Bottle café by YAO Design in Chengdu, China. Photos: HereSpace

Elemental materials like stone are used frequently as decoration, functioning as a unifying intergalactic reference and resource. As a healing balm for weary travellers, Zen gardens of slate paving and raked bleach pebbles furnish utilitarian surroundings with a welcome layer of spiritual calm. In more assertive exhibits, impressive asteroidal objects hang by a string, or simply levitate in mid-air, implying the subversive delight of antigravity. Occluded interplay between the rugged, absorbent exterior of rocks and the smooth, mirrored surfaces they are reflected in only reinforces their enigmatic quality. Such features offer no revelation of cosmic secrets, rather they are intended as sites of contemplation, urging visitors to consider the primordial origins of the universe.

A stark allusion to the contemporary urgency of space exploration can be read in the installation of artificial ecologies. Destined for extra-terrestrial cultivation, these plant incubators expose human desire for domination over the elements; rain, wind, light and sound, facilitated by exponential technological capability. But as a kind of microcosmic botanical meditation, they also implore us to care for and admire the exquisite beauty and fragility of nature, ensuring that in the era of space tourism, we retain a connection and commitment to preserving the wonders of our home planet.

Get your copy of Frame 140 here.