Aura: The Forest at the Edge of the Sky

  • 1st place

Project creator(s)

Entered into the following categories


  • First place, Themed Environment

A cornucopia of sculpture, interactivity, light, music and film transform the atrium into immersive theatre.

Aura: Forest at the Edge of the Skyhttps://www.wetaworkshop.com/projects-in-depth/haikou-international-duty-free-shopping-complex/ (designed with partners China Duty Free Group and Dafeng) transformed the retail experience within the world’s largest duty-free shopping complex in Haikou, Hainan. Shoppers are immersed in a hyper-fantastical organic sculptural wonderland, enveloping a massive five-storey-high by 50-metre-wide atrium. A cornucopia of sculpture, interactivity, light, music and film transform the atrium into immersive theatre, dynamically changing from day to night.


Shopping malls are places where people gather and socialise. Aura is designed to create a feeling of escapism, but also an atmosphere of social cohesion within a flexible space reflective of the changing ecosystem, reminiscent of the energy and life-force of the forest. Seasonal and ceremonial events, branded functions and activities are all considered in the interior architectural design of the atrium. Each sculptural element features separately controlled lighting and sound, integrated within the atrium’s AV media, resulting in a socially sustainable, future-proofed destination. Designed for comfort, accessibility and ergonomics are preserved in the design of bespoke and highly sculpted furniture installations, including an occupiable Moon-bridge sculpture and special Ground Seats housing fire-hydrants, integrated into the furniture design.

The Aura atrium design embodies the traditional Chinese concept of Qi, the life force believed to be a part of every living thing. The ideas of Qi, deeply rooted in Chinese culture, is preserved through contemporary narratives and made relevant to the shopping mall experience. It is reflected through the sculptural installations, lighting, sound, media, interactive, interior and spatial design.

The atrium’s materiality and form harnesses sunlight during the day and celebrates artificial light in the evening. Through a range of translucent materials, the forest ‘canopy’ filters daylight into colourful patterns across the floor. The two Tree Deer’s dichroic, faceted outer skin reflects the movement of visitors, while its inner membrane, made up of LED media panels, emanates vivid, moving graphics, resulting in an ambiguous body of reflected and projected light. The Ground Tree’s fluid forms are derived from a seamless blend of computational design and digital hand sculpting. This is an innovative process that imprints the human expression of narrative onto mechanical, algorithm generated tree forms.

Aura’s fantastical reinterpretation of flora and fauna promotes the rich ecology of Hainan, including a cinematic spotlight on endangered wildlife; sea turtles, eld deer and the golden gibbon. Within a retail setting, locals and international tourists are reminded of the wider environmental context of the province of Hainan, which continually promotes protection of native ecology. In visiting Aura, locals find new vested pride in the unique beauty of their home.

Aura redefines the shopping mall typology, transforming it into a 360-degree, multisensory immersive theatre, with viewing platforms across multiple levels. Extensive interactive floor projections, theatrical lighting, and large animated media create a playful, performative space that responds to visitors’ movement and touch. In designing a unique atmosphere within a region saturated with applications of high technology and media, our team employed the storytelling techniques of theatre and film to build a new kind of experience, putting joy, wonder and connection at the heart of visitor engagement.


Creative Directors: Richard Taylor, Richard Athorne, Andrew Thomas
Strategic Leads: Grant Bensley, Catherine Ormandy
Team Members: Jason Aldous, LiWen Choy, Max Chow, Ken Samonte, Rehua Wilson, Blair Ryan, Ella Zhang, Warren Rangi, Kate Du
Contributors: Erik Hay, Rhian Sheehan, Gus Hunter, Nay Lin Htaik, Darren Ormandy, Grant Lumsden, Tor Robinson, Stefan Morell, Chris Williamson, Greg Tozer, Brad Cunningham, William Duignan, Jacky Zheng, Shijia Chen
Client: Zhejiang Dafeng Industry Co.,Ltd

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