Valley of Wonders


Can a modern settlement organically ‘fit’ into its surrounding environment without threatening nature? How can this be achieved, what does this imply? Through the speculation of such a unique settlement, the project aims to find out. In this context, a distinctive place was crafted, we called it the Valley of Wonders.

The Valley of Wonders was formed in a rocky terrain many thousands of years ago, when the river was wide and fast and was expanding its’ course from day to day. At the time when it began to dry up, its’ river bed revealed itself and began to transform. Soon high forests grew, meadows bloomed and grass rippled. This was the place.

The site was chosen as it was between the high salt mountains and the broad lake with a small island.  Two approaches were selected: to hide the settlement as much as possible, so that it would be unnoticeable, and then to work with it as with another nature biome, making it another part of this fairy tale. An important detail was the size of the settlement, an area which could accommodate about 2000 people. Habitation could be united, it could consist of many small parts, or, all the houses could be placed independently of each other. The project analaysed all of the possibilities, and as a result a certain balance was achieved- one of 12 settlements of different sizes, each one interacting with the site where it was located.

In this new settlement humans are able to interrelate with the surrounding nature without destroying it. Even a fairy-tale world can be preserved and, perhaps, even embellished through human impact.


Who influences you graphically? 

We believe that anything you see around you can be used as a reference for your creation. People usually have different feelings about different styles of images, animations, or text writings, and we can use these natural emotions to establish contact with them. So, the key of making a good image (or whatever it is) is looking for some references that usually appear in everyday life rather than in architectural practice.

Where did you look to for inspiration when creating this new unusual place? 

Speaking about this project, we thought that the fairy-tale aesthetic would be the most appropriate: As a result we tried to find forms and typologies that were specific for this naive and pure language. Within these images it is common for the authors to depict an untouched magical world that resembles the real world. But all of it complexity is usually shown in a simple way, so it remains unique and interesting to explore.

There are a lot of movies and computer games that have these qualities too, like Machinarium (game), Dunno on the Moon (fairytale), Bioshock Infinite (game), No Man’s Sky (game), Blade Runner (movies),..
Looking for concept art of such stories is also very inspiring. It is just so pure and distinctive.

You talk about using the image as primary medium as no other medium could have done it better. Did you ever think of using animation and/or of crafting the images into a narrative? What defined the medium of the render?

Yes, we thought of using animation or some kind of interactive model as our primary medium. We tried to create an experience of walking or flying inside the Valley of Wonders, but soon realized that it required a lot of further work of developing details of every corner of this huge world. It could ruin the main goal of our project – to investigate the abilities of human to create a settlement in such unique place whilst not threatening and destroying its beauty. Thereby, we agreed that images and a 3d model would be the most suitable forms of representation. They can provide an experience of travelling inside the Valley, just like real photos of real journeys. And we would have extra time for developing the project.

What role did the model play in the exploration of the project?

We started creating this world through a rough plan. We brainstormed some very different variants and soon chose 2-3 of them. Small models of these variations helped us to get a sense of the space.
We think that one always needs to have something about one’s own project which allows to twiddle in your hands. It helps to define new ideas and it reminds that one’s work is as real as the chair one is sitting on, even amongst renders or 3d models, the tangibility of the physical model is very important.
3D models also took an important role in finding the style that we wanted to work with. We have spent hours and days creating something strange, unpredictable and usually random in 3d model. This is how the Valley of Wonders appeared. Sometimes we were walking around and accidentally finding astonishing places, views or model errors, that gave new meanings to the whole project.

When framing the specific views what defined what was included and what wasn't?

There were some important views of the Valley that we wanted to show, for example the river, flowing between the high rocks, the lake and the forest. And when we began to place settlements, it was important to show how they interacted with the landscape. The purpose was to find new views that appeared with the settlement creation and to demonstrate that it is possible to fit dozens of buildings into surrounding nature and not to destroy it.

What role do the imaginary figures play?

At first, we just thought that using these figures would be more suitable for the style of our images, there was no idea behind them. But when the project was almost finished, we realized, that these creations play a more important role. Using them instead of humans creates a parallel between the real and the fairy-tale. Just like these creatures live and construct their houses in a fantasy world, people live in villages and cities. But they have a lot of in common and actually there is not much difference in these systems. So maybe we should more often look for inspiration in fairy tales and fantasy worlds?