The Suzhou Experience Centre was a creative blueprint developed by S1T2. The concept explored how immersive storytelling technology could showcase the unique character of the city, along with the role of property developer Yanlord in the region’s renaissance. Aiming to balance the lineage of Suzhou’s past with the promise of its future, the blueprint outlined a series of immersive and interactive experiences to demonstrate the vision and values shared between Suzhou, Yanlord’s property development and the luxury audience it caters to.
Suzhou is a spiritual home for luxury brands. It has long been the cultural repository of China, and over the years has continued to reinvigorate its legacy. Through their Cang Jie commercial precinct, Yanlord was set to play a leading role in the city’s renaissance. Their goal in developing the precinct was to breathe new life into the cultural and economic character of the city.
As the precinct was being developed, Yanlord was looking for a way to demonstrate their vision of Cang Jie to the luxury brands they hoped would populate the development. We were excited to help bring this vision to life; to develop a creative concept that brought together cutting edge technology and emerging aesthetics in a way that demonstrated Suzhou’s enduring role as the cultural and artistic heart of China.
As always, we began the project by undertaking a Discovery phase. Because we were working with a short timeline, this ended up being a truncated process. We began with a skeleton crew doing desk research for a few days. While we weren’t able to go to Suzhou, we tried our best to immerse ourselves in the context through articles, images and videos – anything we could find online.
The next step involved reaching out to a few experts both here and in China, trying to glean from them the unique characteristics of the city that would bring a sense of authenticity to the work. Our team in China also did a site visit to Suzhou and the Cang Jie development, providing us with invaluable – if shaky – phone camera videos of the construction site and surrounding historical district.
Armed with our research, we moved on to conceptualising the strategy. This was an important step in the process, as it would see us develop the framework upon which the creative would be built. We knew that we didn’t want the experience to be a commercial sales tour or an historical museum. From there, we realised that it should, in fact, be a combination of the two. An experience of the very essence of Suzhou; one that embodied the energy of the region while also proving its resonance with our audience of luxury brands.
The core creative challenge of this project lay in finding resonances between client, location and audience, and then communicating these in a way that felt persuasive and authentic. To that end, we knew we needed a strong creative thread to tie each of our experiences together. We needed an emotional story to convey the strategic message.
We came to realise that Suzhou was a city locked in an eternal cycle of being and becoming. This story, we realised, was one shared with our audience of luxury brands. Our goal would be to explore the essence of Suzhou; its place as eternally resonant yet always evolving, through a combination of beauty, mastery and innovation.
With the creative foundations laid, we knew that we wanted the interplay between being and becoming – old and new, stillness and movement – to be the thread that fused our experience together. Now we needed to give this vision life, make it real, through art direction.
Taking inspiration from Suzhou itself, we would use colour sparingly – aiming to reveal the spirit rather than recreate reality. Similarly, our experiences would borrow the gestural forms seen throughout the city, with minimalist compositions that felt bold yet elegant in their beauty.
While we were developing the art direction, we were also crafting the user journey for the overall experience. This, along with the visual style, would define the kinds of activations we would propose for the experience centre.
Unlike most experience centres, this project would span two distinct locations. As a result, we had to pay careful attention to how visitors would move not only through each space but between them, to ensure a cohesive experience catering to diverse objectives.
The next step in the process was to start developing the actual experiences that would populate our user journey. Crucial to this was 2D experimentation, in the form of UX storyboards and broader concept sketches. The storyboards, on one hand, would help us to visualise the user experience and get a sense of interactions. Meanwhile, the concepts would capture the feeling we were trying to create, eventually building into more developed concept art.
Entering the first location, guests would find an experience of the kaleidoscopic essence of Suzhou. Projected across three immersive screens, a short film would showcase a city inspired by beauty, driven by mastery, and rejuvenated by innovation.
Moving to the next room, a large silk-inspired moon bridge would take centre stage, an embodiment of Suzhou’s status as ‘heaven on Earth’. Audiovisual vignettes would then provide a glimpse into the different facets of Suzhou’s beauty and cultural legacy.
Next, guests would be invited on a journey through time to explore Suzhou’s commitment to mastery. In a room that balances traditional aesthetics with contemporary technology, guests would discover the city’s trajectory from a home to embroidery masters through to a hub of AI nanotechnology and biomedicine.
A climactic immersive experience would cap this location’s exploration of Suzhou for guests. Here they would witness a live performance, with the movements of a holographic dancer driving a generative artwork projected onto a forest of silk-like panels to explore.
While concept art was able to communicate the more emotive experiences, it was also important to give our client a sense of how their brand would live within the space. To this end, we also chose to develop 3D mockups of the commercial activations proposed for the Suzhou Experience Centre. That way, Yanlord could provide more detailed feedback, and feel more confident about how their brand would be portrayed to audiences.
The culmination of this project was the creation of a comprehensive experience blueprint. This document outlined our strategy, creative direction, user experience, activation concepts and development recommendations. In essence, the blueprint would serve as a framework and guide, from which Yanlord could move forward with existing and local partners to deliver the Suzhou Experience Centre.