Isle of Islay - Nature Observatory

  • Zhen Zhang RWTH Aachen University


This graduation project is a social critique against the overrule of rationality over humanity, a frustrated plea for more emotional capacity (for love and nature) within (or beyond) a rational world. To overcome the conditions
and paradox described above, I have developed various fictive concepts
or utopias. The project here is one of such concepts, and perhaps also a radical and pessimistic one.

The protagonist takes his frustration with an escapist attitude, leaves his city behind and tries to find his joy and purpose of life in a natural and prescientific environment. He arrives at a faraway island in Scotland, where natural elements, not rational human beings, are the dominating force. I designed various instruments or observatories for the modern man to get in touch with what he yearns for – nature: through folklores and tales he regains a prescientific eye; through the instruments, he experiences the varied elemental existence of nature – sun, moon, stars, water, fire, wind, waves . . .

During this project I got inspiration from reading, writing and collecting. Travel logs written by English scholars, who travelled to Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as folklore and tales of the Scottish islands were great inspirations; like a time machine, these words took me a few hundred years back to a prescientific state of mind.


Joan Blaeu, Blaeu Atlas of Scotland (1654)

J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Vol. IV (Edinburgh, 1860)

Francesco Careri, Walkscapes (Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2002)

Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775)

James M. Mackinlay, Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs (Glasgow: William Hodge & Co., 1893)

Martin Martin, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (1703)

Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland, and Voyage to the Hebrides (1772)

George Simmel, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ (1903)

William Wordsworth, Stepping Westward (1807).

Author Biography

Zhen Zhang, RWTH Aachen University

Zhen Zhang holds an MSc in architecture from RWTH Aachen University. Since April 2017 she has been a research and teaching assistant in the Department of Theory of Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture of RWTH Aachen. She was curator of the exhibition ‘Planetary Urbanism’ in the German Pavilion at the UN Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador in 2016 and assistant editor at ARCH+(Journal for Architecture and Urbanism), Aachen from 2015 to 2017. Her master’s thesis ‘Isle of Islay – Nature Observatory – Remembrance of a Forgotten Treaty between Man and Nature’ received a BDA-SARP-Award 2016 and was nominated for the Euregional Prize (EAP). She worked as an architect with Gerkan, Marg & Partners in Shanghai from 2011 to 2013. From 2008 to 2010 she worked on the planning and project management of the bamboo pavilions of the touring exhibition ‘Germany and China – Moving ahead together’, including the ‘German-Chinese House’ at World Expo Shanghai 2010.


How to Cite
ZHANG, Zhen. Isle of Islay - Nature Observatory. Writingplace, [S.l.], n. 1, p. 159-172, apr. 2018. ISSN 2589-7691. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 16 june 2019. doi: