Architecture of Neopia: Shenkuu
Shenkuu, situated to the North of Altador is the only empire in Neopia. However this title of ‘empire’ is largely ceremonial as the far reaching surrounding mountains that previously made up smaller imperial settlements have been grouped together as Greater Shenkuu. Provinces owned by the emperor further afield around Neopia have largely been absorbed into their localities by steady process of homogenisation into the local populations, and so Shenkuu today is imperial by nothing more than name though it frequently sends out trading and conquest ships for exploration and wealth accumulation to keep up appearances. The rich imperial history of this land however is highly visible in the vastly wealthy architecture. Stone from as far as the Haunted Woods, and bridge structures from Faerieland architects, as well as tapestries and artefacts from the old civilisations of Qasala and Sakhmet.
The topography of Shenkuu is possibly one of the most important contributing features that affect Shenkuu’s building types. It is without a doubt extremely difficult to construct liveable buildings atop thin, spire like mountain peaks without the aid of either stilts and scaffolding, or a solid foundational base. Furthermore, continuous rainfall – accounting for the eternal rivers rushing down from the peaks of the mountains to the bases has made building construction a challenge from Shenkuu architects. However, this challenge is highly rewarding, for the solid structure of many of the stone buildings is second to none in Neopia; if it were not for the risk of landslides, Shenkuu – despite its appearance, is one of the safest places to inhabit.
Some of the overarching themes of Shenkuu architecture pertain to building material. It seems that the more important structures of the Imperial Palace, the Lunar Temple, and many lower down dwellings are constructed from rock and slate, likely from the nearby Altador Quarry but my sources tell me they are old buildings and out of status of the architect the rock would have come from wherever was most expensive and exotic at the time. The lesser buildings, such as the temporary training grounds and the docks for the sky ships are constructed from wood. Further down the mountains are lush forests, which provide ease of access to the material. The downside to wooden architecture however is that many more ancient structures have been lost. I’ve been told the rich city of Shenkuu used to house many more lunar temples and minor palaces and dwellings more beautiful than most of Neopia, but their materials have since perished over time.
A similar fate likely awaits the wooden bridges that link the main Shenkuu structures together. These bridges, requiring bi-annual maintenance, are built from convenience. Stone bridges would be wholly inappropriate as in a given year, the link from a residential area to a market, or to the palace may change. Infrequent flooding and landslides mean that Shenkuu is constantly rebuilt subject to the weather. The timbre bridges adapt to this changing situation whilst remaining harmonious to the setting. There is nothing more aesthetically pleasing nor peaceful than crossing a rope bridge in the swaying Shenkuu breeze. Unless you’re scared of heights!
The other key advantage to using the complex system of bridges, other than for convenience and style, is that it forces the citizen – or more likely the tourist to take certain paths. These certain pathways wind between shops and houses designed to create the most dramatic approach to both the temple and the palace. If the palace is seen from afar, and then several bridges and winding paths around mountain peaks is then traversed, the second glimpse of the palace is infinitely more spectacular and awe-inspiring. This makes Shenkuu a truly magical place, and one is unable to leave without experiencing the entire city.
Exploring now, specific landmarks Shenkuu is famous for, we see some common trends. Similar to the globalisation of Central Neopia style architecture, we can see many shops taking on the appearance of the items they sell. See the influence from the large, Burger shaped Food Shop in Central Neopia, or the aptly designed Book Shop. Here in Shenkuu we have Culinary Concoctions that on the exterior is shaped like a giant Wok pan. This interesting architecture however disguises the stairwell leading down into a large central kitchen entirely roof-ed with glass. Drainage, by right, should be a terrible problem for Chef Bonju but he assures me that Shenkuu has its methods. Similarly, Remarkable Restoratives is shaped on the exterior like a large kettle used to brew restorative potions, the interior neatly located by the chimney such that the kettle is always lightly steaming.
Pagodas are another phenomena whilst not unique to Shenkuu, exist in a high concentration here. By definition, this is a tiered tower that can be seen for miles around. They are specifically designed in Shenkuu to both reach up and worship the moon, but also they respect the mountains they are built upon by building them in their own image. The arched roofing catch the raindrops so that they may trickle down gently long after the rain has stopped, and the finial at the very top of each structure acts as a lightning rod perhaps also showing utmost respect of the sky whilst trying to remain connected infinitely to nature. These buildings are more important than residential or shops, so they are almost always constructed from brickwork and stone.
The most important example of architecture in Shenkuu, which no article on could be complete without, is the Imperial Palace of Shenkuu. As one of the oldest buildings it stands proud on the far East of Shenkuu, the second highest mountain only to the Lunar Temple so that it may stand proud and overlook the great city. It is constructed traditionally with a multi-layered plan. The central administrative area, which houses both the emperor and his family but also several halls, kitchens, meeting rooms, and art galleries is behind two layers of walls and a large staircase connecting the imperial court garden to the central palace. It has watch towers and guard posts stationed at the front, and any visitors wishing to enter the palace are beholden to these guards. The nature of the architecture makes it incredible difficult to either scale the walls, or slip past the front entrance. The walls are a typical red brick that is traditional to Shenkuu, mixing marble with Altadorian rock as well as a small percentage of Shenkuu mountain rock, as afterall this palace is very much a key part of the region it makes sense to have it constructed from the very ground its foundations lay in. The roofing is slate, but ornately designed and highly expensive and sought after not least of all as the original designers took their secrets with them thousands of years ago, making repairs and replicas near impossible.
Thus this summarises the brief overlook into architecture of Shenkuu. As with all lands, architecture is an important cultural indicator and facet of society and honestly a student of architecture could talk for a hundred pages on Shenkuu, but other lands call. What can be said though, is that Shenkuu is a beacon to designers all around Neopia and it will likely remain the historical citadel we see today. With a few extra bridges of course.