by Pallavi MehraJun 04, 2022
Joining the fashion world in its quest to explore innovative ideas that create an impact, is the retail design industry and its artistic explorations. While the fashion industry is looking for inspiration in architecture, spatial design is exploring experiential art. In their probe to transfigure the act of buying into an immersive experience, China-based dongqi Design has reimagined a historical ruin into a retail store. In the heart of Shanghai city, an old factory is given a facelift as XC273 by XCOMMONS, the refurbished building presents itself as a “new fashion and art hub that is going to break the rules of retail experience”.
Designed as an underground tunnel, the entrance is the first spatial experience visitors encounter, this is their introduction to the immersive experience. The architects define this entrance as “a blurred space, where the boundary between public streets and retail is dissipated”. Adding to the drama of the entrance is a ‘sound tunnel’ on the ground floor. In addition to enhancing the journey inside the retail store, the sound tunnel connects two different areas of the building in an immersive experimental music experience. Expressing the design as “a kaleidoscope of identities”, the architects further add, “Like a space-time machine, the tunnel creates unique moments where the reflection of the floor engages with the perception of the visitors, altered also by the stretched length of the corridor.”
As an extension to the concept of space-time from the horizontal to the vertical, the second floor can be visually accessed from the ground and first floor. Extending this transparency of spaces is the panoramic visual connectivity of the three-storied building which reveals unique paving and ceiling on each level. Explaining the conceptual perspectives of the interior spaces, the architects share, “In order to increase this sense of the journey as if one was exploring a forest, mirror finish was applied to walls and ceiling to disorient the visitors so that every single corner can become a moment of surprise, as described in Stendhal’s syndrome.”
In the three-storied old structure, the presence of three voids becomes the driving force for the core idea of design. Allowing the architects to develop an internal circulation system without any dead-ends, these atriums help create a continuous internal flow enabled by different paths. Amid the three voids, the main void in the atrium becomes the locus of activity in the building. Enhancing the presence of the atrium is a water pond, placed at its centre. Along with being an interesting identity for the design, the water pond also elevates the user experience by engaging with people and interior spaces. Sharing the thought behind the significance of the water pond in interior spaces, the architects mention, “Its reflection, the continuity of the floor and the liquid element create intriguing effects where the ceiling lighting is mirrored onto the floor.”
Exposing existing structural finish, all surfaces of the columns towards the water pond are exposed while the other two sides are wrapped in diverse materials such as stone, wood and metal. The initial thought of establishing a contrasting identity is continued in the creation of a mood board which reflects a dramatic perception of textures, patterns and colours. While creating a sense of spatial continuity, this “sandwich” approach and column design near the atrium void are carried on to display fixture designs as well.
Adding to visitors’ intriguing experience is the stair leading to the second floor, suspended above the water pond crossing through the ceiling as a tiny cut into the slab. Here, white finishes enhance the old wooden structure of the pitched roof. Framing a scenic view toward the city and sky is a big square opening which also regulates the light entering the space. While opposing the pure aesthetics of the second floor, the VIP room reveals to be a dark gem. “Different materials give continuity to the space thanks to their black colour finish, which, during spring and summer, allows the colour of the trees nearby to penetrate into the space, creating a unique private experience,” state the architects.
Amid the friction of contrasting materials, the staircase design acts as an integral element establishing a connection between all spaces. Presenting the stairs as a milestone in the design process and journey path, the architects state, “After extensive consultation with structural engineers, the stairs are presented as they are in their pure structure. All the decorative elements have been removed in order to focus on their function. Due to its stainless-steel properties, the stairs are a strong and ephemeral presence inside the space, creating interesting effects with the sun and light reflections.” The coherent architectural language can be seen in the balustrade as well. Designed as a simple element sliding into the structural beam of the stairs at the bottom, the balustrade has a profile on the top to allow visitors to grab the handrail without interfering with the fence.
A new paving finish is used in contrast with the old to enhance the peculiar existing terrazzo floor composed of geometrical patterns. Furthermore, each area is differentiated by a unique ceiling design with a distinct type of lighting customised by the architects themselves. While allowing visitors to have a unique spatial experience filled with surprises, discoveries and unfolding of the space in parts and corners, XC273 by XCOMMONS opens new windows of immersive retail experience. As per the architects, the genesis of the renovation roots in the history of the building. While recollecting their inspiration to redesign the old factory into a retail store, dongqi Design shares, “Born as a factory, the building has been transformed by several architectural interventions in different parts over time. Conscious of this, we decide to keep all the differences of the space and show the history of the building so that people walking in could feel that the boundaries between the past and the present are completely blurred as if they had walked into a timeless space.”
In the process of absorbing stories and anecdotes from the past of a building to shape its future, architecture seems to be an effective tool. While reflecting the history of an old factory in a contrasting realm of retail fashion, the designers bring forth an interesting narrative of how time and space in design can overwhelm the user in transforming a function into an experience. If rudimentary finishes can reflect polished thoughts if refurbished spaces can present innovative new ideas, and if history can host present, what’s NEXT in line for retail design?
Project Name: XC273 by XCOMMONS
Area: 1600 sqm
Location: Lane 273, Jiaozhou Rd, Shanghai
Design: March 2021
Completion: February 2022
Architecture, interior, lighting, fixture design: dongqi Design
Design Director: JIANG Nan
Project Designers: Edoardo Nieri, Weijing He
Team: Danyi Zhang, Ning Wang, Hardy Huang, Ruisheng Yang, Yijun Zhou, Yixin Tu, Yijun Yan, Asteria Chen, Wenjing You
Project Concept: XCOMMONS
Art Direction: XimonLee
Structural Engineer: Shanghai Sanyao Structural Consulting & Design
Project Management and General Contractor: Shanghai Topin Decoration