Neri&Hu adaptively reuses bare decrepit structure to house its headquarters

Located in the bustling Jing’an Temple area in Shanghai, this adaptive reuse of the four-storey concrete structure, No. 31, comes with special significance for the global practice.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Dec 30, 2020

Neri&Hu Design and Research Office, founded by Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, has been successful in creating a valuable niche for itself, especially with its sensitive adaptive reuse practices. Its vast repertoire of architectural work has had a special proclivity towards finding potential in nondescript structures and transforming them into novel spaces. Naturally thus, when an opportunity to reutilise one such “artefact of urban excess” arose in Shanghai, No. 31, it also brought along the opportunity of a reformed and relocated residence for the N&H studios. The lure was quick, the draw mutual, and the result is a rebirthed building with a raw aesthetic, grunge even in its embellishments. “Instead of just discarding (it) for a newer, yet still unremarkable building as the previous tenant saw fit to do, we embraced instead the potential to transform it and give it a chance to not only survive, but thrive as a beacon for design,” states an official release on their tryst to adaptively reuse the site.

  • The new scheme makes no changes to the existing structure of the building | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    The new scheme makes no changes to the existing structure of the building Image: Hao Chen
  • The building is now rife with potential spaces where the new and old co-exist | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    The building is now rife with potential spaces where the new and old co-exist Image: Hao Chen
  • Architectural models in fibreboard/wood against exposed concrete make for a stunning backdrop | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    Architectural models in fibreboard/wood against exposed concrete make for a stunning backdrop Image: FangFang Tian

The said building was a four-storey concrete framed structure anchored in the busy Jing’an Temple area of the city, serving as offices and dormitories for a local telecom company. The entire process of adapting the existing structure to its new programme was peeled in layers, beginning with alterations to the main façade, in an effort to shift its proportions and perception without interfering with the visible columns and RCC structure in the elevation. A bare concrete shell was now to be adorned by filling in its large and repetitive fenestrations: the perfunctory windows were replaced by infilling the top portion of the opening, up till lintel level, with courses of glass bricks. Simultaneously, the lower portion comprises openable windows, strung together with a unifying black metal frame, creating the illusion of long horizontal ribbon windows running through the length of the façade on each floor.

  • Existing slabs have been selectively cut to introduce voids and internal staircases | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    Existing slabs have been selectively cut to introduce voids and internal staircases Image: Hao Chen
  • The new internal staircase connects the third and fourth floors of the building with Neri&Hu offices/studios | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    The new internal staircase connects the third and fourth floors of the building with Neri&Hu offices/studios Image: Hao Chen

The entire building sans the ground floor is covered in a dark grey coat, mirroring a shade of exposed concrete, while the ground floor receives a cladding treatment that spells opposites in both visual and tactile texture. The wall that anchors an ambulatory staircase at one end of the building, continuing unbroken before weaving in and out of the building footprint to signify access points, doubling up as fully glazed storefronts, is covered in glazed green tiles, emulating the sheen and hue of emerald. A deep canopy binds these undulations, accentuating the break in materiality as well as proving a welcoming threshold to the building. What the façade reformation without structural reformation essentially does is impart the building a warmer language as opposed to the previous, constrictive architectural language.

  • The upper floors are painted dark gray while the ground floor is clad in undulating green glazed tiles | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    The upper floors are painted dark gray while the ground floor is clad in undulating green glazed tiles Image: Hao Chen
  • The open kitchen facilities on the second floor | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    The open kitchen facilities on the second floor Image: Hao Chen
  • The fenestrations have been partially infilled with glass bricks | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    The fenestrations have been partially infilled with glass bricks Image: Hao Chen
  • Glass partitions framed in black steel add to the industrious feel of the building | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    Glass partitions framed in black steel add to the industrious feel of the building Image: Hao Chen

The second layer of the adaptive reuse process of the building was the structure: all existing concrete post and beam constructions, despite surface aberrations and irregularities, were left intact and exposed. A few selective core cuts were introduced in the slabs to facilitate double height spaces and a new internal staircase in the third and fourth floors occupied by Neri&Hu themselves. Working with the original structural grid, the open floor plan was then further subdivided into smaller spaces according to a new internal spatial programme that could satisfy the needs of a collaborative design studio. The project also shares a broader ambition for the design practice to build upon their notion of a “design commune”, one that they began with their Design Republic flagship store 10 years ago. The other tenants that occupy the new, revamped office complex include Artling, Luneurs Bakery, and furniture brands Stellar Works and Muuto, representing a microcosm of the creative community flourishing in Shanghai, and reflective of the kind of collective that Neri&Hu wish to foster. The existing staircase connecting all the floors of the building provides access to co-working and open kitchen facilities on the second floor, a multipurpose event space on the mezzanine between second and third floor, and a rooftop garden, harbouring a shared, communal feeling amongst the tenants of the building.

  • Incisions in the slabs allow for double height spaces to be created | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    Incisions in the slabs allow for double height spaces to be created Image: Hao Chen
  • Black steel frames from partitions seamlessly transform into shelving units | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    Black steel frames from partitions seamlessly transform into shelving units Image: Hao Chen

Despite a mixed occupancy, Neri&Hu’s signature aesthetic reigns supreme in the building, with the firm citing it as imperative given that the N&H collective, including Design Republic, occupy three floors of the four-storey structure. Numerous bespoke and particularly detailed design interventions within their new office space, including steel from glass partition mullions extending to form shelving, and the reception desk enveloping and integrating the structural column into its design, solidify the practice’s commitment to and understanding of an often overhyped principal in design: interdisciplinary and holistic in nature, covering the vast but overlapping arenas of architecture, interior design, product design, furniture, and even the graphic signage and visual design.

  • Floor Plans | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    Floor Plans Image: Courtesy of Neri&Hu
  • Section and Elevation, no. 31 | No. 31 Adaptive Reuse | Neri&Hu | STIRworld
    Section and Elevation, no. 31 Image: Courtesy of Neri&Hu

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