Partners-in-charge Lyndon Neri & Rossana Hu
Associate-in-charge Cai Chun Yan
Photos Pedro Pegenaute
Text Antonella Boisi
China is very close to Italy and Milan, the capital of design, fashion and food, at least in the minds of Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, architect-designers based in Shanghai.
The studio Neri&Hu is known as one of the most interesting on the international scene, as is proven by many prizes and honors, and by the furnishings they have designed for leading Italian companies, as well as crafted collections of traditional Chinese furnishings, reinterpreted in an original way. The studio has also done outstanding renovation projects, such as the Waterhouse Hotel created in a former military building from the 1930s, or the Mercato Italian restaurant on the Bund. For years, the two have combined design work with teaching. They explain that Chinese architects need to develop their own independent manifesto of design, and they emphasize the value of conservation and reuse, not to be taken for granted in the Orient. In the project shown here they have managed to do something more, ‘squaring the circle’ to offer a new proposition. They have restructured a historic colonial building with severe red brick facades built by the English at the start of the 20th century, in 1910, as the Police Headquarters of the Jing’an district, restoring its charm and granting it a new life. It is conceived as a design hub that comes to terms with the memory of edifice, reinventing its spaces in a radical functional transformation, with the idea of translating the encounter of East and West into interior design. In the 2400 m2 known as the Design Republic Design Commune (the name is already a program) high-end design stores are gathered (including many Italian brands, from Alessi to Flos to Matteograssi), along with a design gallery to display the collections of the brand Design Republic by Neri&Hu, an event space, a cafe, a restaurant run by the chef Jason Atherton (Michelin star) and a small guesthouse with one room. A sum of signs, objects and atmospheres organized, together with the choices of the materials and the layout, in a choral approach to the contemporary image of the place. “On this stage the furniture, accessories, books, fashion pieces, lights and flowers are the actors, conveying the sense of the discovery of differences, experimentation, care for spaces based on materials, details, aromas and readings,” Neri & Hu explain. The goal? “To demonstrate what the world of design can offer to China, to inform and educate local designers and consumers, helping them see things from a different perspective, beyond the clichés of the market. And also, one day, we hope this place can display what China can offer to the world. The proposal of a shopping experience filtered and integrated in theme areas takes the force of tradition and the style of the place into full consideration. The still vibrant red brick facades of the original architecture (protected by heritage regulations) have been cleaned and given a lighter images towards the street thanks to a glass perimeter paced by an elegant structure in raw iron, a new volumetric appendix-prosthesis that activates the building, staging its new functions. In the interiors, after a delicate ‘surgical operation’ that frees the enclosure from elements added over the course of the years, including some floors and slabs no longer needed in a situation of greater openness, the space reveals its original structure, with wooden boards for the ceilings and crossed salvaged beams, exposed brick and whitewashed plaster surfaces. A ‘crude’ constructive character that blends nicely with the floors in seasoned wood, terrazzo or cement, the furnishings and the glass lamps that hang from the rugged ceiling. And above all with the new, essential transparent glass partitions that offer glimpses and ongoing relationships between the parts, in a rhythmical play of openings that allow light to enter from every angle on the three levels of the building. In pursuit of new balances between old and new, stories and presences from yesterday, today and tomorrow.