Jingan, Shanghai, China – 2006
Our very first project, that set an important example of design in China – budget, project site, perspective and purpose all challenged in various ways resulting in a bold new concept.
After a few months of life and work in Shanghai, feeling still very much like European architects, we got the chance to design an art gallery and event space 1918. On paper, perhaps not a dream project for some – 450m2 and hardly any budget, but we were young, eager, and ready. Challenge accepted!
Located in an old 6 story warehouse turned office block, the space was scarred and stripped down. The ruggedness felt fresh and exciting to us; as newbies to the Shanghai design world, we were still digesting the trend of overdesign and fancy schmancy buildings. 1918 was an opportunity to bring together two major realities – rough ‘n tumble with polish and style.
It was important to us that the space was honest. Luckily, keeping things honest aligned with the budget. Simply using what the space offered, we were able to create a comfortable, creative, and entirely new concept.
We added a new floor and a bamboo wood cladded hill that would hold a stage, a cafe on top, and store the office in its belly, exposing the bookstore on the side.
The oversized entrance was designed as a storage and display unit, and also enables both people and cars to enter easily.
The large glass retail facade was a refreshing element in an art space, allowing neighbors and people passing by to get a peek into a world that typically has a high threshold.
The spacial settings – inside and outside, up and down, sparse and dense – all define a richness incoming from Europe, where the building process is decidedly different, there were a few surprises as we went on our daily site visits. Over the course of 10 years we have learned so much about building in Asia, and it’s funny to remember what is so common now on site – smells of stir fry’s and clothes drying on a line – was so foreign then.
We learned a lot from the workers about different techniques and tools. Convincing them that certain things were, indeed, possible – like in the case of 1918’s huge door on a single pivot point, is a skill we employ to this day.
This was our first real experience with design and building in China, and set the tone for the next ten years.