5m wide storefront and 8m² interior space
Real Estate Shopfront
171 Yuyao Road, Shanghai, China
Level + Estate Real Estate
Andrei Zerebecky, Claudia Colmo, Jianghao Cai
Highlite Images (Spencer Chuang, Cindy Chuang)
Level + Estate’s new representative office is located in an aging, neglected, commercial podium with residential high rise towers above. The facade of the podium is cluttered with a chaotic mess of signboards, animated LED texts, tenant-produced graphics and brightly colored canopy extensions. Everyone is competing with one another for the attention of passing consumers. Our client also wanted to make an impact on the street and draw attention to their new representative office space. We advised them that trying to compete for attention with the existing neighbors by using these same tactics would not stand out – and in fact blend them into the background. Therefore, for the design of this project, we took the contrarian approach, proposing a palette of all-white materials both inside and out, to draw attention to their new location through a serene, monochromatic architectural gesture. Hence we’ve dubbed the project ‘White Noise’.
As a representative office, the client only required a small space for a skeleton staff to meet prospective tenants of surrounding properties and occasionally bring clients to warm up and drink a cup of tea. This was also a strategic move towards eventually overtaking the existing tenant leases (of the rest of the podium) and have a larger property to renovate. As a first step towards this goal of overtaking the whole podium, they leased a space not much larger than 20m² which was being leased to a shoe cobbler. As the new landlord of the shoe cobbler tenant, our client negotiated to overtake a small 8m² storage room he was not utilizing, but which had a significantly sized street frontage. This was what we then overtook and renovated into their new representative office.
Eight square meters is not a generous interior space for an office by any standard. So our initial instinct was to treat all the interior surfaces and furnishings with a monochromatic white material palette to ensure it was bright and filled with light. A glossy white epoxy floor finish ensured daylight, tree silhouettes reflected into the interior, connecting it with the street and creating the illusion of a larger space. Yet the true illusion came with the design of the façade – and quite surprisingly, was achieved by borrowing a strategy the local merchants of the neighborhood employed daily. Every morning, merchants stack their products and hang featured product displays on the street in front of their shops, expanding their sales floors to the sidewalk and looking like an overflowing cornucopia of products. We took that as a departure point for how we would make Level+Estate’s meagre space look more substantial and impressive from the street. Our existing shopfront was a walk-up unit, accessed by a set of 5 stairs flanked by planters. The storefront area above that was a patchwork of haphazard renovations and mix of materials from the last 30 years of tenant renovations. We saw an opportunity to blend the planters, the stairs and the façade itself into a new architectural gesture that achieved our goals of expanding our client’s street presence while seemingly enlarging the interior space as well.
We developed a language of terraced planters with organic form that grow from the sidewalk, up the façade and terminate with a canopy over the entrance. The fluid curves of the planters seem to emanate from within the office space and reach out into the street, just as the local merchants do with their wares.
The interior and the exterior now bleed together in color and in form. The heights of each successive planter correspond with elements of the interior space. The interior floor level, the work surfaces, the corkboard wall finish and the interior ceiling are all strata that read as continuations of the façade language and vice versa. Finally, centered on the back wall is a custom made corkboard relief map of the surrounding Jing-An district highlighting Level + Estates projects in the area.