Friday, July 30, 2010

Shanghai 2010 - Z58

Z58 is an office building for a lighting design company (Zhongtai Lighting Group) located on Fanyu Road in the French Concession. Converted from an old watch factory, the renovation was designed by famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

From the outside, the building almost disappears due to deliberate design by the architect. The façade is a series of horizontal stainless steel planter boxes which cover the entire front elevation of the building. The mirror finish of the stainless steel reflect the surrounding, and the small green plants cover the façade completing this disappearing act.

As you enter the building, you are confronted by a 3-storey high atrium entirely covered in glass. It is a glass box design which brings an incredible quality of light into the space. At the opposite end of the atrium is a full mirrored wall which made the space appear much larger then it actually was. There you will also find a single lift in a glass lift shaft connected to the main building with glass bridges. The whole composition is high-tech, yet very natural – a Kengo Kuma trademark.

Inside the building, the design is very minimalist.

The big surprise is on the roof level, where there are a number of private suites for the company’s senior management and guests. The Kengo Kuma trademark water and glass are featured strongly here.

If you are interested to visit, the address is 58 Panyu Road, near the Shanghai Jiaotong University. Be sure to make an appointment as they do not welcome drop-in visitors. Remember this is a functioning office.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shanghai 2010 - Shikumen Old Neighbourhood

Shanghai is famous for its Shikumen Houses – distinctive 2 or 3-storey townhouses with brown-brick exteriors and European-influenced designs. Many of these houses were built in the 18th Century – during the occupation of foreign forces in Shanghai. At one time more then 60% of the population in Shanghai lived in these houses. Many of them are very nicely designed and detailed – much better then the faceless high-rise apartments being built all over the city now.

Originally built as individual residences, most of these houses have since been converted into tenements and rented out to several families under one roof. Each family will occupy one room, and the living conditions are really cramped. Once you look past the beautiful facades, the inside is an entirely different – much less savoury world. Facilities are mostly shared – including the common kitchen.

Life in the Shikumen neighbourhood.

While I was there, a film crew was making a documentary of the area.

As Shanghai continues to develop at a breakneck pace, many of these Shikumen neighbourhoods are in danger of being torn down to make way for new developments. Some have been converted to upscale lifestyle districts – like the famous Xintiandi. Hopefully Shanghai will find a way to preserve these charming and interesting neighbourhoods.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - The Chile Pavilion

As usual I am saving the best for last. This shall be my last post on the Shanghai World Expo 2010 - and its on the pavilion that impressed me the most.

To me the Chile Pavilion is the most architectural among all the pavilions I managed to visit. It really was designed as a building rather then a temporary expo structure - with a level of care and attention to detail which is lacking in many of the other pavilions. From the outside, it looked quite similar to the Australian Pavilion - with its curvy shape and clad in glass walls and core-ten steel. The curving form is quite elegant, and the glass and steel panels lining most of the elevations provide a nice textural and colour contrast.

The entrance lobby - beautiful contrast of materials - rusted steel, glass and untreated wood.

As you enter the Pavilion, you are faced with a massive wall made up of solid blocks of wood. This wall leads into the first exhibition hall which has messages running on LED strips. Moving further, you see the centre of the Pavilion which is a large oval shell made up entirely of wood again. This was really well-finished and beautiful - an impressive centre piece.

Inside the "Wooden Egg" - LCD panels with Chileans reaching out to touch the visitors.

I was admiring the beauty of the architecture more then the actual exhibits, and after passing through the oval shell you end up in a big hall which showcase all the best Chinean products which include of course- wine.

The "Wooden Egg".

At the main hall you can see the oval even better, and even look under the structure which is lined also in wood and carved out to form a curvilinear landscape which serve as a base for the design. Impressive. I managed to find out the name of the designer - and it was Juan Sabbagh of Sabbagh Arquitectos. I did some googling and found out that it is actually one of the leading architectural practices in Chile, a husband and wife team with their children working in the same office !

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - The Netherlands Pavilion

The designers of the Netherlands Pavilion wanted this to be the happiest pavilion at the Expo, and they have achieved it in spades ! Called “Happy Street”, this is definitely the most cheerful looking pavilion of all.

The pavilion has a completely open concept - it has no walls but a continuous ramp which links together a series of "houses" supported on stilts. Each of the houses will present different exhibits which include sculptures, art works, objects from everyday life and also technology. Exhibitors meander on the pedestrian way much like walking in a city street. At night the effect is even more interesting.

Lots of little houses hanging in the air.

The pavilion at night - it really feels like walking in a city street.

Peep into the houses and you will see some interesting exhibits. This one shows a "typical" Dutch house interior.