Although Xi’s criticisms have since shaped official government guidelines regarding the building of buildings, broader architectural practice in China has not been fully impeded. Here, below we examine a choice of interior projects completed within the past couple of years in Shanghai to illustrate the way local architects continue to experiment and push boundaries.

The three emphasized projects illustrate just a few of the innovative approaches utilized by architects working in China. Their methods – that range from experimenting with resources, procedures and material pairings, to unique ways of organising space, – do not merely offer you innovative ways of encountering and moving throughout buildings, but also add to the multi-dimensional experiences that have come to define urban Shanghai. Even though Xi’s words may have signalled the end for “bizarre” architecture in China, it appears that there is still actually much to play for.

Sissi’s Wonderland Library
by Muxin Design Studio

Devised from Muxin Design Studio, Sissi’s Wonderland Library for kids poetically encapsulates the idea of learning through play. Designed to resemble a giant toy, the space encourages exploration by means of a string of pathways and arched doorways that lead to semi-private alcoves. Lined in timber, these areas feature low-level chairs in which kids can sit and read, either on their own or with their parents, as well as small arched windows that frame leafy plants, similar to traditional Chinese ink paintings.

The library’s main space is a central, circular-shaped reading and play zone intended for more active socialising. Enclosed with a wooden bookshelf that goes inwards to form a seat, this area is finished with a green, grass-like rug, and complemented with a black ceiling that simulates the night sky once the lights are on. The light-toned materials otherwise used during bring about an overall welcoming atmosphere, inviting kids – in the words of the architects – to “freely explore, discover and create their very own lively encounter”, sparking creativity and imagination.

The Hub Performance and Exhibition Centre
by architects Hu & Neri

Inspired by forest tree canopies and rock formations, The Hub Performance and Exhibition Centre by architects Neri & Hu aims to elicit a calming, nature-like atmosphere. The main atrium of the mixed-use complex demonstrates an eye-catching ceiling built of walnut- and oak-covered aluminium sticks arranged to seem like “a floating canopy”. The feature sharply stands out from the remainder of the center’s cavern-like interior, clad in gray sandstone to mirror the striated surfaces of carved rock.

Contrasting materials similarly characterise other spaces in the complex. A 750-seat auditorium, for instance, illustrates a mixture of hard rock walls and softer slat displays – the latter referencing ancient Chinese bamboo slides, once utilized to record stories. Elsewhere, bars take the form of wooden homes “carved into the stone”, and metal trellises provide privacy in spacious and spacious VIP rooms. Even the bathrooms, which feature golden bathroom cubicles that adjoin green-tiled washrooms, have obtained the special Neri & Hu treatment.

The Jade Museum
by Archi-Union

For Shanghai’s Jade Museum, architecture company Archi-Union utilized digital design programs to reconfigure the gallery’s interior layout, translating “the folding of circulation flows into [the] folding of space itself”. The outcome is a twisted staircase that forms a spiralling path through three split-level floors, providing access to exhibit areas, bars, a tearoom, and just a meditation area. While digital fabrication regularly plays a central part in Archi-Union’s practice, these processes were crucial to reducing waste and prices for this job without compromising the integrity of its geometric design.

Words by Zara Arshad for Molteni&C Magazine 13.
The Hub Performance Center photographs: Dirk Weiblen