China Awards 2010: The Black Box
Architects & Firms
Neri and Hu renovated and reskinned a five-story office building on a tree-lined street in the French Concession of Shanghai to create a new headquarters for their architecture firm and their retail furnishings company, Design Republic. They clad the ground floor with wood and inset large windows and glass doors to provide access to a new Design Republic gallery and store. (The original store was on the Bund, but recently closed.) “We approached the store as an extension of the street” to engage pedestrians as they walk by, states Lyndon Neri, who founded the firm with his wife Rossana Hu in 2004 after they had worked for Michael Graves and other architects in both China and the United States.
Above the ground floor, the architects treated the building as a flat, black box with projecting steel-framed windows providing shadows and depth to the street facade. “The idea was to create the sense of having extruded the facade and then cut it to reveal windows inside,” explains Hu.
The second floor houses a showroom with a full kitchen and offices for Design Republic’s 40-person staff. The upper floors serve as the new home for Neri & Hu Design and Research Office, the couple’s expanding architecture firm, which currently has 70 employees and is designing projects in China, the U.S., the Philippines, Singapore, and Mexico. The architects liken their new headquarters to an airplane’s “black box,” because it stores vital information about where their firm has been and what direction it is headed.
Neri and Hu designed the interiors as a combination of white open spaces and textured boxes clad with materials such as yellow glass (for Design Republic’s conference room) and white gypsum board and oak (for the architecture firm’s conference room, which consists of a pair of stacked boxes). The architects connected spaces vertically inside the building by creating views down and up through the interiors. So people can look into the NHDRO conference room, for example, from an upper level. They also connected the interiors horizontally, designing a bridge linking one side of the building to the other and using lots of glass partitions.
The couple kept the needs of their employees in mind when designing the interiors, creating spaces that encourage collaboration and accommodating a range of activities such as working, thinking, eating, and even relaxing.