SHANGHAI – Hub is a mixed-use development in Hongqiao, a busy subdistrict of Shanghai with all the trademarks of the huge metropolis itself: bright lights, deafening noise and visual overload. At the centre of the Hub complex is a performance and exhibition space with interiors by Shanghai design studio Neri&Hu. The outfit is known for an approach to design and architecture developed by founders Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, who favour a contemporary interpretation of China’s age-old culture and heritage. Drawing inspiration from nature, the design team tucked a calm oasis into the urban chaos of Hongqiao. Grey sandstone covers the walls and parapets of the centre’s capacious galleries, bridges, escalator tunnels and additional passages between floors. ‘We conceived of the interior as a piece of rock from which we carved out each programme space,’ says Neri. ‘The grey stone represents the foundation – a landscape or plot of ground – and is a perfect background material.’
Continuing the language of nature, the ceiling of the atrium in the main exhibition space features a canopy of slender intertwined ‘branches’ that suggest a forest. ‘They wrap down from above to create a sense of layering along the galleries,’ explains Neri. ‘As you meander along the bridge or one of the curved balconies, your experience of the overhead forest shifts as you move.’ Fire regulations prevented the use of timber for the installation, so Neri&Hu had aluminium tubes transfer-printed to resemble wood. The canopy consists of x-shaped modules, each of which is formed by two tubes fastened together. The assembled structure hangs from cables.
In the main auditorium, timber appears in a series of screens that reference bamboo slips, the earliest documents used in ancient China. Slips were long strips of wood wide enough for one or more columns of brush-written text. Smaller design gestures in other parts of the complex include bronze lift cabs, bronze-mesh screens, hand-painted story tiles in VIP dressing rooms, golden toilet cubicles and a green-tiled restroom – none of which reduces the project’s sense of elegant simplicity. Neri&Hu’s uniform materiality and careful distribution of design ideas and visual tableaux combine to provide some much-needed relief from the frenetic streets outside.