From the façade in, fashion retailer Concepts' first China store keeps with its Shikumen-style neighbours, housed in a century-old building in Shanghai’s Xintiandi. But all is not that meets the eye: if you look closely at the outside doors and windows, stainless steel materials have been rotated vertically to 90 degrees, embellished into the old grey bricks. It’s the first hint of the two totally different interiors multidisciplinary design studio Dongqi Architects created for Concepts Xintiandi’s front and back spaces, a solution to fulfil the retailer’s diverse operational needs.

Dongqi Architects opted to retain the original Shikumen elements of the building in the entry area as it offers a warm, sociable ambiance ideal for reception and Concepts’ events, product shows and sneaker releases. The back space however – built with anodic aluminium oxide, stainless steel, metal textiles, carbon fibre and terrazzo – is designed to be in complete juxtaposition with the front. This futuristic, illusory sales area is deliberately blocked from the main route to build a sense of suspense and mystery.

A row of existing columns in the centre of the building posed potential merchandising challenges, though the architects visualized the structures as an advantage rather than a problem. They developed and added two extra rows of pillars to the originals, creating an umbrella-shaped system that creates order in the space and relatively independent product display areas. Slats of shutters built into this system using an algorithm change angles at different heights, both an aesthetic and highly functional feature as they accommodate display and conceal the building’s mechanical systems.

Opposing walls are surfaced in mirror-finish stainless steel and concrete, a visual trick to widen the space and multiply the columns. Another illusion of depth is created by the orthogonal projections of the umbrella system on the overlapping joint lines of the terrazzo floor – the ground gradually switches colours entirely.