Why lab-like interiors are newly relevant in the midst of the COVID crisis

Shanghai – A few years ago, we witnessed the emergence of the lab-like aesthetic. Interiors constructed from slick metal surfaces and dotted with glass flasks were designed to symbolize expertise. Here at Frame, we found a shining example in Betwin Space Design’s Seoul flagship for Dr. Jart+ skincare – so shining, in fact, that we often refer back to the project as the model for the movement.

As discussed in Frame 135, this somewhat clinical character has gained new relevance in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. In this context, ‘scientific’ can communicate ‘safety’, hence the growing desire to develop more hygienic spaces.

Those in the business of food will come under particular scrutiny. COVID-19 may have resulted in a surge of homemade sourdough, but it’s unlikely the time-consuming trend will continue as people return to their routines. And while it’s all well and good to sink your hands into something you will eventually eat, how comfortable will we be with having a stranger do the same – at least until the threat of contamination has been removed? What’s more, even though there’s been an uptick in home cooking – and growing – of all kinds, we’ll still look to industries to keep us fed.

Some companies are moving towards automation, which has been suggested as one way to alleviate interaction between makers and goods – and among employees. It’s an idea one of China’s biggest bakery chains has translated into a concept store, which may have been conceived before COVID-19 took hold but could provide a taste of what’s to come. Here, the lab references don’t just include stainless steel (this time sandblasted) and glass vessels (a revolving flour-filled sphere among them) but extend to the Shanghai store’s name: Holiland Lab. The designers, Das Lab (yes, another ‘lab'), say they envisioned the space as a '"systematic" manufacturing factory, where the products displayed are more like industrial objects that were made with precision and control. The mechanical components imply the advancement of standardization and automatic technologies.'

While standardization and automation are more commonly associated with large-scale productions (and are presumably applied in Holiland’s more industrial factories, too) Das Lab’s design shows that they can happen on a more human scale, too. An added advantage of building such systems into consumer stores is the transparency they convey. At Holiland Lab, that transparency comes with the benefit of security – kitchen staff, though visible, are shielded by glass. Another asset for those trying to survive the rise of the cautious consumer.


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