This Shanghai spa is a dream you won’t want to wake up from

Shanghai – The idea of Freud as a design inspiration is lot to unpack. For Shanghai-based Hip-pop design team, though, using the Austrian neurologist as a referent for Jiyu Spa had a simpler aim: they sought to access a dream-like state through spatial activation.

There’s a major difference between Freud’s motivations and Hip-pop’s, however: in the spa, the unconscious is not be meant to be over-analysed but felt and enjoyed in the moment.

Hip-pop refers to it as perspective creation. Immersed in the 2000 sq-m space, visitors are privy to a whole new sensory world with optical illusions aplenty. Transparent, reflective glass and wood veneer help reveal hidden visual content and capitalise on the balance between light and dark in the surroundings – it almost feels like jumping inside of a pre-set Apple wallpaper.


For those accustomed to spas swathed in light, the dark environments of Jiyu propose a different means of rejuvenation, one that foreshadows the merit of phygital design in future wellness spaces. Hip-pop is ahead of this curve: as more designers jump to blur the lines between reality and illusion, it’s clear the escapism we seek is a new perspective – whether that be in retail, hospitality or otherwise. And there’s hardly a more suitable interior setting for testing that than spas – they’re literally designed to encourage people to ditch the drudgery of the day-to-day at the door. Where else are we more inclined to give in to, well, giving in?

As more designers jump to blur the lines between reality and illusion, it’s clear the escapism we seek is a new perspective

That’s why it was so crucial to Hip-pop that they design a setting to surprise even the most avid of spa-goers. It works: the immersive eye candy in the lobby, chanting room and exhibition area would both sate mega-fans of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms and enthral VR aficionados – it’s spatial REM. If we stick with that metaphor, the private rooms can be compared to the ephemeral, euphoric feeling of waking up after a long rest, the one just before you remember there’s no coffee left. They’re minimal compared to the rest of Jiyu, but it feeds the spatial narrative – the contrast represents the ebb and flow of dreaming.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to lucid dream – and wouldn’t mind a massage while you do – a visit to Jiyu may just be what Freud ordered.

Liked this article?
We've got more for you

Sign up to our newsletter for weekly updates. Or view the archive.