Retail Therapy

09 october 2013 / architecture / adele chong images charlie xia

01 The K11 Art Mall is housed in Shanghai’s venerable New World Tower; 02 Interiors are inspired by a blend of nature, technology and art; 03 An urban farm and rooftop garden where mall diners can handpick their produce; 04 In-situ art installations are strewn throughout the mall; 05 The geometrically patterned skylight, a statement feature, is showcased within the mall’s double height underground atrium; 06 Kokaistudios founders Filippo Gabbiani and Andrea Destefanis.


A new mall in Shanghai rounds out the consumer experience with art and nature.

Shopping malls have never sat comfortably with the thought of being enlightened—either by nature or culture—but K11 is confident that will soon change. With one Hong Kong “art mall” already under its belt, the developer has now turned its attention to Shanghai, where Italian firm Kokaistudios has added a new point of interest to glitzy Huaihai Road with a new K11 mall. Housed in the venerable New World Tower, a building emblematic of Shanghai’s rapid commercialization during the 1990s, the development has taken on new life since K11 stepped in with its experimental outlook.

Kokaistudios’ overhaul combines conservation and innovation by resurrecting the building’s podium façades, which outwardly acknowledges the heritage of Huaihai Road as well as the original building design. “The biggest challenge was achieving a visionary innovation in a renovation, coordinating instances and players sometimes pushing in opposite directions,” says Kokaistudios co-founder and chief architect Andrea Destefanis.

The same multifaceted perspective is also apparent in the architectural program which features a coordinated mesh of shops, galleries, entertainment and leisure zones spread over a floor area of 35,500 square meters. If this sounds fairly run of the mill, it’s not. Default luxury brands aside, the newly transformed lifestyle center goes against the ongoing trend of cookie-cutter malls by introducing unorthodox attractions such as art education programs, a rooftop garden, and an urban farm and restaurant where diners can handpick organic produce for their entrées. Here, shopping has a soul, or at least the semblance of one.

Embarking on what K11 calls a “journey of imagination,” visitors weave through varying scenarios over the space of nine floors—three of which are underground—pivoted on a sprawling central courtyard that also lays claim to a double-height underground atrium. The latter is seemingly engulfed by the geometric skin of a freeform skylight that simultaneously serves as an entrance. Strewn with in-situ artworks by both Chinese and international artists (a lobby-bound bronze sculpture of a beheaded female cyborg by Damien Hirst has become an attraction unto itself), the Art Mall’s narrative is pieced together by categorized zones that consciously bear reference to natural phenomena; while

meandering past the reinterpreted forest or admiring flora borne by the vertical garden, confirmed urbanites can feel assured that Mother Nature’s best has safely been imported indoors, practically rendering invalid the age-old wisdom of going outside to get in touch with the great outdoors. The most prolific of these is undoubtedly the waterfall, a structural marvel extending over nine floors that comes with its own visual and acoustic accompaniments. The largest such water feature in Asia, it makes a fitting statement piece, one that falls effortlessly in line with the Art Mall’s grand ambitions – all the better to visually drive home the intended impression of a lush, enclosed utopia safely removed from the generic mediocrity of boxy multiplexes.

Given the scope of vision involved in elaborating this near-mythical haven, it’s interesting to learn that the “K” in K11—a name initially chosen by executive director Cheng Chi-kong—actually stands for “Kingdom.” Indeed, what better way to describe a comfortably insulated domain where carefully calibrated measures of wealth, culture and luxuriant surroundings (for eco-conscious lords of the land) exist as a sovereign—albeit momentary—remedy for all our urban ills?



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