The booming North Bunt area of the city of Shanghai carries an interesting juxtaposition between past and present, with a messily constructed yet historically rich suburban streetscape, blending with the fast-paced lives of the business executives and busy parents crowding the area. Wutopia Lab, a Chinese architectural firm that looks at tradition as the starting point for the multiple readings offered by the city’s rapid social evolution and lifestyle diversity, was recently given a very interesting task to complete: As a great example of the public sector joining forces with the private practices of talented creators, they were commissioned by the North Bund Tanghan Street council of Shanghai to take on a small space, basically a storefront covering a mere 35 square metres, and transform it into a communal spot for the parents that flood Nanxun Road during the day, due to the location of the Beihong Senior High school right across the street.
Picking up their offspring from school, prepping them for the day's tutoring classes and study sessions, or simply sharing a warm meal and some light conversation, had created the need for a space where the local community's tiger moms could meet, interact and help each other with their parenting chores. The small, almost abandoned space previously used as a shop front for a care facilities e-shop, has now been reinterpreted into an ideal little enclave that can also be used for workshops, art displays, tea parties and ad hoc private lessons for the busy Shanghai students and their “momagers”.
In order to make a clear and simple stylistic statement, Wutopia Lab’s architects came up with a shape that would separate the space from the clustered shops of the street while. A bright and weightless arch welcomes passers-by into this tiny bright universe, where the same curved element is replicated inside, in order to offer a layered visual effect of depth and solace. The irregularly shaped room is spatially separated into three functional areas: A small corner is dedicated to storing bags and books, while the projection area across from the entrance can be used for studying groups and brief lectures. The activity area is a place to sit and rest, have a snack or even a proper meal, recuperate and recharge. The small kitchenette in the back is there just for that. Light flows freely through the large glass entrance, and the leafy green wall of the snack processing area creates the illusion of a through-lot with its own back garden, enhancing the feeling of depth and at the same time giving a sense of lightness to the heavy old building that hosts it.
Simple materials like perforated aluminum and glass, steel plates, and thick coatings, shape the laconic design of this tiny spot where form follows function and intelligent design makes use of every little centimetre. When night falls and the light from the inside beams onto the street outside, sometimes the crescent of the arch evolves into a full circle mirrored on the wet sidewalk, creating thought–evoking connotations to the nearby Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower: A subtle link that connects this old district to the new Shanghai, just like the space behind it gives shelter to the next generation, exactly where there used to be a place catering to the homebound seniors of the city. Just as life has a way of moving in a circle, our contextual connection to our past is probably the best paradigm to pass on to future generations. After all, in Chinese culture the full circle of the moon symbolizes unity, family, and perfection.