Shanghai by Night
Jenny Shears -- Interior Design, 5/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Shanghai's highest-profile project is arguably the 104-story World Financial Center—the tallest building on earth by 2007, if all goes according to the Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates plan. But it's a two-story conversion that's currently looming large in the PalmPilots of the international leisure and entertainment set. Recently completed by AFSO with the backing of the Zen Group, Zenzibar is an East meets West restaurant and nightclub in the up-and-coming Xin Tian Di district.
Zenzibar occupies a 19th-century shikumen house, a building form traditional in Shanghai. A time-honored tradition in hospitality design informed principal Andre Fu's repurposing: He kept the shell intact while inserting contemporary elements.
"Some see it as a San Francisco–type blend of cultural sensibilities," he says. "I see it spatially as Western, with Chinese details." Disparate aesthetics jostle together, elbow to elbow, in a mix that's Ang Lee spectacular.
Fu began by enhancing the house's gray brick exterior with glass double doors. Inside, he blew away the rectilinear shikumen floor plan, opening up the 4,000-square-foot space to embrace a lexicon of organic and biomorphic elements. It feels like walking into the living, breathing belly of a very beautifully designed beast.
The bulk of Zenzibar's materials were sourced locally, including the matte black Mongolian granite flooring and the extensive wood elements, several of them hand-stained according to the venerable Chinese technique. A "cocoon" of slats in natural oak, hand-cut on-site, screens the back elevation, wrapping around to form the inner wall of a side corridor.
Punctuating this undulating wall of slats are the reflective black plastic-laminate doors to Zenzibar's four private dining rooms, evoking Shanghai tea salons from before the Cultural Revolution. The rooms are spare in furnishings but rich in detailing. Ceiling reliefs display an angular pattern; dark-stained oak latticework overlays wallpaper the color of green tea. Each of the four features a tall stained-oak cabinet and identical latticework installed over an end wall clad in jade-green slate. "A touch of vertical landscape," Fu says.
Because he had carte blanche at Zenzibar, he was able to impose his own set of goals, and he designed nearly every item of furniture—from the chairs covered in leather and suede to the front room's communal table, an attenuated kidney shape in white Corian. Flower-motif ceramic wall tiles are his design, too.
Despite such full involvement, Fu still completed the project in only four months. "It's the Asian speed of getting things done," he says. Pass that along to KPF.