I was in Shanghai to meet with a new client, the Chinese lighting company Zhongtai who have commissioned a breathtaking new office, showroom and exhibition space by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
The first thing to hit you about this city – the once named Paris of the East – is the sheer scale of the place. It is much higher rise than Tokyo, with soaring motorways dissecting the landscape. Tucked in between all of these are some beautiful period villas all but hidden by the modern city growing up around them.
Whether it’s a giant elephant (The Sultan’s Elephant event in May) or a small herd of sheep, spectacle is a great way of engaging the masses. The sheep drive from Borough Market to Smithfields marked the launch of the London Architectual Biennale. The animals were accompanied by architect icons Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, and robed members of the Butchers’ Company exercising their right to drive sheep across the City of London’s bridges. There were only about 30 sheep, and they were difficult to see, but the crowds were somehow curious enough to follow them from the South Bank to Smithfields where there was food, information, craft and interactive stalls. A great way of luring people to the area.
I was in Dubai to meet with our new clients, the International Design Initiative. It was my first time in Dubai so I was keen to find out what this city had to offer. Dubai is a city in rapid flux.
Dubai has little in the way of historical architecture but there is a collection of old merchant’s houses in the Bastikya, area. It is an area where the ancient and the new collide and connect to great effect. My favourite find was the contemporary art gallery/guest house/cafe called XVA.
No visit to Dubai is complete without a visit to the Burj al Arab, the worlds only 7 star hotel. Designed by WS Atkins, the hotel was built to resemble the sail of an Arabian dhow. The interior is a riot of clashing colours, dancing fountains and the world’s tallest atrium.
Zara Home have created a home store which feels like a clothes store, or as they put it ‘fashion in the home’. Stretching over three floors, the store is filled with this season’s appealing bright colours that uplift the shopper. The shop is filled with decorative items, beauty products, crockery, cutlery, linen and towels, and even loungewear, at prices that make you want to hastily place everything in your basket. Although the stock is not as extensive as that in Habitat, nor the 400m2 space as awe-inspiring, what they do have is of high quality and extremely affordable. Zara Home offers an easy yet inspiring shopping experience, and the beautiful wrapping at the till is a great final touch.
One of the best satellite exhibitions during the New York Design Week was Mobile Living. The purpose of the exhibition was to look at innovative and new designs for housing, whether it be mobile homes, prefab homes or temporary homes. The exhibition was held at the Skylight Studios Gallery in Soho and the highlight of the show were futuristic cars. The minivan hybrid Toyota F3R brought home and transport together. The car can be reconfigured from three sets of seats to a sort of conversation lounge one might find in a home with full flat screen entertainment system, and ambient mood lighting. Scion also launched a similar car where the tailgate drops when the car is parked to provide an outdoor bench, speakers and drinks cooler.