IN luminous neon lights, the scribbles on the traditional Chinese arch of an old stone gateway read ‘Creators Welcome’.
Against the seasoned mortar wall, the laneway is painted in a surprising pink colour. Playing with the narrative of a grand hotel to transport guests and members on an unexpected journey of whimsy, voyeurism and festivity, the words ‘Ring for Service’ flash behind the wood panelling and concrete counter.
Peering curiously into what could easily be mistaken for the set of a Hollywood movie, one would never have guessed that this place is actually a working space.
Welcome to WeWork Weihai Lu, Shanghai’s newest co-working venue — a creative place that inspires, excites and captivates.
Nestled in a former opium factory and artist residence, WeWork Weihai Lu is surrounded by longtangs (traditional lane houses) located in an old residential district in the heart of Shanghai.
The creative interpretations are the works of Linehouse, a Shanghai-based architecture and interior design studio established in 2013 by Alex Mok and Briar Hickling.
WeWork Weihai Lu is the China flagship of the American co-work space and service provider, WeWork.
Established in 2010 in New York City, WeWork has more than 100,000 members spread across 130 locations worldwide.
The workspace-sharing concept is now a common and necessary industry model for freelance workers, small creative industries, independent entrepreneurs and small-scale start-ups.
With mobile technology and the Internet changing the modern day working culture, today’s new wave work force can work from virtually anywhere.
By creating a unique space that invites conversation and sharing of ideas, the creators of the future can be more empowered to work effectively in the right environment suited for the creative-driven industries.
REDEFINING WORK PLACE
WeWork is known for picking old buildings and heritage sites, transforming them into attractive and one-of-a-kind collaborative work environments.
“WeWork loves the charm and characteristics of older buildings. Our design approach is to find ways to bring the building to life, let it be what it is and show off the way it was constructed rather than hiding it behind finishes or with heavy handed interventions,” confides Ashley Couch, senior associate, director of interior design at WeWork.
Their Shanghai branch has an interesting past, originating as a depot for the East India Company in 1930s.
In response to this, the design team decided to take inspiration from the city’s 1920/1930s bell epoque period where fashion and architecture celebrated a beautiful blend of Eastern and Western influences.
The result is a delightful synergy of colours, forms and leitmotifs that create an engaging setting.
This is a collaboration between Linehouse and WeWork’s in-house design team, with the former focusing on the design of the public areas and the latter on the private offices.
Linehouse plays with the idea of combining contrasting elements to create pockets of surprises.
The existing site is a combination of a brick historical building with further industrial additions added on over the years.
The reception, with its heritage wood panelling and surrounded by a concrete base, is located in this in-between zone of the old and new.
A bronze metal structure is used throughout the building as a multi-use element, hanging lighting and creating leaners.
When attached with etched glass, it works as a casual space divider to create semi-private meeting areas. Otherwise, the frames are used for shelving and to hold artworks. Its materiality injects a dose of opulence, contributing to the narrative.
STAIRWAY TO SURPRISE
Across the atrium, it’s hard to peel your attention away from the ombre effect cascading down the main steel staircase.
The idea of using multiple blue tones set against an ivy green structure offers a fresh code of aesthetics for repurposed projects, especially for workspaces.
“The interweaving form of the stair inhabits the void of the atrium and as you meander around, up and down the staircase and around the surrounding space, one’s perspective of the staircase is always changing,” remarks New Zealand native, Hickling.
A green steel staircase weaves through the circulation space connecting all three levels to the front of the house.
Around it, the designers have incorporated new black metal and black stained handrail leaner that wrap the triple height space, allowing guests to be spectators to the activities below.
This is clad in triangular pieces of oak wood, with one side painted in hues of blue. The colours alternate as you travel up the stairs creating a gradient of tones, and shifting views from wood to blue.
The sculptural, new steel staircase is a highlight within the atrium space, providing a multifaceted experience. Sixteen variations of blue are used to create the gradient effect.
“The existing steel was a drab grey colour; we painted it ivy green to create a more festive atmosphere. It works well with the palette of the red bricks of the heritage facade,” says Hickling, elaborating on the colours used.
The staircase leads to two pantry areas that play on the opium factory’s narrative, with large-scale poppy wallpapers, hand painted in gold. From every corner of the new structure, glimpses of the past are evoked.
OLD CHARM, NEW APPEAL
The central atrium is surrounded by the heritage facade. A curved terrazzo tray is inserted to define the space.
Across the floor and wall, diagonal terrazzo strips in pastel blue, green, pink and grey wrap the surfaces, creating a ‘hardscape carpet’.
The material experimentation is key to creating a unique experience.
Explains Hickling: “There was an opportunity to play with the materiality, like brass fixtures, wood panelling, etched glass partitions and terrazzo tiling to help us define areas of programming without building actual walls or partitions in the central atrium and main areas of activity.”
The communal space is kept open to celebrate the spirit of sharing. There’s an understated sense of happiness and playfulness in this space. The bespoke lighting installation — suspended in the triple height space — works like a functional art piece while creating an impressive visual impact.
“The light is made from pink and grey cabling, which traverses through the void and is threaded through circular bronze rings that hang custom glass shades. Different perspectives of the light installation are experienced as one [moves] from level one to level three on the atrium staircase,” describes Hickling.
It is designed, she adds, to lend an air of festivity to the atrium both in the day and night whenever events are held.
Walking into the cheerful mise-en-scene in the central atrium is indeed an eye-opening experience. Covered by a previously added skylight, and complete with potted plants, here is the epicentre of activity that exudes an indoor-outdoor feel.
This open area is designed to host functions including informal meetings, chanced and planned interactivity, event hosting, and hot-desking.
Anchored by a bar in the centre, the relaxed layout of furniture in little islands harks back to the vibrant scenario of a busy opium entrepot.
Passing through the central atrium space to the back bar located within the heritage building, one is transported to a tropical, retro oriental parlour.
A gold gradient wallpaper wraps the perimeter wall. Hand- painted Shanghai ladies clad in zebra-pring cheongsams and accessorised in gangster bling depict an era blurred between the 1920’s and the present day.
While Linehouse continues to leave no stone unturned in the design of this project, WeWork Weihai Lu sets a benchmark on how far the co-working space template has come.
The responsibility now is for space providers to create a creative environment not just for work alone but also for the fertilisation of collaboration and community development.