Text description provided by the architects. MONOARCHI is a young architecture design company based in Shanghai. The office is located at the core of the Former Shanghai French Concession. The original neighborhood is referred to the buildings Britain and Spain back in the 1940s. After more a hundred years of history, the neighborhood still retains the peace. As an important witness of the history of Shanghai, it is listed as a protective historical building. The existing neighborhood is a residential area, we, as architects who are obsessed with working in spaces with stories, renovated a building inside this neighborhood and moved in in 2018.
The office of MONOARCHI is located in the first floor of a three story villa. The area is about 100 square meters. The whole building was first owned by a family, but the property rights were split for historical reasons, and a 30 - square meter independent yard was shared by all residents. To respect of the old house, we decided not to make any damage or change to the structure and layout when we first came to the house to retain the existing sense of history as far as possible.
We need to create a work space for 8 people as well as an exhibition space inside the small house. The first step is to remove the existing residential functions to make the space simpler; the second step is to hybridize functions: we inserted an exhibition space in the middle of the main work space to satisfy the needs of curating small exhibitions from time to time.
The corridor to the conference room is enlarged as a critique area; the conference room is combined with a tiny library; the partition wall between the toilet and shower is opened, and the space was converted into a model workshop, a material room and a printing room. These three spaces are connected to the kitchen, the bar table of the model room and the kitchen are at the same height so the two functions can be shifted.
We use arches to form the interior space of the office, which is a tribute to the most distinctive arch corridors and arch doors in the Former French Concession in Shanghai. The arches of different scales define different spaces, the working space with the big arch, the conference room of the semi vaulted arch ceiling, and the small arcades between different functional spaces, such as the critique gallery and other two arcades. On the other hand, the arches also somehow protected the original structure; moreover, the form of the arches ingeniously exploited the space above the head, where more storage space and multi-purpose space are developed.
In the selection of materials, we focus on the ability of materials to create space and functions. The plasticity of black screw steel draws the shape of the arch, and the combination of steel and magnets enables the whole space as exhibition space; the entrance of the office, the critique corridor and the other corridors are made of concrete, which deliver a sense of ritual which we love; The service space is hidden behind the critique gallery, and the sound-proofing concrete makes the office more quiet. The precision and weak reflection of the drawing stainless steel ensured the structural details, and also extended the arches in a certain kind of form.
Protection of historical buildings
Shanghai has only 150 years of history as a city, those old buildings of about 80 years are extremely precious to the city. However, too many old houses have been demolished by the landlord for the purpose of creating more rent and economic benefits. As architects, we have the ability to save these old houses of beautiful stories through our own designs and to create more comfortable sharing space. Our responsibility to choose this old house is to defend its past and enrich its story.
The solution to the contradictions between spaces
To imbed an office space into a residential neighborhood, the key is to make sure the living and the working can co-exist in harmonious interaction. We tried not to disturb the residents upstairs when designing the circulation of the office. At the same time, the metal mesh terrace preserves the original ecological system of the courtyard while becoming a communal space for our neighbors. The frosted glass of the entrance door not only blurred the view between the exterior and the interior, it also blocked the interference from the neighbors.
Explorations on the potential of materials in small spaces
A leg free desk, floating tabletop of brushed stainless steel, arch-shaped steel bar…these repeated exploration of the building materials is based on the utilization of small spaces, which avoid turning building materials into interior decorations. Our intension is to create functions and spaces with the physical characteristics of materials, for example, the reinforcing steel bar does not only outline the form of arch, it also created spaces for storage and exhibition. Eventually this space is not only our office, but also an experiment on our design philosophy and principles.