Text: Frances Arnold
Media Contact: Jacqueline Chiang
Client: ShuiOn, SanLian Readway
Text description provided by the architects. Hybrid and holistic, Social House by Xintiandi is a multifunctional space comprising retail, F&B, and lifestyle elements. Positioned across two floors of the recently renovated Xintiandi Plaza in Shanghai’s central business district, the venue has been designed for openness and exchange, bringing the vitality of outside, in. Elegant and feminine in aesthetic, it takes visitors on a layered journey that caters to mind, body, and soul. From the group behind Xintiandi, a pioneering urban renewal project and car-free commercial district in central Shanghai, Social House immerses visitors into a narrative crafted through circulation and flow, punctuated by focal points of activity. Together, these elements create a unique, constantly evolving destination that is fast becoming a cultural and lifestyle hotspot in China’s most dynamic metropolis.
To connect to its outside environment and convey the cyclical nature of Social House’s changing program of pop-ups, exhibitions, and events, the two-storey venue is organized into functional areas conceived as gardens, and arranged thematically by seasons. To that end, and uplifting in every sense, both arrival escalators into Social House are flanked by immersive audiovisual installations comprising multiple screens showing abstract shapes to suggest spring flowers or clouds.
From here, visitors emerge into Social House’s primary retail platform, or Spring Garden: colorful and open, it hosts a rotation of pop-up stores, with a particular focus on fashion, style, and beauty. The area is imagined as a vibrant market space for a constantly changing roster of tenants. For this reason, it was important to create a space that combines flexibility to accommodate a range of different brands, with a consistent aesthetic. This is achieved through materials and coordinated display elements, including fluid wooden bookshelves wrapping around the space like a river or ribbon.
Moving away from design and lifestyle, and in keeping with a broader ‘outside-to-in’ approach, the next part of the visitor journey - summer - centers on nourishment for the body and mind. In addition to a cookery school and teahouse, a gallery space displays regular exhibitions around the subjects of travel and photography. Alongside, a selection of carefully selected books and journals thematically connect to the unending band of shelving that wraps the entirety of this floor, with titles regularly updated to reflect each and every exhibit.
Connected by a signature ribbon of bookshelves, access to Social House’s second floor - the ‘autumn garden’ - is via a dramatic spiral staircase. Part of an ongoing collaboration with Alt-Life publishers, for whom Kokaistudios recently realized a book-themed lifestyle-concept store in Ningbo, the space also features a café and bakery by Elle Decor.
Lending further adaptability to this fifth-floor area is an Activity Space. With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking bustling Huaihai Road, its flexible arrangement of casual tables and chairs seamlessly transitions from a day-lit lounge to settle with a book or laptop; to relaxed meeting space; to a dedicated area for evening-time book-themed events.
Alongside, a fourth zone - winter - continues Social House’s outside-in journey through a focus on wellbeing and health, by way of a gym. Alongside, a soon-to-launch open kitchen will host a rotating roster of visiting chefs, serving up global cuisine.
Layered within this imagined cyclicality of seasons, seven unique pavilions extend Social House’s garden metaphor, lending the space an additional ecosystem of functionality. Each one unique, they provide fixed landmarks or waypoints in this otherwise open space. They have been designed for flexible content, according to Social Houses’ changing program of pop-ups, exhibitions, and activities.
A response to China’s shifting retail landscape, which increasingly incorporates online shopping with offline showcases; and an appetite for multifaceted, lifestyle-focused venues, Social House signals a new model for Shanghai. A one-stop destination for fashion; experience and education; wellness and health, and above all, betterment, it is built with flexibility in mind.