A matter of rhythm

A domestic atmosphere, found objects, mixtures of history and modernity. This is the stylistic signature of Piero Lissoni and Lissoni Architettura for “The Middle House” Swire Hotel Shanghai. A project – part residence, part hotel – that plays with contrasts, as in the home

The Middle House, Shanghai - Lobby
DATA SHEET

Team: Piero Lissoni with Tania Zaneboni, Mattia Susani, Roberto Berticelli, Rodrigo Tellez Acosta, Sara Orrù, Sara Cerboneschi, David Pouliot, Pino Caliandro, Lorenza Marenco, Giorgio Pappas
Furniture Designer: Roberto Berticelli, Rodrigo Tellez, Pino Caliandro, Marco Gottardi
Rendering: Alberto Massi Mauri, Alessandro Massi Mauri, Matteo Sponza
Photo: Edmond Leong, Enrico de Conti (Piero Lissoni portrait)

Piero Lissoni wagers on a balance between opposites, and together with Lissoni Architettura he works on the basis of a project by the architects Wong & Ouyang to create “The Middle House,” the fourth structure of the prize-winning House Collective of Swire Hotels. Located in the heart of Jing’an, the trendy district of Shanghai, in the immediate vicinity of elegant Nanjing Road, the project makes dichotomy part of its essence. Two towers contain two different functions. The first is for the hotel, with 111 rooms, a restaurant, bar, terraces, event space and presidential suite; the second contains 102 apartments subdivided into studios, two and three-room units, also with two restaurants. Lissoni’s contribution, which also includes the facade with vertical aluminium sunscreens having a circular section, mixes different languages and expressive forms in the interiors, with the aim of creating refined, elegant spaces in which to experience the welcoming atmosphere of a private setting. Elements of Chinese crafts, history and culture – like the walls with handmade ceramics that reinterpret bamboo in an abstract way – are put into relation with contemporary references to generate a sophisticated balance inside the spaces.

“The whole project – the hotel and the residential part – has been formulated to have a domestic flavor, although its ‘gaze’ is towards the outside world.”

Piero Lissoni

A unique, original rhythm is also provided by the many works of art placed in wooden niches, like museum pieces. An astute dance of contrasts that Lissoni explains himself, as a process of reconciliation of two antithetical elements: the function of gathering and openness to the city of a hospitality structure, and the need for privacy in the residential units. “The whole project – the hotel and the residential part – has been formulated to have a domestic flavor, although its ‘gaze’ is towards the outside world. This aspect, besides responding to an explicit request of the client, jibes perfectly with my stylistic approach: to also create intimate, almost informal atmospheres for hotels. We want guests to feel welcomed, as if they were entering the living area in the home of friends. In this case we took our cue from traditional Chinese homes, where shadow prevails over light, with a mixture of glossy and matte materials to bring out the formal qualities.”

Far from an easy operation for the architect and his team, since they had to intervene on a project by the architects Wong and Ouyang. “At first we collaborated with the architects for the definition of the structures and the physical plant systems, and then we designed the facades, the internal layout and interiors on our own. One of the difficulties was to have to adapt to the radial plans we inherited for the rooms.”

Another game of opposites can be seen in the pairing of typical components of the history and culture of local crafts with contemporary elements. “It has always been a part of my language to insert objects and references from different cultures in my projects, together with modern and contemporary design pieces. Furnishings and antiques, porcelain, vases, ethnic items… what I call found objects. Almost archetypes that seem like things found during travels, that make you feel a bit like you are at home. We conducted a painstaking search for these things, which allowed us to discover Chinese craftsmen of great quality. Every project has developed and been enhanced with local forms of expertise: from the use of ceramics for the large internal partitions, to the crafting of the consoles and headboards; from the wallcoverings in the stairwells, to the custom outdoor lanterns; from the specific bricks for the pavements to the crafting of the bamboo used for the large screens.” Most of the furnishings have been created to measure, with the exception of a few pieces, such as the Extrasoft sofa by Living Divani, the built-in and decorative lighting fixtures by Flos, the bath furnishings and faucets by Cotto.

“By the client’s choice – Piero Lissoni continues – all the furniture was made in China. This is why the big challenge was to invent and design everything in Italy, and then to develop it on site, drawing on local crafts resources. We had the pleasure of working with a Venetian glassblower who also produces in China. With him, we made the large chandelier at the entrance, also of our design, as in a sort of game of parts and references to the journey the Venetian Marco Polo made in China over 700 years ago.” Even the materials utilized are a part of this relationship with history. “In both the hotel and the apartments the main presences are ceramics and terracotta, materials that have strong ties with Chinese culture, and at the same time wood and bamboo, for the creation of furnishings, floors and partitions.”

The connector, between the arrival points of the hotel and the residence, is the vast wellness area of 2400 m², located in the semi-basement and conceived as a single space shaped to generate big perspectives through the architectural parts: skylights, backlit organic volumes, water games, and full-height vertical ceramic screens.