Connoisseur Gallery in Shanghai, China designed by Studio Twist
We designed the Connoisseur Gallery to be an exhibition space for a wide range of art objects representing the epitome of luxury catering to the tastes of a nouveau riche clientele. These may be figurative sculptures that are intricately made, or furniture upholstered with exotic leathers, or ornately embellished jewelry. In general, the gallery’s collection is relished for their exquisiteness in craft, extravagance in materiality, and uniqueness in design. In this realm of excesses, one of our key design challenges is to consider how this eclectic collection of exotic objects can be presented in a singular setting that will facilitate their appreciation, without either over- or under-stating each piece of work in relation to others.
The gallery is situated in an empty concrete bunker warehouse measuring 5.3m in height, 7.3m in width and 16m in length, with columns set within the longer boundary walls. There are windows in between every column bay and there is a raised strip of roof with side windows in the middle of this space. How do we transform this utilitarian space from a mundane concrete box into a gallery for these luxury objects of art?
The individually expressive nature of these dramatic works on display required a complementary environment that matches the stylistic richness without competing for attention. We imagined a theatrical setting likened to the suspenseful atmospheric interiors of a dimly lit gothic cathedral, where these art objects are placed in spots of light as if they are accents in the space lit by divine sources from above. This spotlights stage effect allows the gallery viewer to muse and linger at any one work of art, whilst sensing the presence of other pieces in the background space, choosing to move from one illuminated spot to the other in a laissez-faire manner. At the same time, the “cathedral” being a historical archetype for the place of worship, is consciously deployed as a spatial type, borrowing its associated imagery and meanings to allude to an adoration for these luxury objects of art, and to evoke a heightened sense of awe and wonder in this temple for opulence.
The design is developed through a selection of thematic architectural elements that work together to form a complete choreographed experience for the Connoisseur. As the invited guest arrives in a limousine at the entrance of the gallery, he is greeted by a warm grey stucco façade distinctly different from the utilitarian surroundings of this warehouse-turned-offices development. This façade is a visual composition of 3 elements: a circular portal window positioned to invite a peek into the gallery, a 4.5m tall arched doorway with a layered frame like a telescopic lens, and a 12m long staircase next to the doorway leading to the second floor offices with a balustrade that tapers towards the top creating a elongated visual effect. The dramatization effected by distorted proportion or exaggerated scale is juxtaposed with the surrounding context to deliberately create a surreal preamble that builds up the visitor’s anticipation for what is to be expected inside.
The door slides open on remote control, and as if guided by the visual pull of the telescopic doorframe, the visitor enters the dark gallery with daylight falling from behind them. Within seconds upon entering, the visitor’s eyes adapt and notice illuminated groups of objects of rich colours, materials and shapes on display throughout the hall space. As the visitor starts to intuitively make their way through the open floor plan moving from one point of interest to the next, they are able to experience the volume of the gallery space that is defined by a single row of vault ceilings sitting on classical columns set into the sidewalls. At the center of each vault’s apex is a circular skylight and underneath it, a hand-polished convex circular mirror is hung to partially obstruct direct light and to reflect the whole gallery floor space in a distorted bird’s eye view back to the visitor looking up.
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At the far end of the gallery, a grand staircase is centrally positioned, covered in a red carpet embossed with a floral motif where its steps are partially used for exhibition. Its balustrade sweeps along a curve flowing from one end of the mezzanine to the narrow waist of the staircase at mid level before opening out and around to make a complete loop forming a bar underneath its mezzanine. The inner face of the balustrade is embossed with the same floral motif as the carpet, finished in a waxy coat of dark burgundy silky paint. This organically shaped staircase marks the architectural highlight of the space, consequently defining the 2 smaller spaces – the mezzanine and the bar – in an otherwise open gallery.
The mezzanine is where formal hosting for a small group of guests takes place. A spherical crystal chandelier hangs from the concave hull of the last vaulted ceiling over the center of the mezzanine. This is the culmination of the gallery where, likened to a portico at the top of a grand staircase, the visitor is able to take in an overview of the whole full-height gallery.
The bar, on the other hand, is an intimate area where superior whiskeys and cigars are displayed and served. As the balustrade curves outwards at the foot of the staircase to form the elliptical bar, the embossed inner surface flips outwards to become the exterior bar wall. At the same time, the smooth curvilinear marble handrail broadens as it seamlessly morphs into the bar top. The underside of this marble top emits a continuous strip of downward lighting along the whole length of the balustrade to bring out the 3 dimensionality of the floral relief. The curve of the bar also serves to guide the visitor back to the main gallery hall as a finale to the visit.
The “gallery” as “theatre” with dramatic experiential effects has thus provided the ultimate stage for the discovery and appreciation of these luxury objects of art.
Project: Connoisseur Gallery
Location: Shanghai, China
Area: 300 sqm
Scope: Interior Design
Design: Studio Twist