How to Make a Building Sexy

How to Make a Building Sexy

Carbon fiber has two properties that architects are often attracted to: it’s high-performing, and it’s sexy.

It’s also pricey, and this has been a significant limiting factor in its adoption for large-scale architectural projects. Apple recently showed photos of the carbon-fiber roof of the theater on its new campus, newsworthy as the largest such roof in the world. But for the most part, carbon fiber as a building material is usually applied for strengthening retrofits. It is layered strategically on crumbling landmark buildings or wrapped around parts of endangered bridges, situations where the strength, light weight, and thinness of the material give it a performance advantage that makes it cost-effective even though it is still high-priced.

One recent architectural carbon fiber project, however, stands out both for its size and for the fact that it appears to be less motivated by performance, and more by sheer sexiness. The building is in Qingpu, on the outskirts of Shanghai. It is a showroom for an avant garde furniture gallery, Design Republic. Shanghai architect Neri & Hu, founded by Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, is a small practice with a rapidly growing reputation and a fistful of awards.  They had to redesign an existing building without demolishing any of the existing structure, but still give it a new (eye-catching) identity.

On the inside, their bold move was a 3-story angular spiral staircase that anchors the interior. It greets people entering the building – they call it the steel funnel –and runs around and up through the core.

The exterior has been transformed by an opaque wrapper of carbon fiber panels. Unfortunately, very little information about these panels is available, and Neri & Hu have not responded to several requests for details. We know that the building has a footprint of about 7000 sf, and is three stories tall. The panels have a surface decoration worked into the panel, but we do not know how.

This is almost certainly one of the largest examples of carbon fiber architectural cladding in the world. And it works: it is a striking, arresting façade. We’d love to know more of its story.

Photographs by Shen Zhonghai, via &