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Z58, Zhongtai Lighting Company Headquarters and Showroom

Kengo Kuma and Associates

Z58, Zhongtai Lighting Company Headquarters  and Showroom
By Lucy Bullivant -

The French Concession district of Shanghai is not unlike New York City’s Soho, a centrally located area with an eclectic mix of business and residential properties, some of them former industrial buildings, many elegant; others quite modest. But none reflects the latest step in the city’s fast evolving cultural identity as well as Z58, the new headquarters and showroom for Zhongtai, one of the most famous and largest lighting companies in China, designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Shanghai is well known for its urban battle of shapes - new high-rises in concrete or mirrored glass, many of them very flimsy design products of American influences - that bear no real connection with their surroundings. Z58, however, has a more complex cultural identity. Firstly, it is a conversion of an old, three storey watch factory which is modestly set at number 58 Fanyu Road, a quiet, elegant street lined with plane trees. Chinese buildings with numbers ending with an “8” are already considered lucky, and its next door neighbour is a 1930s Spanish-style villa formerly owned by the family of Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of modern China, providing Z58 with an attractive, verdant garden to overlook. On the street façade Kuma has introduced his personal interpretation of the mirrored surface in the form of “green louvres” - rows of stainless steel planter boxes creating a dense, evergreen vine cover to the building separating its atrium from the street. Kuma says his façade offers an appropriate “meta-level” creating a new randomness within the chaos of Shanghai. Like a hedge blending in with the city rather than confronting it, it also offers a gear shift from the city’s octane-fuelled pace of living, and signalling a low speed ambient space that looks and feels more like a contemporary living space than an office building. “I tried to keep away from the conventional perception of ‘architecture is rigid, landscape is organic’, but use the façade to express this...

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