A contemporary experience for a historic city
Suzhou is a UNESCO World Heritage City and one of China’s top tourist destinations.
The client’s aim was to develop a fashion focused shopping centre aimed at young consumers, with a modern, urban feel, reflective of international standard malls. Our challenge was to design something appropriate for this vision that would also draw on the local culture without resorting to pastiche.
Our aspiration was to combine the two elements, the historic and contemporary, to create a memorable space that would deliver new experiences for shoppers and encourage repeat visits.
A place of beauty
Suzhou has an international reputation for its beautiful gardens, lakes and canals, which are often cited as perfect examples of classical Chinese landscape design from the 11th to 19th Century.
Our proposals for Lefo Mall drew inspiration from the lakes and waterways, with open spaces, curves, and use of natural materials core to the design concept, as we sought to recreate the ebb and flow of water.
From the initial appointment we were commissioned to design the landscaping, branding and wayfinding, creating an integrated design approach and overall identity for the mall. This still allowed some flexibility, with different materials used to represent different floors.
We wanted to translate Suzhou’s natural beauty into a design for an attractive, bright and spacious mall. Our choice of materials, forms and desire to utilise natural light have resulted in something that we feel captures the essence of the place while creating something new.
Sculpting the sky
We wanted the mall to feel bright and airy, so included a series of voids penetrating the building. These spectacular spaces are spanned by circulation 'bridges’ to help with visitor flow, while sunken ‘pools’ feature at ground level, creating seating areas.
A central hub with a reflection pool on the ground floor is in one of these open spaces, looking up through all five floors to a glass ceiling, allowing natural light to shine through. This creates a "town square" style destination within the heart of the development; a place to meet, enjoy and relax as part of the wider experience, as well as host events and entertainment.
This focus on natural lighting ensures that the environment does not feel sterile and allowed us to play with reflections throughout the mall’s walkways, creating tranquil, inspiring places.
Silks and other natural materials were used for a range of sculptures throughout the mall to add further interest to the spaces and create a sense of discovery. One of these pieces was a flock of metal cranes, a bird that represents longevity and happiness in Chinese culture, and serves as the centrepiece of one of the key retail zones.
For the King Street element of the proposals we wanted to capture the feel of a Chinese street but also provide a canvas suitable for a range of international brands, to give them the freedom and flexibility to express their own visual identity.
Our choice of stone and tiles helped to reflect local vernacular and were complemented by more modern features such as glazing and steel elements.
“When designing something relevant to its location it is important to immerse yourself fully in the local culture and draw inspiration from a number of different sources. For example, we created bespoke furniture based on local boats, using authentic materials.”Jeremy Salmon, Director, Broadway Malyan
Wooden boxes project from the facade, reminiscent of the traditional balconies found along the many canals, replicating the rhythm of the surrounding streets.
Large malls can sometimes feel remote from their surroundings, disconnected and dropped into an existing streetscape.
We focused our landscaping approach on creating a sense of arrival and welcome to successfully integrate it with the locality. Using the existing canal edge, new water features, land bridges, bench seating and planting strategies were combined to create something to complement and reflect characteristics of Suzhou’s natural beauty.