"The western media likes to portray China
as this big behemoth" - Neri&Hu


Interest in conservation and small scale development is growing in China, according to Shanghai architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, whose conversion of a former colonial police station opened in the city this month (+ movie).

The Design Republic Commune, designed by Neri&Hu, contains a new flagship store for the architects' design retail brand Design Republic, as well as a centre for exhibitions and events.

The Design Republic Commune by Neri&Hu

Neri explains how restoration projects like this are common in the west, but that in China you are more likely to find entirely new interiors within historic buildings, which he describes as a "bling-bling experience". However, he insists that interest in conservation is growing.

"The western media likes to portray China as this big behemoth, bigger, better, richer, crasser version of America," Neri says. "[But] you would be surprised. Because there is actually a group of people that are interested - even in the government, even in the business sector, even in the banking sector - in the small, the delicate, the things with meaning and purpose."

This aspect of China has not been highlighted, he adds, "because it doesn't sell newspapers".

The Design Republic Commune by Neri&Hu

The Design Republic Commune features a restored exterior while the interior retains traces of its previous incarnations in the form of sections of exposed beams, brickwork, plaster and timber laths as well as salvaged signage. "I think it's very important for people who come into a historic building to have certain pieces of reality, to be able to touch the inside of the building," adds Hu.

See more images of the Design Republic Commune in our earlier story, or read our interview with the architects about how Chinese architects need to develop their own design manifesto.

The Design Republic Commune by Neri&Hu

See all our recent stories about Shanghai »
See more stories about Neri&Hu »

Photography is by Pedro Pegenaute.

  • It's nice to see that China is taking an interest in refurbishment and the preservation of its historic architecture. Generally my view from the West is that the majority of this kind of stuff gets put by the wayside in favour of new 'starchitecture' type designs embodied with very little meaning overall. I think if a refurbishment is done with enough care and attention (and I don't necessarily mean preserving everything) then it can be a good thing that gives the building a new lease of life filling the building with new purpose and standing within its context.

  • Nice angle! So encouraging, when you read it from Spain, with our given situation. I think all the world has to be aware of how slow governments work, and also how old all the media is.

    Beautiful pictures and video :)

  • I believe people are saying it because they see a lot of similar architecture styles from the west in China and yes it’s often bigger. Peoples’ bad habit is to compare things without understanding the value of them.

    Restoration projects in western countries, example the Netherlands is totally different we preserve and try to restore it to the origin. If we don’t then we call it a renovation project. Here we divide old buildings in different categories (monuments) and values, it require different process and treatments.

    China almost lost its values especially in architecture, the influence of the past becomes almost a habit. So many architects design things without knowing their origin, so the architecture everywhere looks similar to western but bigger etc. It is important to appreciate your own architecture, understand and respect the value of it instead of replicating others. It’s a bad habit!

    No wonder the misunderstanding of the western media is as “China as this big behemoth”.