Architecture is at its most exciting when it’s creatively unrestricted, taking shape not just as functional structures but as works of art. Designers might have all sorts of fantastical ideas at the outset of a new project, but they all know that they’ll likely have to tone them down and make them more practical by the time the structure is actually built. But every now and then, functionality and imagination intersect to produce built environments that feel like inhabitable sculptures. PAL Design Group, a Chinese firm with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Shanghai, recently realized just such a project with “Sky Center.”
Located in the Nanshan district of Shenzhen, “Sky Center” is a new commercial space for real estate and development firm Shenzhen Yanhan Industrial Co, with dynamic interiors full of zig-zagging lines. Dramatic angled forms delineate staircases leading to various levels of the building in a sunny courtyard outside, rising like monoliths in front of a more conventional structure next door. The building is extraordinary right out of the gate (literally), with slender rows of slanted black steel granting entrance to the lobby.
Stepping through the glass doors, visitors are greeted with narrow columns of steel and Formica shelving, both of which create a grid over the windows and stretch up and over the ceiling, where they’re interspersed with narrow skylights. This bookcase-inspired centerpiece connects both levels of the building physically and visually.
Irregular planes of broad, pale marble conceal intimate meeting areas and a private bar. According to the company, these partitions “create pleasurable spatial progression and more importantly, a consciously large number of bended pathways and curvatures — visitors can then stop and enjoy both the view and decorations on display.”
The same shelving reaches from the floor to the ceiling in these alcoves as well, showcasing unique objects and books against windows to the greenery beyond. PAL describes these as “essential puzzles to the bigger look,” the undulating lines of each shelf coming together in a single organic form.
In fact, jagged diagonal lines flow in a wave-like pattern over nearly every surface in the building, from the platform hosting a grand piano in the lobby to the stunning staircase leading from ground level to the exhibition space above. Glossy marble in a deep charcoal gray gleams along the floor, contrasting with the clean white marble of the staircase, reception desk, and adjacent flooring. As you move throughout the space, its shape and dimensions seem to shift before your eyes.
The understated monochromatic color palette allows the sculptural geometry of the space to shine, even as you transition from the social nature of the first floor to the striking museum-like space that shows off the company’s plans and developments on the second. Cavernous and gleaming, it puts all the attention on architectural models and a theater-sized screen displaying promotional films.
“The design is dedicated to maximize the sculptural quality exemplary of contemporary architecture,” explain the architects. “Its geometric progression delineates an engaging dialogue with line and plane in every corner of the space.”
Once you’ve gotten used to interiors as dynamic as this, can you ever go back to the same old four-wall layout again?