Post offices aren’t exactly known for being visually pleasing. In most countries, they’re just utilitarian spaces with nothing special going on. At best, they’re bright and orderly; at worst, they’re gray, gloomy, and chaotic. But in Ningbo, China, the recently completed Bund Post Office breaks the mold with both a brilliantly designed space and a vibe that feels more like a high-end retailer or boutique hotel than a perfunctory mail processing station.

The old Bund Post Office was the very first one to be built in the province, giving it considerable significance as the center of the community. But its building had seen better days, and its location was no longer convenient for the largest possible number of local residents. The new facility needed to reestablish its former role and evoke a sense of nostalgia, while also shattering the boundaries “of what is traditionally associated with the concept of the post office,” explains design firm Yatofu.

The firm chose to collaborate with a neighboring business, Nordic Books, to combine the post office and shop as a single attraction. That gave them a bigger budget to work with, more opportunities to create dramatic visuals, and the ability to add some contemporary cultural interests to the mix. Occupying a three-story building, the new Bund Post Office makes use of a rich, evocative color palette that draws from historic references to emphasize its connection to the past.

Passersby are immediately drawn to the building’s exterior, upon which the entrance is framed by soft white illuminated panels. The large glass doors provide a view straight in to an arch-shaped bookcase in vivid red on the back wall. That’s your first sign that this is unlike any post office you’ve ever imagined. All the way at the top of the building, a ring of windows hints at the day-lit space you’ll find when you climb the last set of stairs.

Upon entering the dramatic double-height atrium, you’ll find the postal service counter set among gift and souvenir retail displays. Its fluted counter mimics that of the translucent white metal screens that line the staircase and the graphic shapes on the green floors, which complement the warm pink and clay hues throughout the space. A checkout counter for the bookstore is set into another end of the room, and the stairs sweep you up to a mezzanine lined with crimson bookshelves. The perforated metal mesh triples as a railing, built-in functional writing surfaces, and retail display structures.

Two built-in reading booths featuring green leather and custom lighting are also found on this secondary level, and when you follow the stairs to the top and cross a small bridge, you find a private children’s event and workshop space lined with undulating panels of glass windows. The layout here is inspired by community rooftop gardens.

The brief from the client was posed as a question: How can we reimagine the role of the post office in the community?” says Yatofu. “The initial research led to the realization that post offices are often seen as most necessary during times of celebration – this means holidays, festivals, birthdays, and of course, the culturally significant Chinese New Year. This led to the redefinition of the brief itself as creating a post office that combined its normal functions with gift retail, cultural events, and a children’s event/play space.”

This captivating interior design was nominated for a 2021 INDE award in the shopping category, which recognizes progressive, innovative projects from 14 countries in the Indo-Pacific, and long-listed in the small retail interior category of the Dezeen Awards 2021.