Inspired by a contemporary Scandinavian aesthetic and the Chinese origin of the fashion house BENLAI, Shanghai-based architecture and design practice AIM Architecture – whose Principals, Wendy Saunders and Vincent de Graaf, were named Luminaries in the 2023 INDE.Awards – has once again created an imaginative experiential retail destination for all who visit. The interior certainly presents the wow factor through an innovative and original design.

Covering three floors with a combined floorplate of 2337 square metres, the scale of the project is vast – on every level. There is room to move in BENLAI: peruse the fashion retailer’s offerings and marvel at the product installations and modern features that create an otherworldly environment.

The journey through the interior begins at the entrance, where a contemporary take on the Gateway Arch has been installed. The terracotta-coloured geometric facade is imposing, and its scale, material and palette affords an idea of what is to come.

This first level features an enormous central atrium that grounds the space, while escalators provide connectivity between all floors. The void is wrapped in a textured terracotta skin and a wavy polished stainless-steel ceiling reflects the movement below. However, it is the bamboo installation that fills the void and takes the breath away as it weaves through the space much like a flying Chinese dragon. Together, the colour and materiality concurrently define and merge the spaces as the atrium becomes the focal point of the interior.

Each of the levels is divided into themes, and these are reflected in the layout and hierarchy of the different architectural elements. The first floor becomes ‘the mountains’ with natural stone connecting different levels that perform multiple functions. Customers can meander around and through circulation paths within different areas and stage settings and here multiple collections can be showcased to advantage.

Above this on the second floor is the ‘forest’ a theatrical and dramatic design that utilises columns, boxes, racks and a free-standing podium that en masse become a man-made forest grid.  Full wall cabinets contain product and these line the perimeter of the floor. There is contrast between the cold materials and warm colours and a playfulness about the design.

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The third level is defined by ‘the islands’ that have been expertly positioned to create a natural circulation flow for customers. The islands are circular and partially enclosed spaces that have been made in various sizes and include timber interiors for warmth. These installations function as mini in-house retail pockets and support a more intimate retail experience. With weaved bamboo surfaces, the islands contrast with steel furniture and the grid ceiling above and make a dramatic and eclectic statement.

Employing the base colour of terracotta with materials such as shafts of reflective mirror stainless-steel, sesame grey and beige stone, cork, timber and bamboo, the aesthetic is certainly contemporary, yet also becomes a celebration of culture that then morphs into something entirely new.

Wendy Saunders and Vincent de Graaf, principals of AIM Architecture and their team, have created a new vision of the retail experience in BENLAI. While product is presented in unexpected and interesting ways, the interior design of the monumental interior of the store captures the imagination and provides a new and exciting destination for customers.

AIM Architecture is renowned for its original designs and innate understanding of the retail dynamic that makes each and every project an exemplar. The practice has utilised the space of BENLAI in such a way that design becomes the champion to support the client and product. It’s amazing, but then we’d expect nothing less from this inventive practice.

Wendy Saunders and Vincent de Graaf, principals of AIM Architecture, have been named Luminaries in the 2023 INDE.Awards.

AIM Architecture
aim-architecture.com

Photography
Wen studio, Zaohui Huang

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