A large family club in a mall has been created as a mind-bending maze of creativity
Words by Sophie Tolhurst
Images by SHAO FENG
3F, Uniwalk shopping
mall, Shenzhen, China
Chen Xue, Xu Feng
X+Living has made a name for itself with the surreal spaces it has created across a number of different sectors, comprising fantastic hotels, retail and family parks/clubs – even the occasional office. The approach for the Meland Club flagship store in Shenzhen is no different, and here the female-led firm, under founder Li Xiang, conjures up another fantasy for a family park, located within Shenzhen’s Uniwalk shopping mall.
Shopping malls are already constructed at a scale alien to other building typologies, and the enormous 6,000m2 available for the club has been put to good use here, seemingly containing a world of its own for children to explore. Not content with the double-height space available, the designers built a three-layer platform within the space, perfect for switching between the cavernous and the hidden, creating different routes to explore and surprises to discover. And there are real treats to be found around some of those corners: a ball pool area, maze and secret doorway. The dark ceiling, studded with lights as if stars, helps place visitors in outer space.
The ebullient pink restaurant space
The concept was based around a garden, moving through all four seasons across the club. It is no ordinary garden, however, but one with scaled-up deconstructed flora and fauna – flower balls/bulbs, butterflies, bees and ladybirds arranged in a ‘natural landscape’. Panoramic modelling was used for the arrangement, with layered shapes unfolding throughout the vertical space and along the paths taken by visitors. Despite the focus on exploration and surprise, the routes are still meant to be easy to navigate, and large overhead signage, in a similar style to the rest of the decoration, highlights areas of particular interest.
Contributing to the topsy-turvy feel is the absence of straight lines, replaced everywhere with inviting curves; their irregularities and ridges make the shapes more vegetal than geometric. Functional elements are integrated: cabinets and shelving camouflaged as plants, seats are shaped like flowers, and hanging ‘bulbs’ have lighting and sound equipment within them.
X+Living has incorporated multiple levels and pathways to enhance the mystique of the club
X+Living’s internal product development department was responsible for the custom-built furniture, and the consistency of design – across all furniture and interiors – helps to preserve the setting’s magic.
Nor is any space spared the interior treatment. (In a surprise move, the most monochromatic moment is in the ball pond, featuring all-white balls in contrast to the usual mix of colours.) The restaurant is a bright mix of pastel shades, across canopies, seating, flooring and furniture; its excess of repetitive elements gives a Queen of Hearts feel.
Li Xiang has concealed all functional elements inside and behind bulbous designs
There are separate classrooms and learning spaces for children, including a ‘cuisine classroom’ where furniture is transformed into oversized fruit and vegetables, with a colourful papaya print across the floor.
The bathrooms have a more glamorous look, where a marble-clad basin with gold fixtures sits beneath a ceiling padded with eau de Nil-coloured lozenge shapes – the pale green shade frequently associated with London’s Fortnum & Mason.
There is a shift of mood in the separate video game area, where the designer has created a ‘cyberpunk palace’, taking on the aesthetic attributes of video games – neon lighting and references to animated characters.
Even the grandeur of the bathrooms remains playful instead of pompous
X+Living has previously designed a Meland Club in Wuhan, as well as other family-focused parks across China. Although the practice excels with these projects, it also applies its playful, imaginative touch to hotels, and retail – making good use of optical illusion if you’ve seen its never-ending bookshops, shelves multiplying in all directions – all sectors in which a little escapism can go a long way.
What Xiang hopes to offer is a break from the ‘stereotyped buildings’ and ‘increasingly similar cities’ that she says get in the way of dreaming. Instead, she has pursued the ‘throbbing of dreamlike space’, as well as a ‘refuge’ for childlike innocence and curiosity, letting her own imagination roam free and leaving no element untouched to do so.