Trailblazers: An experiment in brutalist architecture in Hangzhou with AN-design

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Founded in Hangzhou, China by Weng Shanwei and Yuan Jia-dai, AN-design aims to put aside the inertia of thinking, focusing instead on designs engrained with quick moving, cutting-edge fashions to provide visual space research, product and architectural design & transformation solutions. This talented team have won honours at the World Festival of Interiors and IDA Design Awards so we asked Weng to tell us more about his award-winning studio.

Hello guys! Congratulations on your recent Inside 2016 prize. Can you tell us a bit more about the monochrome boutique that won the award?

Hi and thanks! The Heike Store took us two and a half months to complete and it now serves as a store and gallery for art, music, exhibitions & events.

We wanted to try to explore an independent and free commercial space in response to China's rapid expansion. Inside the Heike Store there is a fan-shaped armrest, hangers, polished metals, aluminum and mirrors as well as lots of intense black marble. The centerpiece of the store is a sculptural black block called the ‘Black Cant’, which is a sort of large, slanted wedge that separates the store by connecting and incorporating the ground floor passages and lots of different access points. The cylinder is an original structural support which we majorly exaggerated.

Usually, designers always take these blocks or staircases as a division. But we wanted the Heike Store to be a whole space, to do this we had to put aside conventional ideas of what this could mean. Division became connection - it's bold and sloped. The staircase, for example, divides the space into two parts but the sunlight comes through and lights the space up in three different directions.


What would you say your signature architectural style is?

I'm not sure exactly, I like blue, dynamic and neat styles, and for designs to feel unique and futuristic. We don't have a definite architectural style at AN-design, but generally, it's always a bit exaggerated.


How big is your team? How do you all work together?

There are six members in our team. When a new brief comes in we start with my initial ideas then Yuan will join the discussion to go deeper into the details to correct problems. When our concept is almost there, the construction team will report back with the early stages of feasibility for the materials and construction. Naturally problems may arise during the build, in which case we adjust some details as we go. It's all a process of adaptation.


What is it like working creatively in Hangzhou?

Hangzhou flies fast and has huge market potential. With the influence of the internet the taste of ordinary people is becoming bigger and better with each passing day. It seems that everyone is in need of design so there is no doubt for us that the creative scene here is big.


What is there in Hangzhou to keep you inspired?

Hangzhou is a historic city embedded with a strong cultural atmosphere. It’s a city with mountains and rivers all around, and the famous West Lack is located in Hangzhou. The internet is interlaced with real life quite a lot: you can go out without cash and use your mobile phone to pay the bill everywhere. The Chinese Academy of Arts is also located in Hangzhou so there are many poets, writers and various artists living here. I'm not sure which of these influences is my specific inspiration. But it's a must to have some relation with the experience and thinking of the city you live in.


We love your work for the Ningbo Global Center. Can you tell us more about the project?

I'm glad that you like it! It’s actually a dessert shop - the client’s first in Ningbo. We wanted the layers of the space to be fuller, so we turned it from one floor into two. But the height of the second floor wasn’t all that comfortable for standing room so we had to make a suspended ceiling first. We designed two atriums and combined one with the open facade to make the space more unique.

Space was very limited on this project and a difference of ten or twenty centimeters would have decided whether this idea could come into fruition or not.


What are your plans for 2017?

A friend told me; "the unknown is good" and I hope we’ll find something rip us apart a little, to inject us with new life and design anxieties in 2017. It would be great if we could find a new state to approach our designs with.


What new technology are you guys enjoying?

We only apply basic technologies to our projects at the present moment and although we try to polish them with innovative influences it's still low-grade technology. This doesn't mean that we reject new media or high-tech options, it all depends on what we can get that works for us.


Have you discovered anything recently that's made your work easier?

The only way thing that would make our work easier is to find a way through those time-consuming, complex and large-scale problems we all encounter. We’re trying to find opportunities in these kind of difficulties.



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