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Feature> Shipshaped
Archi-Tectonics floats big ideas for retail in Shanghai.
Main space lights by Cooper Lighting and polished limestone tile floors.
Jiang Wong

Luck is taken seriously in China, so a series of fortunate events during design and construction for the new Ports 1961 flagship store in Shanghai bodes well for its future. The first project in China for the New York–based firm Archi-Tectonics encountered few hurdles thanks to a client with established manufacturing and construction contacts, according to Archi-Tectonics founder Winka Dubbeldam. Located in an art deco building on Shanghai’s historic waterfront known as the Bund, the 2,800-square-foot space’s high ceilings and monumental proportions were both imposing and inspiring for the whole team. “The construction manager had studied mathematics and recognized that this space embodied certain mathematic rules and got so excited about it,” said Dubbeldam.

Left to right: Nickle chrome tables, mannequin hangars, and padded leather walls by Archi-tectonics Design and locally fabricated; salvaged antique door; Dressing room walls upholstered in gold metal polyester weave manufactured by Ports 1961.

To create a lighter, more human-scale environment, Dubbledam took a cue from the history of shipbuilding in the neighborhood and devised a wooden “liner” to produce a space within a space that evokes both a ship’s hull and the layers of fabric used in constructing fashion. Made of boards the Ports team salvaged from an old house undergoing demolition, the reclaimed wood was re-milled then intentionally roughened and rubbed with silver paint and oil to create a luminous textured surface. Within this rugged shell, smooth islands of fiber-reinforced gypsum emerge from the limestone floor to serve as display tables. Other elements, as if underwater, appear to float: vitrines with multiple shelves (designed by New York architects Gabellini Sheppard), mannequins made of stiffened polyester mesh, and clothing racks are all suspended from the ceiling.

Just when the team thought the job was done, they realized that they still needed to pick one more piece, an exit door. A fortuitous last-minute find turned out to be the store’s showpiece, a 600-year-old antique Chinese door of wood and bronze. “It’s fun to help develop bigger, longer term brand strategy and then think about how local information can influence that,” said Dubbeldam, who has gone on to design a Ports 1961 in Paris.

Molly Heintz


Hanging cradle shelving units and rods by Gabellini Sheppard Associates.