CITIC SQUARE Renovation | Kokaistudios

Pixels Within Pixels: Bring a Historic Commercial Corner up to Date Shanghai / China / 2022

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Dynamic and futuristic, Kokaistudios’ latest renovation transforms a twenty-year old shopping mall into a modern lifestyle destination. By breaking up the mall’s boxy silhouette through seemingly floating pixels, the new architecture complements its historic surroundings, opening new vistas and possibilities.


Kokaistudios’ recently completed architectural renovation project of CITIC SQUARE shopping mall epitomizes Shanghai’s inherent duality. With a futuristic aesthetic combining multimedia elements and some of today’s most sought-after brands, it sits seamlessly alongside one of the city’s best-preserved examples of traditional, historic lane housing. Located in Jingan district on main thoroughfare Nanjing West Road, the transformed building’s pixel-inspired facade and carefully selected materials break the traditional ‘box’ shape to blur the boundaries between city and mall, public and private.

Completed in 2000, the mall lacked several of the elements demand by today’s lifestyle-led retail environment: flexible multimedia components; attractive outdoor spaces; and eye-catching interiors for high-profile, luxury F&B outlets. Kokaistudios’ interior and exterior renovation not only brings the mall up to date in terms of a destination shopping-hospitality experience, it successfully reintegrates CITIC SQUARE into the fabric of Shanghai by opening up previously hidden vistas, and playing on scale to complement the mall’s layered urban context.

Pixels are central to Kokaistudios’ design approach. Their interpretation is both literal - such as the mall’s transparent grid facade - as well as conceptual: individual units that come together create a cohesive whole. They are most visible on the mall’s Nanjing Road frontage where an outdated glass and stone facade has been replaced by a series of large-sized rectangles and squares of varying dimensions and gradated opacities, each protruding from the building’s core volume to create the impression of floating. Effectively acting as individual shop windows, this ‘pixel’ approach allows tenants to customize their own vitrines. Because each cube juts out from the building, passing street traffic is subject to three-dimensional impressions of the storefronts’ exterior.

Despite their contemporary connotations, the ‘pixels’ connect the mall to its historic urban context. Directly opposite is one of the city’s best-preserved lòngtáng: typical of Shanghai and dating from the early twentieth century, they are walled compounds of traditional lane housing, usually two- to three-storeys in height. CITIC SQUARE’s pixels facade create a scale in keeping with the older architecture opposite. The dialogue between old and new continues through the frontage’s materials of fully transparent glass panes, semi-opaque glass bricks, and UHPC concrete panel.

A network of gardens both sunken and floating further blur the boundaries between private and public space, CITIC SQUARE and the city of Shanghai. These include terraces atop each of the facade’s pixel windows, significantly enhancing stores’ attractiveness to shoppers by the unique views. Previously a repository for the mall’s mechanical functions and equipment, the roof has also been transformed into an outdoor dining area for CITIC SQUARE’s anchor F&B tenant and the square outdoor activity area. In an expansion of the mall’s footprint, a twin sunken garden has been installed on its eastern side, mirroring an existing one to the West. The intervention facilitates flow through CITIC SQUARE’s basement level which will focus predominantly on lifestyle. 

The design approach of breaking up the big-box mall continues inside the space, where a formerly vast atrium is now dissected by a mezzanine. Because lower levels’ flagship custom made facades allows for greater light control as opposed to upper floors’ abundance of transparent glass, the platform creates two distinct atmospheres, signalling shoppers’ journey between fashion below, and F&B above. The renovation also shifts visitor flow from up and down, to through the space thanks to escalators at the mall’s two entrances, both of which have been configured to anticipate their likely demographic. For example, the East entrance opens into a lifestyle space due to its proximity to Nanjing Xi Lu subway station. The West entrance is close to nearby luxury shopping destination Plaza 66, and guides visitors towards thematically similar high-end fashion.

Like a secondary circulation tracking that of shoppers, LED screens run throughout the atrium in an infinite loop. Fully customizable, they update the mall into a dynamic multimedia space. Resembling a pulsating data flow, they reinforce CITIC SQUARE’s pixel theme to digital, literal, and futuristic effect. The design trope is revisited in an abstract way in striking lift lobbies, where walls of glass bricks create impactful pixelated numbers.

In order to stand out in Shanghai’s increasingly congested retail landscape, malls must move with the times. At the same time, these large-footprint buildings must be comprehensively and seamlessly incorporated into public spaces. Kokaistudios’ smart renovation of CITIC SQUARE achieves just this balance: now a fully flexible multimedia, lifestyle venue, it doesn’t dominate the Jingan skyline; rather it complements a rich, varied urban fabric.


Project Information

Project Name: CITIC SQUARE Renovation

Site: Shanghai, China


Service Scope: Architecture Renovation+Interior Design

Grand Opening: Sep. 2022

Site area: 13,670 sqm

GFA: 34,500 sqm

Design Company: Kokaistudios

Chief Architects: Andrea Destefanis, Filippo Gabbiani

Architecture Design Director: Li Wei

Architecture Design Team: Muyun Zhao, Eva Maria Paz Taibo, Dongyin Li, Ru Chen

Interior Design Director: Rake Wang

Interior Design Team: Muyun Zhao, Ru Chen, Xiaowan Shen, Sara Zhang, Chenyu Huang

LDI, Structure Design, MEP Design: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research(Co.,Ltd.)

Photography & Video: Terrence Zhang

Text: Frances Arnold

Media Contact: Jacqueline Chiang

Email: [email protected]

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    Dynamic and futuristic, Kokaistudios’ latest renovation transforms a twenty-year old shopping mall into a modern lifestyle destination. By breaking up the mall’s boxy silhouette through seemingly floating pixels, the new architecture complements its historic surroundings, opening new vistas and...

    Project details
    • Year 2022
    • Work started in 2018
    • Work finished in 2022
    • Client CITIC SQUARE
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Shopping Malls / Interior Design / Building Recovery and Renewal
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