Budding Ambition

Thirteen-foot-high rattan “buds” sprout from the floor of the women’s department at the luxury retail emporium Three on the Bund, in Shanghai. It’s not some exotic garden; it’s a clever twist on the fitting room. Each consists of a pair of gracefully curving woven leaves surrounding a carpeted interior with a chair, mirror, and enough room for one; the outer leaf glides along a circular track to cocoon the shopper in privacy. If the bulbous handcrafted buds seem like an unusual choice for a high-end retail space, perhaps that’s because their creators adamantly resist the parameters of typical luxury interiors.

In fact, multidisciplinary design firm SURV—which opened its first office in Taipei in 2001, followed by another in Shanghai in 2003—was hesitant to publicize the project at all. “It’s dangerous to become known for luxury interiors, especially as young designers,” says SURV managing director Alexander Moh. “You can very easily get compartmentalized as interior decorators.” Several ambitiously large new architecture projects by the firm should dispel any such notion: a seven-block residential complex in Vietnam and three new stations for the Taipei subway system are nearing construction, and a sprawling 17-building depot in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, is scheduled to be completed at the end of this year.

The Three on the Bund buds, in fact, were intended as a quick one-off project. “They wanted something that had character, that could speak for the boutique, and that could become kind of iconic for the space,” Moh says. But the buds led to a yearlong interior-design and branding exercise for the firm since Three on the Bund needed, shortly afterward, a more stylish and functional men’s department and, several months later, a complete interior-design package for its flagship store in Hangzhou, 100 miles southwest of Shanghai.

Completed last November, the flagship store is a three-story, 8,611-square-foot space in Hangzhou’s Eurostreet, a faux European strip of high-end retailers on the shores of West Lake. To extend Three on the Bund’s brand image, SURV incorporated elements of its earlier work—including a new set of slightly smaller buds scattered across the first floor—while creating some inventive new uses for interior space. On the third floor, a row of large shelves can be rolled along tracks via hand-operated cranks, much like the rolling bookshelves found in research libraries. Stacked together, the shelves form an inscrutable black cube; unrolled, they reveal an enticing series of different interiors, including mirror-lined display shelves, recessed seating, and a kitchenette. A change of retail directors at the Hangzhou store has meant that fewer people have access to the third floor; it is currently a VIP lounge. Maybe SURV likes it better that way.

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