Nostalgia is a powerful ingredient in evoking strong emotional reactions, depicting a rosy image of the past or even idealised visions of the future as imagined during an earlier time. The mediums of film, television, and advertising, have taken advantage of this concept for decades, to considerable degrees of success, proving the effectiveness of this approach when employed appropriately. Translating aesthetic sensibilities from the past into set design or virtual environments is part and parcel of this process, and Chinese design practice One Fine Day Studio & Partners (ofD) saw an opportunity for a similar spatial exercise when they were tasked with developing the interiors of a pet store in Guangzhou, China. The site for the project – titled BIBU Pet Store – is settled within Gaode Mansion, a high-end condominium complex near the city’s urban core. It is in close proximity to landmarks such as the Guangdong Museum, the famous Guangzhou Opera house by Zaha Hadid Architects, and local places of interest such as the K11 Art Mall and International Financial Centre.
In devising this intervention, the studio delved into the world of retrofuturism, and Space Age aesthetics with Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, having exerted a particularly noticeable influence on the final product. As mentioned by ofD in an official release, “We intended to create a ‘groundbreaking’ pet space. The aim was not only to create a striking contrast from previous functionalist confined design approaches for pet shops, but also to inform our considerations on current issues through spatial expression: a post-pandemic world, zero-sum games, the upcoming Tiangong space station, and the pioneering achievements of SpaceX. The road ahead of us is fogged with uncertainties, and ofD hopes to look beyond current times, and connect with the past through a retrospective of the Space Age, seeking new hope for the future.”
The practice notes that there has been a fair amount of growth of the country’s pet grooming and care industry in recent years, when many were forced to remain confined to their homes for extended periods. On the other hand, BIBU Pet Store’s design, in a sense, strives to harness elements of prevalent consumer trends that appeal to the country’s youth, as brick and mortar stores begin to see more sustained footfall. This is apparent from the façade design itself, which is a stark departure from the storefronts that flank it. An absence of sharp corners and strong geometric design sensibilities define the fenestrations that offer a sneak preview of the spaces within, including a paw print-shaped window arrangement that frames a view of the store’s café.
Spread out internally over two storeys with a mezzanine level between them, the retail design transcends the common definition of a pet supplies store, with additional functional areas that include conference spaces, a café, and a veterinary clinic with specialised care and training spaces. Beyond the confines of the entrance, primary staircase, and a lobby, the spatiality gradually expands until users arrive at a sprawling atrium teeming with retrofuturistic references, and elements that might look connected to an episode of The Jetsons. In essence, the design appears to transport users to the interiors of a spacecraft from a bygone era. Curved forms convey a strong sense of movement in keeping with the homage to Streamline Moderne and its precedents in aerodynamic design. The use of colour within the space reinforces this visual dynamic, as different chromatic accents have been woven together in circular bands that evoke the orbital motion of celestial bodies.
Anchoring this space as its focal point is a towering vestibule for a spiral staircase design connected to the mezzanine level, and looking on to the display area within the atrium. Strong delineations between public and private spaces are softened by the use of internal windows that offer visual connectivity. The design team shares, “With the sensibilities of the Space Age in mind we deployed ‘Ark’ — a symbolic spatial concept to plan the internal layout. The idea is to connect the notion of a ‘pet’ with that of the ‘Ark’ to expand BIBU into a ‘P+ark’ by transforming parts of its private commercial area into a community platform for more interpersonal communication.” Adhering to the retrofuturistic theme and orbital references, the atrium’s ceiling is dotted with an array of circular lighting design fixtures in reflective finishes, while the flooring below features woody herringbone-patterned tiles with arcing bands of forest green, which “render a classic atmosphere resembling upmarket European department stores”.
Flanking the staircase at the centre of the atrium, the spatial layout hosts a retail area on one side and pet sales space with compartments for display on the other. The former is decorated with LED tile flooring that extends to the stairway as well as the ceiling on the upper level, tying the entire interior design scheme together. Beyond the spiral staircase is a grooming area with a number of rooms that accommodate sanitary functions.
Near the entrance, the store’s café, dubbed ‘DOPPIO’, also features a similar grid of LED tiles along its floor, in a clear nod to the neoclassical bedroom that sets the stage for the concluding sequence of astronaut David Bowman’s journey in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Vintage furniture design with references to elements of neoclassical architecture – including a chair with an Ionic capital-shaped back – add to the melding of classical and modern that characterises the warped sense of chronological continuity here, seeming almost like anachronisms when placed in the context of the design’s Space Age sensibilities.
Conference spaces and a waiting area are located on the mezzanine floor, accessed via the spiral stair. Alternatively, the stairway towards the entrance is connected to the second floor, a more private zone that acts as a veterinary clinic equipped with offices, training rooms, consultation and boarding spaces, along with treatment areas. Sliding doors, dome lights, and light pastel finishes impart a softer touch to the retro aesthetic, attempting to veer away from the cold, uninviting ambiences of hospitals from the era. The practice reveals, “The basic tone of the site is defined by colour. There is the eggshell white mezzanine consisting of a hallway and meeting rooms, and a touch of grey-toned-blue on the second floor to fit with the calm and cleanliness that a pet hospital requires. We avoided visually-oppressive sharp corners, instead drawing upon ergonomically rounded corners and soft convex, anti-collision surfaces. Naturally, these designs are also pet-friendly.” Metallic accents interject the matte surfaces, contributing to the streamlined design aesthetic and ensuing minimalism of the spaces.
The firm concludes, “A retail space should enchant guests with a rich and inviting journey and this is an essential design principle for ofD. Walk into BIBU, and take in the timeless design details and subtle story lines, which gradually reveal an odyssey of space and time that unfolds inside.”
Name: BIBU Pet Store
Location: Guangzhou, China
Area: 630 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Architects: One Fine Day Studio & Partners
Lead Architect: Jump LEE
Design Team: Chun-jie HE, Yong-jie LAO