From Functional to Fashionable: glass blocks used to create a glowing facade in Shanghai.
Located in a high-end fashion district in Shanghai, this storefront was dramatically reclad in a custom glass block assembly by Toronto-based architecture studio UUfie. The facade is part of an adaptive reuse project, converting an old office building into a new flagship store for fashion house Ports 1961.
Eiri Ota, the Director and Principal Architect of UUfie, says the design concept evokes the idea of a landform that resembles an iceberg floating freely in the ocean, “During the day, [the facade] mutes the surroundings, while subtly reflecting the sunlight. In the evening, the view is icy and crisp, and the surface illuminates with embedded LED lights integrated into the joints of the masonry.” The iceberg concept is inspired in part by the fashion brand’s celebration of the spirit of travel.
The facade is composed of two types of glass blocks, a standard 12” (300mm) square block and a custom mitered block of the same dimensions. The use of corner blocks offers a seamless uninterrupted materiality. From a distance a larger grid emerges, registering the facade control joints and steel frame beyond. The grid acts as an organizing element for the building envelope, controlling the limits of the material while providing a basis for formal adjustments to the massing of the facade. At key moments, the building face pulls and pushes, establishing the main pedestrian entry and billboard displays for passersby. Ota relates these design moves to the building’s context, “the building has a sense of being undulated, expanding and contracting, as if it is shaped by its environment.”
UUfie was able to achieve a three-dimensional “corbeling” look for the glass block by carefully integrating steel plates into the design. As the facade tapers, the blocks rest on a stainless steel plate of the same dimension, which extends to a steel frame. LED lighting, inserted into the masonry joints casts light toward the interior, which is indirectly reflected back to the exterior, establishing a soft glow effect and conveying the depth of the assembly.
UUfie’s Toronto-base office worked to refine the detailing of the wall system to ensure that the on-site assembly process would operate as smoothly as possible, which meant condensing the number of connections in the modular assembly down to a set of standard details. This effort doubly helped to establish a rigorously refined aesthetic and efficient construction process, reflecting Ports 1961’s approach to carefully honed craft production.
The finishes selected for the facade were a thoughtful addition to the project. The glass block is a satin finish, and the underside of the exposed steel plates is shot blasted to create a soft matte finish. These deliberately “soft” finishes operate contextually to contrast with Shanghai’s electric chaos. Ota attributes the success of the project to the facade’s materiality and formal massing: “The differing geometries and changing perspectives of the facade express the transformative nature of the city and the people of Shanghai.”