‘Custom Made’: Feast by Neri&Hu

June 15, 2012

Shanghai-based practice Neri&Hu is re-defining the conventions of Chinese dining in Feast, its most recent hospitality project.

First published in Inside magazine 71: No Place like Home.

From a village to a metropolis in one generation, Shenzhen is a hotbed of experimentation when it comes to Chinese architecture and design. That makes it a fitting location for an innovative food and beverage typology. Feast, designed by Shanghai-based Neri&Hu, is just that. Completed in December 2011, the two-floor, 2400m2 restaurant complex can seat 188 people and takes upscale dining to a sophisticated level. Here, the tasting of food is enhanced by the sense of drama achieved through interior design.

In the grand double-height main dining room, vertical louvres allow privacy.


“We think that the actual experience of dining is becoming more of a focus today, rather than just the eating of the food,” explains partner Lyndon Neri. “The performance aspect of food preparation and the social aspect, almost like going to the theatre in the past, are becoming more important for people.” Neri co-founded Neri&Hu with his partner Rossana Hu in Shanghai in 2004. Today, their multidisciplinary practice provides architecture, interior, planning, graphic and product design services. It works on projects in seven countries, employs a multicultural staff who speak 20 languages and boasts an impressive list of national and international awards. Both Neri and Hu were educated in the US and worked for prominent offices such as Michael Graves & Associates before returning to set up practice in China.

One of the unique private dining rooms, with custom-made Neri&Hu furniture.


At Feast, that dining experience is largely a private affair, given that more than two-thirds of the restaurant is made up of small dining rooms. That proportion of space allotted to private dining rooms is typical of current Chinese food and beverage schemes. Yet Neri&Hu’s design redefines the concept of private dining in its treatment of the boundaries between public and private. Each of the 15 private rooms is treated as an intimate ‘house’, turned in on itself, yet also connected to all the neighbouring houses that make up a village. This offers a communal experience, complete with all the dynamic interaction and encounters that occur in such a settlement.

That sense of entering a village starts straightaway with the grey brick paving that guides diners through the facade and into the double-height reception area. The same brick paving covers the walls of this very public entrance zone. Cold paving along the public routes turns to warm walnut timber in the screens of vertical louvres that flank the circulation paths and lend rhythm to the long corridors that lead to the small dining rooms. The transition from public to private is completed upon entering one of these private spaces, each of which is detailed with its own unique furnishings, lighting and material palette, enabling guests to choose their preferred eating environment from the range on offer.

Opening in the louvres connect to the private dining spaces.


Some rooms are entirely clad in wood, enveloping guests in walnut basket weave panelling on all sides to ensure an inviting, almost domestic atmosphere. A key factor contributing to the sense of cohesion is that Neri&Hu was able to take control of the entire design spectrum. Its brief included not only architecture and interiors, but also the entrance canopy, furniture and lighting, graphic identity, print materials, signage, tableware and even staff uniforms. Light fittings were selected to cast dynamic shadows across the surfaces. Wooden rooms also alternate with glass rooms wrapped in milky green sheets of laminated glazing that offer a totally different atmosphere. Many of the items of furniture were custom made by Neri&Hu. These include the reception bench and desk, the service stations and the sideboards. Most of the specified pieces are also the work of Neri&Hu, among them the Solo lounge chair, dining chair and table. In the choice of furniture and finishes, the designers show a clear preference for natural texture and colour. Colour accents are used only very sparingly to create an appropriate spatial effect.

Trapped between the screens of louvres and the dining rooms are gardens that can be viewed, but not entered. These spaces feature designer chairs and custom vases, and offer what the architects call ‘breathing moments’ in the arrangement of private dining rooms that would otherwise become repetitive. The configuration of spaces was in part determined by the need to work around the restrictions imposed by the structural grid of columns in such a way that they are incorporated into the walls or cleverly tucked away in service spaces.

Furnishings in this private dining room lend a domestic feel.


Contrasting with the intimate character of the dining rooms, the main dining room is comparable to a village square. This grand, double-height space features the same grey paving floor surface as the circulation areas and is wrapped in the same screen of wooden louvres that filter light and views. Fluttering overhead are no fewer than 500 handblown glass lamps custom made for this space. Positioned centrally in plan, the room enjoys visual connections with the circulation routes on both levels through strategically positioned openings in the screens. These openings are framed in blackened bronze to emphasise particular views of the adjacent spaces and, in places, even beyond the facade. The resulting composition is a skilfully crafted and complex play of contrasts – solid and void, open and shut, opaque and transparent, public and private, warm and cold, light and dark – that trigger the senses and create a theatrical setting for dining.

The quality of the finished design is all the more remarkable when one considers that the whole project took place within a very limited time span. In fact, construction started even before the design was finished. Adjustments to the design necessitated the demolition of some structures. This is typical of projects in China, where construction schedules can be so tight that design and building proceed in tandem. High praise to Neri&Hu for guiding this design through that fast-track process without compromising on quality.

In the public circulation paths, cool paving contrasts with the warmth of the timber louvres.


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