Interiors Awards 2017: Adaptive Reuse

The retail area, lit with pendants made of wine bottles, is defined by honeycombed wine crates mounted on the floors and ceiling. Photography by Rob Cleary

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International Wine & Spirits Museum
Designer: Shanghai Godolphin
Client: International Wine & Spirits Museum
Location: Shanghai

“This dramatic transformation is stunning and innovative. The design takes something that should be cold, scary, and dungeonlike and turns it into an intriguing and romantic space that heightens the senses. The contrast of the uses is part of its excitement.” —Jury

“We don’t like to do anything normal,” says Kyle Mertensmeyer, an American architect and design director of the Shanghai-based firm Shanghai Godolphin. His firm’s design for the Shanghai International Wine & Spirits Museum underscores this point. Located in a 70-year-old former military bunker built by Chiang Kai-shek within a cave carved into the Chenshan Mountain, this is the only privately owned wine museum in China. And unlike a typical showcase space for wine, the adaptive reuse of this 32,000-square-foot interior recalls its earlier incarnation as wartime storage for artillery, crops, and national treasures.

“We didn’t want it to look like an Italian villa,” Mertensmeyer says. “The aesthetic came from the idea that, like wine culture, the bunker was a piece of history—you feel it, sense it, and smell it when you’re there.”

As it turns out, military bunkers and wine cellars have much in common functionally. “A cellar must stay cool—between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius with 60 to 75 percent humidity,” says Mertensmeyer. “Because the space is inside a mountain, it naturally stays at the right temperature and humidity all the time.”

For his client, Li Xuan, a passionate collector of wine and its accoutrements, the location also offered an intriguing setting for the multifaceted program he envisioned. “The idea came to me with the feeling that people in China need to have a look at the world of wine from [the] inside, to glance behind the curtain, not just [read information on the] Internet alone,” says Li, “but [to be] in a place where they can feel the atmosphere of this beverage, see its ancient and rich history, and discover different tastes of wine and their own tastes in the end.”

The museum not only highlights Li’s collection of wine and paraphernalia gathered on tours of vineyards and mansions in Europe but it also serves to educate visitors about the winemaking process and to allow sellers to spotlight their wines. The program includes a pavilion, a private wine club, a retail space, a cellar and tasting room, as well as bonded warehouse spaces for importers. Fortuitously, the original layout lent itself to a notion of procession that drove the architect’s plan for the museum.

The visitor’s experience begins at an original airlock hatch door. To pass through it, one must bend in a kind of bow of deference to the mysteries of history and culture to be unlocked within. Ultimately, the architects approached the interior like an installation, leaving the original walls and concrete flooring largely intact while relying on wine-related elements from Li’s collection to inject the spirit of wine culture into the rooms.

Beyond the entrance, antiques and objects—such as decanters, corkscrews, presses, and wooden plows—are exhibited directly on the floor or in cases set atop antique wine barrels. In the pavilion, a series of antique wine crates stacked on top of oak plinths display bottles of wine illuminated with recessed LEDs, which enable the space to remain cool. The retail area beyond is lit with pendants made of wine bottles and is defined by honeycombed wine crates mounted on the floors and ceiling. “We drew [the wine crate] locations on paper and placed them onsite for an organic look,” says Mertensmeyer. “If you use parametric rendering, the result becomes too slick.”

Finally, the tour ends at the private cellar for VIP wine tasting, where visitors can gather at a white terrazzo-topped handcrafted table surrounded by custom Arts and Crafts–inspired high-back chairs. There, they can inspect the color and clarity of a chosen wine as they sit and appreciate it.

who Architect and interior designer: Shanghai Godolphin. Project team: Kyle Mertensmeyer; Yin Li Xue; Matt Shields; Iris Qiu; Ryland Auburn; Kelton Spresser. Contractor: Tongji Construction Group.
what Masonry walls/hard flooring: existing. Doors: custom. Seating/tables: vintage; custom.

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