The contemporary ideal when it comes to bathrooms is a sterile sanctuary, stripped down to its essentials yet luxurious enough to draw you in for hours. Roca, the Barcelona-based bathroom outfitter that’s been at it for a hundred years, gets it, owns it and wants everybody to know it.
To that end the company has unlocked the secret to getting bums on seats: take what could be a run-of-the-mill showroom and elevate it into a gallery. After launching successful galleries in London, Lisbon, Spain and Shanghai, Roca has now opened its sixth in the Dongzhimen area of Beijing. And though it deviates dramatically from those spaces, it also remains spectacularly on message.
To design the 800 sq m interior Roca chose Ma Yansong, whose Beijing practice MAD specialises in organic, almost supernatural silhouettes that appear to pulsate with movement. Working within the strict confines of an existing building off congested Dongzhimen Outer Street, Yansong instead used light and projection to play with perceptions.
Double height glazing opens up the gallery space to the urban environment so the LED screen becomes a facade to the street
Taking advantage of full-height windows on two floors overlooking the busy pavement, he transformed the back wall into a giant LED screen, directing attention right through the building. The images on the screen, commissioned from art critic and curator Jérôme Sans, are eerily real: a mother bathing her baby, a man shaving his beard, a father tending to his young son, all tinkering with the latest Roca fixtures, seemingly oblivious to any spectators regardless of the constant flow of spectators on the street. It’s disarmingly alluring.
Yansong says he hopes the gallery ‘can become a positive, vivid corner of the urban community, connecting people and the city in the simplest way’. Elsewhere, projections of falling water that illuminate voids in the walls seek to calm them too.
It’s a deft bit of performance art amid the gallery’s backlit tile floors, stark pedestal displays and ominous black walls. It may not translate into concrete sales, but it advances the ideal of the contemporary bathroom that Roca has conceived immaculately.