Sybarite designs a 2.7 million-sq-ft luxury retail destination in China’s oldest city
Xi’an has gained an imposing, 2.7 million sq ft department store, courtesy of architect and design firm Sybarite. After the extraordinary success of its design and rebranding for SKP Beijing – currently the world’s second most successful department store by revenue – the London-based practice was asked to create a new 20-storey, luxury landmark SKP store in China’s former capital and home to the famous Qin Dynasty ‘Terracotta Army’.
Keen to balance the historic locale with the contemporary luxuries of SKP, Sybarite’s biggest challenge was to respect the store’s sensitive location, close to both Xi’an’s ancient City Wall’s South Gate and the region’s parliament building in China’s oldest city. The team took inspiration from Moorish architecture such as southern Spain’s Alhambra Palace. Only up close does the skin of SKP Xi’an begin to reveal the contemporary edge of its intricate bas-relief, honeycombed facade of brushed bronzed brass.
Inside, over 1,000 high-end global brands — including Hermès, Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Dior, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton – sit side by side with a carefully-curated selection of domestic names, including the trio of leading fashion designers (and Central St Martin’s graduates) Xuzhi Chen, Huishan Zhang and Qiu Hao.
But SKP pitches itself as ‘more than just a luxury department store’, also offering event spaces, art galleries, bespoke (and bright blue) cinema screening rooms, and even an artisinal cheese room. Sybarite aimed to create a unified identity which ties these disperate functions together. ‘From the lift buttons to the concessions, via the vents built into the pavements outside the building, we made the curve a subliminal branding cue which artfully reminds visitors that they are experiencing SKP,’ explains Torquil McIntosh, co-founder of Sybarite. ‘We always want visitors to know exactly where they are without having to explicitly remind them.’§