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HARMAY Chengdu // AIM Architecture

Text description provided by the architects.

What does Li Bai, lyrical poet from the Tang Dynasty, architectural brutalism, and a modern-day cosmetics store in a shopping mall have in common? Allow us to introduce the newest HARMAY store, in the heart of Chengdu, where journey and discovery meet the future of shopping. Li Bai, famed poet of the Tang Dynasty, wrote in the poem “The Hard Road to Shu”, the stairs to heaven are easier to climb than the road to Sichuan.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

With Chinese e-tailer HARMAY’s fourth brick and mortar location in Chengdu, Sichuan, AIM Architecture has bridged the gaps between the power of a journey, and the beauty of discovery. AIM’s HARMAY playbook always involves an element of mystery: the Hong Kong shop emulates an old-school chemist, where guests are free to uncover new items by opening drawers; the Beijing store draws on theater, taking customers behind the scenes of the HARMAY production; the Shanghai flagship reimagines e-commerce as a visceral, interactive experience.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

As HARMAY expands its physical presence, the design relationship between journey and convenience deepens. Translated as ‘the road to shu’, the shudao is an ancient road system connecting central China with the mountainous and rugged Southwestern Sichuan. This iconic route, and the many natural and cultural treasures that surround it, is deeply embedded in both the land and Chinese lore.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

For the Chengdu location, the design philosophy evolved out of this historic context. The new location, on the ground floor of a busy shopping mall, spans 2 floors with a brutalist concrete and glass facade. Brutalism, with its rejection of nostalgia, perfectly balances the metaphor of a journey and rich history of the area.
Like standing at the start of a winding mountainous path, the exterior facade leaves almost everything to the imagination.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

There are hints of green plants on the second floor, flashes of light filtering through the blocked grid. The facade functions like a cage around the space itself, a powerful, beautiful obstacle. Once inside, the evolution of the brand, the customer journey, and the shudao become clear. In the center of the store, shoppers are greeted by a huge, ascending path – the shudao.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

Three unique routes all lead to a centralized high point. As guests walk up the slope, products are easily discoverable stored in open-faced table-like structures that follow the slope of the path upward. Its sides are textured with Steel racks and provide more opportunities for shoppers to engage with products.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

The steel shelving, textured stucco above and stainless steel walls call back the chic, uncluttered unity of the other stores, without infringing on this new brand iteration. While Li Bai might agree this path is much easier to climb than his ancient shudao, shoppers on a mission will note there is a shortcut via a circular staircase to the gallery-like second floor.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

The second floor opens up, where like summiting a mountain, the view is quite different. Greeted by greenery and gently layered curved steel shelves, the sleek semi reflective surfaces provide more momentum and more to discover. Shoppers can expect a slightly more standard cosmetics shopping experience here, and stay curious and engaged with the brand through the energy of the design.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

Toward the rear of the space, a lab exists where products not tested on animals can be tried. Named We Are All Animals, this space connects the physical experience of being in the store to the e-commerce arm of the brand; products tried here in the lab can’t be purchased, only ordered online.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

As HARMAY grows, the need to balance the warehouse-style storage and consumer-facing experience intersect more visibly. It was critical the design incorporated this, and recontextualize the brand’s ethos for a new end-user. The twists and turns of HARMAY’s shudao capitalize on the deep context of its home city and give a refreshing perspective on what it means to be on a journey – for the brand, and the customer.

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

In “The Hard Road to Shu”, Li Bai wonders if the shudao will ever end. With HARMAY’s latest store, it’s safe to say the journey has only just begun. .

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

© AIM Architecture

HARMAY Chengdu Gallery

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