The story behind Zebar’s design and construction lies at the intersection of a couple of different worlds: that of east and west, as well as that of the digital and analog. It all began with a movie director from Singapore who wanted to open a live music venue in Shanghai. Although the budget was small and the schedule tight, Francesco Gatti was game for the project. Gatti is chief architect at 3gatti architects, an Italian architecture firm with offices in Italy and Shanghai. The client wanted something cutting-edge and hip, so Gatti had to come up with a simple, but appealing and modern concept.
The name of the bar is a fairly good representation of the design. Starting with the “Z,” the floor plan of Zebar looks like an elongated version of that letter. Tucked into one end of the “Z” is a stage for live music performances. At the axis of the space, there is a slightly elevated island bar. As the cave-like space stretches out toward the other end, in what looks like quite a distance, the space is opened up for dancing. So far, it doesn’t sound like anything terribly exciting, but it’s the design of the walls and ceiling that add an unusual, and slightly hypnotic, element to this music venue.
The “zebra” implicit in the bar’s name is fully realized in the undulating slices arching over the space: white slices standing out against a black background. Probably a nightmare to keep clean, but sometimes design takes precedent over considerations such as these. What is interesting about the design is the way it seems to pulsate. In this way, it is very appropriate for a music venue and transforms the space into a cave of sound.
The rib-like design is an example of the ease with which 3D modeling programs like Rhino can help designers find simple ways to transform a space. The floor plan was extended into an “amorphous blob,” which was then sliced into many sections. Gatti says the design originated in his playful experiments with volumes: “The idea looks complex but actually is very simple and was born naturally from the digital 3D modelling environments where me and others enjoy playing with virtual volumes and spaces.” One does wonder what the acoustical effect of so many recess would be, but apparently the director is an ex-musician, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
The story of east and west really came into play when it was time to fabricate the sections. Gatti recognizes the differences between building in Europe and in China in his memo on the project: “In Europe the natural consequence of this kind of design will be giving the digital model to the factory and thanks to the numeric control machines cut easily the huge amount of sections all different from each other.” Instead, in a very labor-intensive process, each form was projected onto the plaster board, traced, and then cut by hand. Not only is this the story of east and west, but digital and analog; the Zebar plays out the drama of a world in which technology develops at rate that only a small population can really keep up with.