In addition to the companies overseeing construction and managing completed properties, design of a building’s interior is often handled by another set of specialists. Stephen White, managing director of interior architecture and design build firm iaction, was among the first foreigners to design the interiors of the emerging cityscape. Arriving in the early 1990s, White has contributed to many of the city’s iconic buildings. “We did the first tenancy for an office in the Jinmao building, which was for a German bank, Dresdner Bank,” White says. “They moved in in January ‘99, at a time when the Jinmao building was really outstanding in Pudong, because there really wasn’t much around it.”
Unique architecture is prominent in Shanghai, and this has impacted the interior design sector. “Shanghai is a city of making a statement, and there has been an increasing need to create your own identity and stand out from the pack,” White says. “Quite often people reconsider their image for their facility here to develop it further in an Asian context. And that makes it quite often a more interesting proposition.”
One of the biggest changes over this period has been the development and application of modern regulations. Fire codes, for example, were still evolving, and “the application of these regulations was very much a work in progress.” Because of this, when the Swiss consulate moved into its 22nd floor office they had iaction install an emergency escape chute that can be pushed out of the window down to the street. Today, White says the fire codes and other regulations are similar to international standards, and in recent years their enforcement has improved markedly.
Similar to other professional service industries, competition has grown fierce and new local competitors are emerging. But growth of local clients is strong as well, and is providing new opportunities. “Now that Shanghai’s been topped out in terms of its tall buildings in Pudong, we’re seeing more tall buildings coming through in Puxi,” White says, optimistic about the future. The recently completed office tower of the new Sinar Mas Center just became the tallest building in Puxi, demonstrating this trend. Others include Dazhongli and One Museum Place. Asked about this growth and what the greatest opportunity is moving forward, White replies: “Hanging on to the tail of the dragon… as it grows and becomes more active.”