New Shanghai, a well-known restaurant chain in Australia, recently opened in Dubai featuring a more contemporary and sophisticated look for their first Middle Eastern venture. With six sites across Australia featuring the traditional Shanghai laneway as the brand’s signature design, the creative team behind the original design concept, Giant Design, decided to refresh the look by adding contemporary elements to the materials palette.

The new design concept was first launched in 2016 at New Shanghai’s seventh Australian site in Chadstone, Victoria, with great success.

However, their client wanted something new and unique for the Dubai Mall, and sought the newest and best version of New Shanghai when they went overseas. Giant Design suggested a couple of new elements to be added to the design, while still making it recognisable for any Australian who travelled there.

To accomplish this, the Giant Design creative team took the streetscape design and created something more abstract. Giant Design’s Design Director Chris Wilks observed that they ended up with beautiful detailing in a contemporary restaurant that didn’t particularly look like anything.

“There’s an element that could feel a bit like a streetscape, but in a more abstract way, as opposed to a literal translation of a streetscape. And it’s still a family restaurant, but the aesthetic look is more glamorous,” Chris remarked.

The Giant Design team delivered a contemporary Chinese restaurant inspired by 1930s Shanghai, using a materials palette that stayed true to the original concept but with some exciting new twists. All of this was accomplished in a mere 13 months from brief to completion.

The refreshed materials palette included patterned Petersen D92 brick walls, Basalt cobblestone flooring, black timber latticework and hand-painted murals.

Taking the Dubai New Shanghai to the next level is a clever combination of geometry, pattern and texture. For the brickwork, which was a key element of the original design, Chris looked for the perfect slim profile, grey brick with a 50mm height to use as a brick tile on the walls.

During the execution of New Shanghai Dubai, the design team finally found the perfect grey brick. “We also liked the variation you get across the whole set of Petersen bricks and they have a softness about them. They look powdery and authentic like the ancient brick walls you’d see in Shanghai. The edges are a little bit tumbled, and they have an instant aged aesthetic right from the get go,” Chris says.

Once delivered to the site, each brick was sliced to a one-centimetre skin and laid as a tile on the wall, but not with an ordinary brick bond. Since the walls were about 4.7m in height along a long and narrow space, the team wanted to break up the monotony. This was achieved by rotating the bricks, using a different pattern and breaking it up with black steel bands along the length of the walls.

Bright yellow louvres were added to the walls, creating a more family-oriented space and breaking up the more monotone cobbles and bricks.

One of the most spectacular design elements that adds a definite splash of colour are the hand-painted tiled panels hanging in the restaurant and across the shopfront. Another original and much loved feature of New Shanghai, and perhaps more prominent at the Dubai Mall, is the black timber latticework, one of Chris’ favourite features, along with the Petersen D92 bricks.

“It’s the combination of the black timber latticework – the extent of it is dazzling, there’s almost an element of the Great Wall of China because of its length – and when you look through it straight on, you see the brickwork behind it. It’s a combination of what you can do with two finishes, and pattern and texture; it was really nice to be able to do that in a contemporary way,” Chris says.

Not surprisingly, Giant Design’s Australian client (New Shanghai’s original owner) and the AZADEA Group, the owner of the Dubai restaurant are satisfied with the outcomes, and now want to move forward in Australia and the Middle East respectively, using this new design.

Photographer and painter: Jivan Hovhannisian