An airport lounge like no other

Mainland electric vehicle manufacturer NIO has always pushed the boundaries of auto-retailing with its high-tech concept stores known as NIO House. But it’s latest shop at Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport – a mix of airport lounge, fashion store and EV display area – takes the model to new heights.

Designed by Kokaistudios and located in a high-exposure area close to the boarding gates, the project is in two parts: an ultra-cool freestanding lounge zone and an adjacent retail space that debuts NIO’s sustainable fashion label Blue Sky Lab, with displays and garments made from recycled car products.

Both parts have been created with sophisticated light-box facades that feature diffused lighting between a sandblasted glass screen and a layer of anodised aluminium. Studio founder and principal architect, Filippo Gabbiani, says this creates “a moment of striking geometric interplay as the sleek flowing curves of the lounge are offset by the solid volume of the store”.

The latest project, which opened last December, expands on the popular NIO House concept, a series of member lounges where NIO owners can relax, connect and work. The high-tech NIO House in Changsha won the Gold Award for Innovation for MOC DESIGN OFFICE in the A&D Awards in 2022.

This time, unlike the standard two-level NIO layout where the lounge sits above a car showroom, the vehicle display sits in front of the lounge, providing a strong branding element before guests enter the reception area via a satin glass door. A combination of banquette and dining seating surrounds a self-service bar in the centre of the open lounge, which then leads to a semi-enclosed private chamber at the rear.

The highly controlled airport setting presented Kokaistudios with plenty of challenges, from both a logistical and regulatory perspective. For example, Gabbiani says that due to strict airport fire safety rules, the quiet lounges were unable to be completely enclosed. “Our solution was to create a series of screen-partitioned private nooks (shown above left) with individual recliners and personal tables that lead into a final chamber space,” he says.

The Blue Sky Lab is both a showcase of NIO’s popular fashion brand and its innovative approach to garment construction. Clothing and accessory display cases highlight the catalogue of recycled car by-products used to create the collections on sale, and repurposed seat belts serve as clothing racks.

Fabbiani says the result is a a retail space that “expresses the minimalist purity of a research lab whilst retaining a sensory, human-centred guest experience”. There’s no doubt it sets a new benchmark for airport lounges and could help shape the way other brands look to engage with their customers in non-traditional retail settings.