Considering Shenzhen’s migrant majority, UNI Design devised Heytea as a space for connection and companionship.

A leading global technology hub and dubbed ‘China’s Silicon Valley’, Shenzhen is a megacity with over 12.5 million inhabitants, the majority of whom are migrants. According to a journal article published on NCBI, ‘Shenzhen has been the prime destination for migrants since the start of China’s economic reform in the 1980s. By the end of 2015, Shenzhen had a population of 11.37 million people, of whom only 3.54 million have local hukous [a system of household registration used in mainland China], which means that over 70% of Shenzhen’s population are temporary migrants.’ This, believe the designers at studio UNI, is one of the reasons why locals are increasingly seeking out emotional comfort. For Heytea’s store in Shenzhen’s Luohu District, UNI designed a pet-friendly project that defines the space as a ‘companion’ – both ‘a reference to pets and a metaphor for human beings’.

One of UNI’s key design moves was to define a boundary between people and pets – ‘pet friendly’ shouldn’t mean ‘borderless intimacy’. They divided the project into two areas: inside and outside. Pets are catered for outside in the fresh air through custom-designed furniture and facilities, including a parking station, waste disposal and seating. Designed to bring people and pets together – and connect them with others, too – seating can be adjusted so that smaller spaces open up to form larger group areas. Although animals aren’t actually permitted indoors, they feature visually through the likes of both physical wall art and a rotating display of digital imagery, where pet owners can share pictures via a mobile platform.

The store is seen as an ‘offline social space’ that fosters a connection between Heytea and its clientele, enhances the emotional bond between people and pets, and helps the likes of empty nesters to form new social relationships.