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iaction’s Stephen White: Perspectives on Shanghai

As iaction turns 15 in Shanghai this month, its founder Stephen White speaks about the firm’s milestones and the city in which it is based.

iaction’s Stephen White: Perspectives on Shanghai


November 30th, 2011

Originally from Australia, Stephen White was the first foreign architect to set up a base to serve commercial interiors for corporate and government clients in Shanghai back in 1994. Soon after, in 1996, he founded interior firm iaction, which turns 15 this November.

’’I came to Shanghai a few times in the early 1990s and then to set up a business, realising the opportunity was immense both personally and professionally,” says White. “This was going to be a vibrant commercial centre – a city of the future.”


iaction has done projects at The Shanghai World Financial Centre and Jin Mao Tower.

The managing director of iaction has since led the firm to achieve many ’firsts’ in Shanghai such as the first office construction fit-out project in the high zone for The Shanghai World Financial Centre, China’s tallest building, as well as the office fit-out for the (then) tallest building in the country, Jin Mao Tower, helping Dresdner Bank AG move in while the top half of the building was still under construction for the Grand Hyatt!

“As an architect it’s incredible to watch a city being built around you. Shanghai has an amazing skyline including a building which will surpass 600m to be ready by 2014,” says White.


ANZ Bank, Shanghai

“Since first arriving in 1994 until now the skyline has developed into a new city of tall buildings and apartments – parts are new, some parts are extensions of the old. In terms of business the commercially minded Shanghai has become an international hub attracting businesses and people from around the world. The largest bank in the world, the largest factory in the world, the largest number of consumers – it’s still taking shape.”


USA National Pavilion, World Expo 2010, Shanghai

Recently, the firm also worked on both the Australian and USA National Pavilions at World Expo 2010 in Shanghai as interior design development consultants and interior design-build contractors respectively.

’’It was an amazing experience to work on 2 iconic projects at the same time in your own backyard – that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,’’ says White.


Cvrve Lounge at the Shanghai Centre (Portman)

Looking to the future, White says that the firm will continue to strengthen its relationship with China “as its proponents become more sophisticated in design and design understanding”.

“The attitudes are sometimes slow to change but design understanding amongst the last generation has brought about a shift. There is still a big gap between what an international client might accept to what a local client might accept but it’s narrowing,” White observes.


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