Text description provided by the architects. The project is located in the eastern quarter of Qianmen, historically the earliest commercial streets of Beijing, with adjacency to Tiananmen Square and the city’s historic axis. As part of the “Neighborhood Revival” plan, BigSmall Coffee was brought in by local redevelopment agency to become an anchor tenant to what will be a collection of creative businesses re-shaping contemporary urban life of this historic area. Accessible from main street, the 10 square meter compact space works as a gateway to a newly upgraded Hutong network, consisting of local residences and numerous courtyard houses managed by Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.
The design’s challenge is to transform the miniature space into an iconic storefront and an active neighborhood “living room”.
The narrow space accommodates two programs, specialty coffee shop during daytime, and craft gin bar at night. The shift in program is expressed through a mechanism on the exterior façade. Made of stainless steel and brass plates, a semicircular clock-like installation forms the upper part of the façade. During daytime, the “clock hand” carrying the coffee shop logo moves along a programmed track. At dusk, the logo plate will eclipse behind the signage of the gin bar, indicating the change of activity. Symbolizing celestial motion, the animated storefront creates a time-measure for the daily life of the community.
The original flat roof was replaced by arched skylights, bringing in abundant natural light into the north-facing interior, transforming the once gloomy room into an outdoor-like space. The roofline of the adjacent courtyard building is visible through the skylights, evoking a sense of being in a traditional courtyard. Sharing the same materials of stainless steel and brass, the entire bar is welded together with the façade, becoming one structurally and visually. The gloss and precision of metal is contrasted with the roughness of the original timber beams and cement wall. This material composition signifies dramatic changes happening in this historic Beijing neighborhood.
Understanding BigSmall’s brand philosophy and roots in urban culture, designRESERVE hopes to build a “hideout” for Beijing’s much suppressed “Street Art”. Spanning two walls is a mural painted by an invited local artist. The mural’s vibrant colors and playful shapes are visible to the street, adding much needed color and energy to Beijing’s repetitive grey streetscape. Opposite the mural is a large steel roll-up gate painted with coffee menu in the style of street fliers commonly seen in Chinese cities. Sitting at the bar, wedged between the mural and the steel roll-up gate, is as if one is sitting in a narrow pedestrian ally, a disappearing Hutong in the everchanging city.
At dusk, the roll-up gate is lifted, revealing liquor shelves made of cantilevered acrylic panels and custom brass parts. Rows of glass gin bottles are set against circular mirrors and rough-textured plaster. Warm light project through the transparent shelves, making them planes of light which then reflects off surrounding glass, mirrors and metals. The symphony of light and reflection give the room a mysterious grotto-like quality, provoking curiosity in passing pedestrians.