California-based Blue Bottle Coffee open their third spot in Mainland China, the Blue Bottle Zhang Yuan Cafe designed by Neri&Hu and inspired by the region’s rich history, located in a ‘primitive shelter’ within a Shikumen typology residence in the Zhang Yuan district of Shanghai; an area widely known as the city’s largest and best-preserved compound of Shikumen architecture.
With the aim to “evoke an intimate and nostalgic experience, bringing back the memories of home,” coffee initiates a dialogue between the city’s rich history and the contemporary urban social realm, with customers able to hark back to their childhood whilst enjoying an immersive and authentic experience.
Preservation guidelines, and common sense, meant the spellbinding existing brick walls, doors, and windows of the original architectural façades and atriums were left untouched, serving as a continuous backdrop for the insertion of new design elements. A primitive shelter representing a return to the origin of architecture is located in the middle of the space, a place where the the coffee is prepared and served, and that forms a focal point for the project.
An alley-like space within the building connects the main street to the atrium, which houses several benches and small tables against the windows and walls, a nod to the social moments of life in the Shikumen, whilst the bar area is designed to have a lower stance to create a more intimate feeling for guests, bringing back memories of the attic space in traditional Shikumen homes.
To differentiate between the heavy palette of the existing architecture, Ner&Hu studied the structure and its tectonic joinery, to make it as light as possible. The roof structure was made from brushed stainless steel while its surface was made of perforated and bent steel. The existing structural columns are commandeered with added metal rods and small platforms to function as light rails, side tables, benches, and object displays.
Merging old and new, Shanghai’s Blue Bottle Zhang Yuan Cafe is built from heritage but with modern usage in mind; an impressive architectural home for a space that unites traditions through several ages.