A former miners’ canteen in China becomes a contemporary leisure center

Place: Shijiazhuang, Country: China
Shijiazhuang Jinxing Mining Area Culture, Sport and Tourism Bureau
Architectural Design: Aurelien Chen / Urban and rural planning and design institute of CSCEC

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A former miners’ canteen in China becomes a contemporary leisure center

The refurbishment of a 1970s building, a former canteen for coal mine workers located in Shijiazhuang (China), was an opportunity for a subtle reinterpretation of the architecture of the so-called “Red Era” (the term ‘Red Era’ indicates any period after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, but more often it refers to the decades between 1949 and 1976.)
The project by architect Aurelien Chen involved the restoration of a dilapidated building that was the site of a miners’ canteen for many years; the refurbishment was meant to adapt the building to contemporary usages and a new functional program which includes a literary cafe, a library, a museum, temporary exhibition rooms, a lecture hall, and spaces for special events.

cover: Former Workers Canteen Renovation. The furniture of the main hall provides fluidity and flexibility. © Aurelien Chen.

The facades were slightly transformed in order to create homogeneity with adjacent historical buildings, and the renovated interiors are the result of a careful historical study of the colors, materials, and furniture typical of the architecture of the “Red Era”, which were subtly reinterpreted.
The construction is adjacent to the coal mine office buildings, which were built in 1912 by German architects and have some characteristics – such as the use of arches and vaults – typical of Western architecture in China at the time.

The dilapidated walls witnessed the “Red Era” and traces of that history are still visible on their surface. These walls became the key elements of the space: the portion of the wall that was once the canteen counter has been transformed into a reading desk, and the old wall where political slogans were painted in red Chinese characters is now the bar counter.
At the center of the main hall there is a light structure that recreates, in an abstract way, the shape of the flower with the star which was in the center of the old false ceiling that was demolished in order to uncover the original wooden structure of the roof.
This central structure has multiple functions: information desk, exhibition space, stage, rest area, and “round table”. The other furniture of the main hall was drawn using curved lines, providing fluidity and flexibility of usage.
The reading spaces are organized in concentric circles inspired by the existing ceiling lamps. The bookshelves are discretely integrated into the furniture in order to minimize their visual impact.
The stairs leading to the basement were moved to a new volume that was added to the facade. The two original stairwells were left open and covered with a glass floor, creating a strong visual link between the main hall and the underground vaults. The facade openings were reshaped by adding blue metal ornaments reminding the pattern of the existing windows. The intervention in the basement was minimal, in order to preserve its peculiar atmosphere; the existing concrete tanks have been transformed into reading corners and exhibition areas.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation, north facade, detail. © Aurelien Chen.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation, north facade. © Aurelien Chen.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation. Old man practicing tai chi chuan in front of the historical buildings. © Aurelien Chen.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation. Axonometric view of the ground floor functions
© Aurelien Chen / Urban and rural planning and design institute of CSCEC

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation. The main hall with the false ceiling before the renovation works. © Aurelien Chen.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation. The main hall after the renovation works. © Aurelien Chen.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation. The existing old walls witnessed the “Red Era” and carry traces of history still visible on their surface. © Aurelien Chen.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation. In order to preserve its peculiar atmosphere, the intervention in the basement was minimal; the existing concrete tanks have been transformed into reading corners and exhibitions. © Aurelien Chen.

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Former Workers Canteen Renovation. East façade after renovation. © Aurelien Chen

Fact sheet
Architects: Aurelien Chen / Urban and rural planning and design institute of CSCEC
Partners in charge: Aurelien Chen, Wu Yixia (Urban and rural planning and design institute of CSCEC)
Lead Architect: Aurelien Chen
Design Institute: Urban and rural planning and design institute of CSCEC
Design team: Aurelien Chen, Wang Man Yu
Historical study: Sun Jie Yang, Qiu Shuang
Collaborators: Lifeng Architecture Studio (Interior design construction drawings)
Location: Shijiazhuang, China
Area: 1600 m²
Client: Shijiazhuang Jinxing Mining Area Culture, Sport and Tourism Bureau
Completion date: 2020
Photography: Aurelien Chen

About Aurelien Chen
Aurelien Chen is a French architect, building engineer, and architectural photographer with 20 years of international experience on small and large-scale projects. For ten years he joined Cui Kai Studio CADG) in Beijing, China, where he specialized in cultural and renovation projects.
Now he leads his own design practice and is one of the main partners of Zhijian Workshop, a multidisciplinary design studio whose work blurs the boundaries between architecture, interior design, design, art, photography, and scenography.
Recently, his collaborative work with the “Urban and rural planning and design institute of CSCEC” led him to work on smaller-scale projects – architectural installation, and pavilions – with a strong relationship with natural surroundings. He was recently awarded FD100 Award. This prize, under the high patronage of Mr. Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, and sponsored by Philippe Starck, has selected the top 100 object and space design projects that promote French design around the world. He was also a double winner at the Architecture Masterprize 2021, an honoree at the Best of Year Awards 2020, shortlisted at the ABB Leaf Awards 2021, a finalist at The Plan Awards 2021, and longlisted at Dezeen Awards 2021.

 

 


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