185 Yongkang Road formerly was a 60-square-meter street dinner. During our first site visit in November 2018, our impression was that the site is long and narrow, due to this constrains, business like restaurant or café which requires a lot furniture may not work, the best potential for this space is probably an art gallery or showroom.
In December, client decided to use this venue for a vintage houseware gallery, named ‘Single Person’. Stochastically, this decision is coincided with our early intuition. Interestingly enough, client is actually a musician duo, and OFFHAND happens to be a two-person partnership.
During the initial communication phase, client directly sent us more than two hundred reference images to express their aesthetic preference. All those images are trivial and scattered, showing different possible design directions.
In order for us to kick start with the design, systematic and design coherent became the key. It was at this stage that the space was thoroughly analyzed. The existing structural walls divide this long and narrow space into four individual rooms. What we did is to categories different products with each area and integrate client’s needs with a straightforward solution to develop a comprehensive plan.
A narrow space with light sources only at both ends, isn’t this a cave? The word CAVE broke into our mind when we first sought to define the space as a whole. And because of the space shares similar physicality with cave, while we were verifying this concept, we realised that CAVE is not an imposed concept but manifested by the nature of the site itself. It is found on its physical reality. It is a true argument.
Once the overall concept CAVE was established, other design elements for this space that shares the same design language naturally fall into place. We researched cave itself and cave related design, developed design details with functional requirement and the site’s own specific conditions in mind.
The first site constrains (also can be viewed as a feature) is that lack of natural lighting in the inner space. In this case, openings on walls are applied throughout the entire space to create indirect lighting sources. A row of small niches was created along the wall of centre gallery, to bring out a candle lighting ambience in the space. An irregular peeking window is punctured for visual connection between centre gallery and side gallery. As for the exit gallery, a row of skylight is designed to guide the visitors out of the cave. Under CAVE concept, the skylight is given a great vertical depth to simulate the way light penetrates through thick cave walls. By controlling the way light enters, it magnified the experience of a cave.
Another feature of the site is the spatial hierarchy. As showing in elevation, each room is placed on different level. Since the original civil structure cannot be changed, we decided to take advantage of the height difference between each space, to highlight the depth and progressive level of a cave. Flooring colour that is continued on steps thrusted into the adjacent space, thus created an infiltration gradient between two areas. The curve platform in the centre gallery is in response to the client's request for an independent merchandise stand.
Apart from using height difference to indicate space, different shades of colour is applied to show further emphasis on the depth. First area which including centre gallery and side gallery is in white enamel. Second area, the corridor gallery is in ochre with darker shade, while the last area, the exit gallery is in sienna, the darkest shade of all. Using earthy colour is a natural inclination under the concept of CAVE. The lightness of shades is to indicate the physical attributes of the cave, where the light is dimmed, and the space is darkened after going deep into the cave.
Every cabinet handle in the space is carefully selected at a flea market in Berlin. We occasionally collecting interesting materials for our projects while traveling. These peddle shaped antique ceramic handles is a joyful found.
For the faucet, there was no clue at the beginning, we were not sure what kind of faucet could match the space. Fortunately, our designer stumbled on a brand called Jee-O from the SketchUp warehouse. We found out that the nearest supplier is in Hong Kong, then a long and lengthy communication process with the supplier had begun. When the faucet finally installed, all the hard work is paid off.
Material and texture have always been the area where OFFHAND keen to explore and experiment, therefore， we often devote a great deal of time and effort into the construction details. Besides colour, paint texture is also varied in each room to bring subtle contrast in spatial experience. Thanks to our client who is as stubborn as we are, together we made totally 47 paint samples.
Some paint samples we made during prototype process
The entrance is built very close to the cave entrance we have imagined. Our contractor is so proud of the arc of the façade, he even took a selfie with it. The texture of façade looks similar to stucco but is actually a result of pebble wash.
Single Person is a cooperative effort with client. The maze niche of corridor gallery is made directly out of client’s sketch. So does the irregular window in the centre gallery. As more oval shaped details were added in the space, we gradually changed all wall intersections detail to curves. Due to construction constrains, not everything executed perfectly, but the intersection detail between walls and ceilings in the centre gallery are rather satisfying.
As an interior design practice, OFFHAND do not impose design concept, but aim to solve realistic problems of diverse sites of different projects. We are interested in the relationship between space and people. Space as an energy field for interaction, and how to reveal the potential that it innates. This has been a key subject that we study and examine through our practice. The understanding of space varies among generations, therefore the problem we are solving is forever a problem that is happening, evolving and changing. This is where architecture fascinates us.
Through this CAVE project, the concept is formed due to its physical restraints. This made us realise that a true concept should emerges from the process of problem solving, not pre-assumed or imposed. If a site has manifested a concept by itself, why not embrace it?