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Aurelien Chen | Former miner’s canteen refurbishment

The refurbishment of this industrial heritage is a subtle reinterpretation of China’s “Red Era”.

This building from the 70’s used to be the canteen for coal mine’s workers. It is adjacent to what used to be the coal mine office buildings, which were built in 1912 by German architects, and present the typical features of Western architecture in China from the time, with an intensive use of arch elements.


Designer: Urban and rural planning and design institute of CSCEC / Aurelien Chen

Photographer: Aurelien Chen

The work consisted in the refurbishment of the existing dilapidated building; the facades were slightly transformed in order to create homogeneity with adjacent historical buildings. The interior design is the result of a careful historical study of the “Red Era” colors, materials and furniture, which were subtly reinterpreted. Finally, this refurbishment was meant to adapt the building to new and contemporary usages: literary café, library, museum, exhibition, lectures, events.

The existing old dilapidated walls witnessed the “Red Era” and carry the traces of history still visible on their surface. The design focuses on these walls, they become the key elements of the spaces. Each of these historical elements becomes the center element of the new functions: the linear partition wall that was once the canteen counter becomes a reading desk; the dilapidated wall where slogans of the red era were painted in red Chinese characters, supports the bar.

At the center of the main hall, there is a vibrant element that recreates, in an abstract way, the pattern of a flower with a star placed at the center. This pattern, typical of China’s “Red Era”, was originally located on the dilapidated ceiling that had to be demolished. This central element has multiple functions: information desk, exhibition space, stage, rest area, “round table” discussion, etc. The other furniture of the main hall is made of curves, providing fluidity and flexibility of usage.

The individual reading spaces are organized in concentric circles, inspired by the existing ceiling lamps. Bookshelves are discretely integrated within the furniture, in order to minimalize their visual impact on the space.

In order to create homogeneity with the adjacent historical building, we wanted to add arches that, oddly, were missing in the space.

During the construction process, arches were discovered inside the walls as well a basement made of stone vaults, and we tried to emphasize them with the new design. In the restaurant area, a series of arch alcoves provides an intimate atmosphere and creates the link with the existing arches.

The stairs leading to the basement were moved inside a new arch-shaped volume that was added on the facade. The two original stairwells are left open and covered with a glass floor, creating a strong visual link between the main hall and the underground vaults. In order to preserve its peculiar atmosphere, the intervention on the basement was minimal; the existing concrete tanks have been transformed into reading corners and exhibition areas.

Other façade openings have also been reshaped into arches by adding blue metal ornaments reminding of the pattern layout of the existing windows.


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