According toB.L.U.E. Architecture, the philosophy of Chengdu’s %Arabica is to “see the world through coffee” by providing a café space located in Chengdu’s historical and cultural landmark Kuanzhai Alley that provides opportunities for people to gather, communicate and fully experience the local urban culture.
Extending the vibrant living and cultural atmosphere of the alley environment into the café, the architects renovated an existing building to create a dynamic public space that provides a rich and solid spatial experience.
A busy commercial and cultural area, Kuanzhai Alley mainly consists of three northwest-southeast streets, which are connected by small alleys in a crisscrossed pattern. During the early stage of the Republic of China period, among the three main streets, the wider street was named “Kuan Alley” (Wide Alley), the narrower street was named “Zhai Alley” (Narrow Alley), and the one with a well was named “Jing Alley” (Well Alley). Jing Alley offers a relatively peaceful and tranquil atmosphere amid noise and bustle because it has shops only on one side and a street wall on the other.
The existing project building is positioned next to a small square in the centre of Jing Alley. It features a traditional western-Sichuan residential architecture as a one-entry courtyard house. The house’s fabric includes a main room with a courtyard and rooms surrounding the other two sides. The southern and western façades feature traditional wooden storefronts that face respectively to Jing Alley and the square. The plain yet elegant grey bricks and black roof tiles add to the traditional appearance.
Upon visiting the site, the architects decided to remove the glass roof in the atrium area, which had been added by a previous owner, to restore the building’s original layout. Further, they chose to remove the black paint on the surface of the columns to reveal the original colour and texture of the timber. The original timber was also reinforced with steel. After returning the building to its original layout, the architects transformed the entire courtyard into a simple and modern white pool.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted by the calm water of the pool. The pool is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glazing that brings natural light deep into the entire. Bar seating is positioned at the water’s edge so that guests can take in the courtyard. Around the pool, the architects designed a loop indoor street with two wide sides and two narrow sides, a nod to the characteristics of Kuanzhai Alley.
Harmoniously blending with the surrounding, the floor of the looped street is made up of old grey bricks that are commonly seen in Kuanzhai Alley. Several of the seats are also made of grey bricks. Interior walls are also made from handcrafted bricks, with the material’s irregular surface suggesting a simple and natural texture.
Finally, a modern pure white bar counter is introduced opposite to the entrance and pool under a light eave. Mimicking a roadside shop, the intention of the bar area is to enhance the street experience and feeling, contributing to the vibrant nature of old Chengdu.