Project: Hutong Tea House | Design: Arch Studio | Location: Hutong, Beijing, China | Photos: Wang Ning
At just a mere 450 sqm, the Tea House cafe project by Arch Studio located in a historical building is a breath of fresh air within Beijing’s traditional Hutong district. Flanked by five old traditional houses and temporary corroded steel houses, the building was originally a venue for company business meetings, but has been converted to a tea cafe when poor management left the space in dire conditions. Arch Studio started off with the design of the project with a thorough analysis of the building conditions and discovered that the materials actually dated back sometime before the Qing Dynasty.
“From the structure of the wood and the size of the grey bricks, we could tell that the relatively old north wing predates the Qing Dynasty,” the studio says. “From the already decaying wood structure on the east and west houses, we deduced that the houses were only remodelled during the 70s and 80s. Additionally, judging by the wood structure on the building’s south side, we could not deny the fact that it needed repair. The repair design was selective because it had to factor in the building’s age, as well as its financial and historical value.”
The refurbishment work carried out in the room within the north wing was a minor process – Arch Studio only replaced the seriously damaged portion of the space with bricks. Repair in the north room, however, was controlled to ensure that it doesn’t compromise the room’s historical features while the south wing’s reparation works were aimed to give the room a basic style through partial renovation of the roof and wall.
After the East and West wing had been demolished, they were rebuilt into a wood structure with a pitched roof. A flat “curvy corridor” was also implemented, resulting in a gallery space to create a smooth transition from the past to the present.
The architects explain further: “Generally, in Chinese traditional buildings, a gallery is a space formed with one half outside, and the other half inside. It is winding and changeable, scatters randomly and offers visitors a welcoming ambience. The curvy gallery in this project were extended from the outside to the inside of the old buildings like tree branches, blurring the boundaries between the courtyards and houses while changing the dull and narrow impression of the courtyards.
There is a great contrast between the light, transparent and pure white gallery and the heavy, aged and dark old buildings, which makes the new-built part fresher and the original buildings older, creating a communication between new and old.”
The curvilinear gallery splits into three distinct courtyards which offers each tea room its own views while creating a transition between the public and private spaces. What’s intriguing are the lightweight glass curtain walls which are designed to appear as if they are floating above the ground and at the same time reflecting the bamboo landscapes outside and the old building features inside the tea room, resulting in an ambience of the new and old under one roof.
“The curvy gallery also supports the structure of the old building,” the architect says. “For instance, we used steel beam columns to partially replace the decayed wood beam columns of the original building to make the new and old ‘grow’ together.”