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The late night food streets of Shantou, China are a bustling affair, with open stalls under tents and wooden benches for seating. For the people of this prefecture-level city, where late night second dinners are part of the food culture, these busy streets, and fast-food restaurants are primary options to indulge in. The Late Night Kitchen provides an alternative experience to this intense and cursory urban encounter, in a space that is not only meditative but also deliberate.
Chinese architect Ye Hui, of JinGu Phoenix Space Planning Organization (JG Phoenix), has conceptualised the space in keeping with the ideology of the design agency - whose name is in fact a portmanteau of the Mandarin 'today' (Jin) and 'past' (Gu). This marriage of 'western logic' and 'oriental humanism' is manifested through a cohesive use of robust materials - with soft textures, endemic elements, symbolic colours and a palliative ambience. Designed with the aim of creating an introspective environment, away from the hustle of urban life, the interior design emulates a clichéd imagination of tranquillity.
A large deep red, street-facing entrance door leads to a dim corridor with walls on both sides. This “cold alley” - seen in traditional Lingnan architecture, may not have climatic implications like its ancient counterpart, but it alludes to a nostalgia for the oriental nonetheless.
Four separate dining areas are punctuated at varying intervals of the corridor, the largest of which overlooks an interior landscape garden. The dining areas are separated from the corridor through the use of gold and silver screens, visually breaking off any connection with the passage beyond, without actually touching the ceiling. The round serving tables are designed to accommodate a shared food culture, ideal for the hotpot meals served at the restaurant. Hierarchically, the corridor and its inscribed dining areas form the core of the interior spaces, while a staircase stands almost isolated, separated from the core by a stone landscape design. On a completely different axis, to the northwest lie the service areas and toilets, the entrance for which is marked by a rock installation.
On the first floor, the interstitial space shrinks to a lobby and a single corridor with rooms on both sides. Two shared dining rooms of varied-sized tables, a tea room, and two private rooms with a lounge make up the core of this floor. Like the floor below, the service areas and toilets are segregated from the programmatic core of this hospitality design project.
The moonlight-like ambience of the space is a result of chiaroscuro in three-dimensional space. Diffused lighting enhances the quintessential Chinese red (on walls as well as loose furniture) that is coupled with gold and silver screens. The light never directly strikes any surface but instead highlights spatial as well as ornamental features, like plants, chairs, cabinets, reflective wall surfaces, rock sculptures, basins, and staircases. Backlighting and cove lighting are ubiquitous features, feeding into an exaggerated expression of contemplation.
Travel culture in the East has often emphasised on the experience of the journey over the appeal of the destination. The sixth century Chinese philosopher Loa Tzu said: "A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving” - stressing the mishaps of living in the future. And the Buddha said, "It is better to travel well than to arrive". While his message has spiritual connotations, the philosophy is widely appropriated to justify spatial expressions of transit spaces. The corridors perhaps allude to this experience of the journey. Wrapping itself around the dining areas from three sides, this corridor facilitates numerous confrontations with nature - through the use of not just natural materials like stone and wooden textures, but also natural elements like rocks, plants, water and light. A stone landscape next to the staircase creates a visual barrier; pots, wooden sculptures and wall lamps are representative of Chinese crafts; and a natural interior landscape at the end of the corridor is reminiscent of traditional Chinese gardens. The corridor space can indeed be seen as a metaphorical passage between today and the past!
Name: Late Night Kitchen
Location: 38 Zhucheng Road, Zhugang New Town, Shantou, Guangdong
Area: 605 sqm
Completion Time: April 10, 2022
Design Firm: JG PHOENIX
Chief Designer: Ye Hui
Participating Designers: :Chen Jian, Lin Weibin, Chen Xuexian, Cai Jikun
Furnishings Designer: Zeng Dongxu
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