May Café and Bakery by FeA: A study in harmonising stylistic contradictions
by Jerry ElengicalNov 01, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jan 21, 2023
Daintily implanted into a hillside site near the city of Bảo Lộc, Vietnam, Nguyen Coffee is a rustic outdoor café with a sustainable twist. The product of an innovative design venture conducted by Vietnamese architecture practice The Bloom, the pavilion-like space leaves a mark on its context that is more experiential rather than tectonic. Evoking the colours of its surroundings through natural materiality rife with inventive design features, the project was initially conceived as a breath of fresh air after emerging from the wake of the pandemic, offering guests an opportunity to relax, socialise, and enjoy views of nature.
A key point for the architects was for the structure to have a minimal impact on its site, while also reducing the carbon footprint of its construction. As such, Nguyen Coffee rejects the aesthetic sensibilities seen in contemporary café design within most urban areas, instead prioritising openness in form, lightness in ambience, and above all else, a reverence for the scenic. To this end, the design comprises a soaring roof form, which in the words of the architects, has been erected like a curtain unfurling slightly above the plane of the ground. Although deceivingly simple on first glance, this roof structure is made up of a complex three-layered system featuring unique approaches to materiality and structural design.
The three-layered assembly was not devised solely for stability or ornament, but was instead a contextual design measure that made astute use of the resources available to the architects at the time of its construction, to respond to the local climate. First, a layer of transparent corrugated sheet helps to eliminate glare and moderate the intensity of incoming light.
Next, a layer of corrugated iron screens excess light and rain where necessary, and finally, a ceiling system composed of innumerable natural wood panels adds an aesthetic flair to the ensemble. This final element in the assembly is what gives the roof its texture and materiality, allowing light to filter in through numerous minute perforations between the panels during the day while rendering similar effects with ethereal lighting design elements at night.
Exhibiting a curved profile marked by sharp undulations throughout its span, the roof is propped up on a grid of natural wood columns, further enhancing the overall rustic atmosphere. Rough, raw, and unvarnished in their finishing, the individual members of this structural system resemble tree trunks that line the forested hillscapes surrounding the café. Since they are the only real vertical on the structure’s perimeter, there is little to note by way of a facade design. Two sets of steps on perpendicular edges of the café host steps that rise to provide access to the structure, at the end of paths that converge.
Wood planks, similar to those used in the roof structure, have also been used on the steps and floor, in a stacked configuration that builds volume but retains the design’s monotone materiality. These elements are a core building block of the café’s entire interior design, and are even used to pave the traversable spaces on the edges of the pavilion. However, the centre of the space gives way to a more standard wood-finished floor, albeit still possessing its own rustic charm, The blending of wood textures has been immaculately handled, subtly indicating transitions in spatial programming. Furthermore, the entire structure was conceived to leave almost no mark on the terrain, such that the scenario of the structure’s dismantling would only revert the landscape to its prior self.
Framed glass envelops a closed-off area at the centre of the layout, which takes on a circular profile. Inverted glass arches along the top of this enclosure evoke clerestories in larger structures, embracing the roof which swoops down towards them. This area is home to a service counter made of the same natural wood planks used in the flooring at the entrance, exhibiting a rhythmic assortment of textures and patterns generated by the stacking of its constituent members. High-top bar seating, with wooden backs affixed to a metal frame, has been provided around the counter. A more intimate air pervades this enclosure, which is somewhat cut off from the resort of the café, but still linked to it visually. Combinations of industrial-style chairs and other wooden furniture also complement the building’s natural palette and vocabulary, maintaining continuity throughout the decor.
Beyond this area, two more seating zones complete the program, which has been ordered inside the structure’s simple rectangular footprint. Open verandahs, basking in views of the natural scenery available throughout their stretch, span along the ends of the pavilion, acting as a buffer between the seating spaces and the mountainous terrain below. As they are only partially shaded by the roof, here, visitors can leave the confines of the structure—a human creation—and attain a brief taste of the valley beyond. Through its mirroring of the context both in terms of materiality and its plainly rustic vocabulary, Nguyen Coffee is a place where nature is neither near nor far, but never more than a stone's throw away.
Name: Nguyen Coffee
Location: Bảo Lộc, Lâm Đồng, Vietnam
Gross Built Area: 1100 sqm
Year of Completion: 2022
Architect: The Bloom
Lead Architects: Dinh Anh Tuan
Design Team: Dinh Anh Tuan, Pham Huu Loc
Engineering: Dinh Anh Tuan
Landscape Design: The Natural Scenery
Consultants: Dinh Anh Tuan
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