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“We intend to create a space that feels natural and alive. As a result, locals residents do not have to dress up to take pictures but could visit the coffee shop without feeling uncomfortable, ” says Khun Paek- Satawatch Katlivong, an architect from Blankstudio.
We’ve grown accustomed to the environment in which coffee shops or cafes nowadays have become a landmark for Café Hoppers to stop by to check-in, snap pictures, and compete for beautiful positions and angle to show off on their social media. This new branch of Akha Ama coffee (la fattoria), Phra Singh, in Chiang Mai’s Old Town, however, is unique. The café in these two commercial buildings is designed to blend in with the neighborhood while reflecting the nature concept which is the core of the ‘Akha Ama’ brand, who builds a worldwide reputation for Thai coffee and Thai farmers.
The original Akha Ama Coffee Shop in Phra Sing subdistrict was housed in a corner shophouse within the same commercial building. The business expanded from one to two shophouses as a result of the contract’s expiration, moving to shophouses in the middle. The challenge for the new branch is that the mood and tone of the shop with the coffee bar at its core, must not be too bright or too dark. In addition, the area in front of the building should be an open-air space, with fewer boundaries and an invitation to sit and relax. Trees can be planted in this area to help the city gain more green space.
To respond to the needs of the owner as well as the context of the old town of Chiang Mai, the architect team chose natural materials such as bricks to create the main character of the building, allowing it to blend in with the surrounding community. According to the owners’ needs, this material will determine the boundaries of the building without using the plane of the wall or fence as a divider.
From the walkway to the front of the building, it is designed using bricks as a feature wall with bricklaying techniques to capture attention and to provide hidden functions. “We don’t want to express the style by using simple brick masonry walls. So, we tried to come up with an alternative. We purposefully placed bricks crosswise to provide the protrusion function. So that people outside chit-chatting may set down a cup of coffee. We wanted a laid-back ambience where customers could sit, stand, and converse with one another while still giving the shop a bustling appearance.”
As we enter the interior, we will notice the counter bar placed in the centre of the room, with all the surrounding tables arranged along the wall. It can be seen from all angles with a curved design like the number zero (0) to reduce the edges of the corners, giving the shop a relaxed atmosphere. This curve will flow continuously to the mezzanine area creating harmony with the entire space with curved floor and curved wall decoration lines. This contrasts with the building’s exterior, which emphasizes the use of square forms or geometry to connect with all the exterior buildings, which cannot change much due to a ordinance in Chiang Mai’s old town. This contrast between the exterior and the interior creates an interesting feeling for those who step into the space to feel the relaxed environment that has changed from a space where bricks are the main material seamlessly connected and perfectly blending both the inside and the outside together.
As bricks are in orange tones, materials in other tones have to be added to blend in. In response to the owner’s first requirement, the designer blends in the black steel and the grey concrete so that the mood of the shop is not too bright nor too dark. Since the rear view is not particularly attractive, the designer team designs solid walls, while opening the expanded back mezzanine area into a skylight that can provide natural light from behind the building.
The decorative wall area is designed with interconnected curves to resemble a mountain which is related to the origin of the Akha Ama brand, which was founded by an Akha hill tribe family. The designers continue to employ bricks to weave designs that are intriguing and resemble the textile of the Akha tribe. “We designed the pattern of the brick walls since the protruding columns reveal the original building’s structure and produce obtrusive lines. So we concealed it with patterns by using various sizes of bricks. Flat bricks are used in the columns and beams area while thicker bricks are used in the other area. When the light hits those bricks, the way those bricks reflect the light becomes even more interesting.”
Something More : The brick wall at the rear skylight also plays with a different pattern, which is the result of reusing the leftover roof tiles from another branch to repurpose the old material to be useful again.
Inside the coffee shop, the first floor and the mezzanine are designed to be Double Volume Spaces, allowing the mezzanine floor to be airy, and allowing customers to see the coffee bar. There is not a distinct separation between the mezzanine and the ground floor environments. The atmosphere of people talking throughout the shop can still be seen by those people downstairs. This is another factor that contributes to the shop’s vibrant appearance throughout the day.
“When designing this space, my intention was not to create an Instagram-worthy location. Well, there are visitors who come to take pictures, while at the same time, they are also surrounded by locals who frequently visit for a cup of coffee and to hang out together. I love the vibe there. It is like a livable picture. It looks natural. Because I would like to create a vibe that attracts customers”
Area : 200 square meters
Architect & Interior : Blankstudio
Design Team : Satawatch Katlivong ,Taksaporn Sripradit ,Vanna Trinawattanakul
Structural Design : Pilawan Piriyaphokai
Photograph : PanoramicStudio