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Of course, the perennial classic problem of shophouses in the old town is the lack of natural light and access natural wind. This makes this sort of building appears dull, stuffy, with insufficient light in comparison to the building scale.
Bite & Bond Café, a freshly renovated café and hostel inside a tenement building in Sao Ching Cha, strives to break down those barriers by creating a modern building that invites people to hang out in an open-air space in a four and a half-story shophouse. Aside from not being hot, the building also has a natural light ambience that shines through every space. This project is being handled by a rising generation designer studio like VMA Design Studio to transform challenging constraints into functional spaces.
“I don’t want to create an area which is so close that we cannot tell what the outside weathers like. At least, once enter the building, the visitors can see whether it is raining, sunny, or getting dark. I think this will make visitors relax” said the Architect.
Natural light, free raw material that should be best utilized.
The shop owner walks us through the beginning of this project that originally, this location was a nearly century-old building that had been passed down through the family for many generations. The building made of cement, iron and wood built to store Brass Buddha Statue which is a family business just like the neighborhood in Sao Ching Cha district. As time passed by, the building began to deteriorate as it stored and bear the weight of tons of brass. Hence, it becomes this renovation project to transform an old building into a cafe and hostel.
“My father always reminds us that he did not want to cause any troubles to the neighbors. As the surrounding alleys are not big roads, this project therefore focuses on the renovation while attempting to preserve as much of the old building structure as feasible. I briefed the architect that I do not want a dull plan, that each floor to be unique. Most importantly, we want natural light. I don’t want the building to be stiff because I feel that light is a free resource that should be utilized to the greatest extent possible.”
“When consider whether there will be visitors if a hotel is constructed here? People will undoubtedly come because of the location. But how can you distinguish the building’s character that makes visitors want to return? That’s our aim in mind,” added the architect.
Due to the original constraints imposed by the building’s structure and laws of the old city, the architect could not demolish nor significantly alter the structure of the original five-story building’s facade. He could only change the appearance of the façade. Since the entrance is just a small single block of building leading to five blocks of building inside, it is important to design the façade to be fascinating and appealing enough.
A diagram illustrating the design concept.
For the façade, the designer use laths that stimulate natural light to shine through the interior while also concealing the hotel rooms to ensure privacy. The façade is built in front and at the back instead of having only front façade. Inside, we can still see the lines that connect both façades as if they were one module, providing encapsulated space form that enhances more intriguing personalities for the building.
Stack Module: Building’s layers that create different perspectives in each space.
“I don’t want the building to appear bold, lifeless, and does not reflect the characters of the owner or the area. It must convey some characters. So, I designed this module and sought to determine how it would respond to various functions.”
After getting a clearer concept, the module is then developed. Each module must be open for natural light, consists of natural green, and have the curving vertical lines of the batten at the bottom of the structure, creating the character and image of the building. The designer will then layer each of these modules by interlocking or connecting to each other by responding to each function, ensuring that each perspective in the space doesn’t overshadow each other. Some modules have been dropped. So, if one is looking from the top floor to the lower floor, they can still see the green gradient in layers until the activities that happen on the first floor. Even from the ground floor, they can still see the buildings with dimensional gradients.
At the top of the building is a skylight void that brings natural light into the center of the café area, making the small entrance open and airy. This breaks through the limitations of the stuffy shophouses in a way that everyone is familiar with. Looking up at the façade, we can see the plane of a large mirror that diffracts the light, allowing the light to hit the area below thoroughly at times.
The layout of the building is nothing complicated. The bottom floor is open to customers for coffee and bakery. The mezzanine area will only be accessible to hostel guests as a communal area where guests may unwind and engage in activities together. The remaining floors will be made up of the guest rooms, which are now under construction and expected to be fully operational by the end of 2022.
What is intriguing is the design of the layout of each room to have a composition of chords as it addresses the issue of the legal restriction on building voids within a certain distance in tenement buildings. Hence, the designer removes some room spaces and building chords that brings in natural light and green space as a gimmick. The layouts of each room are unique to attract customers to come back to stay in a new setting.
“This is the very first project that I designed after returning to Thailand. So, it was an experiment. I dealt with contractors to test materials in Thailand to see what they can do. For example, what if I make the square battens into a rounded shape? What material can I use? As a result, I heated spherical timbers and bent them into curving lines. I was fortunate to meet a contractor who was willing to collaborate on an experiment. So, everything worked out exactly how I had hoped.”
The Open-Air space in a commercial building.
(Who says it could not be true?)
I was quite surprised to find a place where I could spend the whole day working and sipping coffee without feeling hot because of the cool breeze that blows all day except during the very hot part of the day when there is a lot of natural light, the seating area in the center of the café can be a bit hot. The interior designer has designed a small room for those who don’t like Open Air spaces or during hot times.
What causes the wind to flow throughout the day is because, in addition to natural light, the architect considered the movement of air inside the structure throughout the design process. The café is equipped with a Passive and Active Cooling system, which conceals ventilation fans on top of the lath façade and allows air to flow into the inside. The fans pull fresh air from the street in front of the building to each of the upper stories, pushing heat upwards and quickly ventilating to the outside. As a result, there is a steady flow of air within the internal area.
Regarding the interior, stainless steel sheets with a matte and shiny surface were used in various sections to create a contrast with the wooden ambiance that served as the primary material. According to the interior designer, the idea stems from the desire to experiment with materials that contrast with the brass and gold that Khun Benz has been familiar with since his childhood, while also reflecting techniques such as blacksmithing.
The interior design inspired by the lines of the architect’s module. As we can see Mini Stack chairs, furniture, and steps are created by utilizing the curved lines of the wood to produce a harmonious design.
With all these underlying design concepts, it is unsurprising that this newly opened café will become a new landmark in the Sao Ching Cha area for many customers, ranging from children with families to office workers or the elderly to hang out in a warm atmosphere, just like the name “Bite & Bond.”
Bite & Bond is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays for individuals looking for a cup of coffee and pastries.
Project : Double B Hostel + Bite & Bond Café
Client: Prin Jivarungruang
Architect & Interior : VMA Design Studio
Lead Designer : Vichayuth Meenaphant, Peerawin Sawattanawanit
Design Team : Panupong Sittiwong, Pattitar Na Chart, Suppasit Sirinukulwattana
Structural and M&E Engineer : Basic Design Co.,Ltd.
Main Contractor : Paitoon Klarharn Construction
Interior Contractor : Paranit Pongtanamas