A co-working space café in the midst of nature
modelled after farmhouses, agricultural plots and nursery trays

When thinking of a co-working space, many people tend to think of a bunch of workstations arranged in various areas, including reading zones, meeting rooms, and private corner areas in a rather quiet and serious environment. 

However, the term co-working space has been reinterpreted for BLUE COFFEE, a brand-new coffee shop, by combining the functionality of a co-working space with the friendliness and cosiness of a cafe to become a co-working space café with a simple design that comes with the warmth of wood amidst the natural atmosphere of the Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University. And the architect in charge of this design was not a stranger but pommballstudio, a Local architect firm who has produced many outstanding works in Wiang Ping.

Airy – Open – Comfortable

BLUE COFFEE is located between the Faculty of Agriculture building and the students’ planting plots. It only recently opened at the end of July. Mr. Thanit Suvanish, the owner, intended to build a coffee shop for students, university personnel, and Chiang Mai University’s visitors. The initial challenge given to the design team was to create “a cafe that can be both a cafe and a co-working space”.

“Based on the challenges, we’d like to create a co-working space café that’s Airy – Open – Comfortable. It contains natural light, creating a comfortable environment for everyone to hang out, work, and study in a relaxed, comfortable way, unlike a strict and quiet library that arranged its space in a narrowed, alleyway-like or conveys such high privacy.” Mr. Chat – Tanachat Sooksawasd, the architect from the design team recalled.

After the team has agreed on making the café Airy – Open – Comfortable, coupled with the vibe of the surrounding context, it leads to the concept of the building’s mass shape.

Sense of Place form into The New Space

“Place” is the design’s core concept as the surrounding context clearly indicates the vibe of the Faculty of Agriculture. The architect team, therefore, picked up the ‘Sense of Place’ as an inspiration in every aspect of the design. The mass of the building comes from the farmhouse. Typically, a farmhouse comes with a gable roof. But for BLUE COFFEE, the team decided to undo the stereotype by turning the gable upside down to mimic a butterfly-winged roof. Then, they created a continuous roof pattern inspired by the ‘planting strips of agricultural plots’ which are a long line of several plots.

“Looking up at the roof, which resembles a planting plot, the students sitting below are like small seeds being cultivated underground, ready to blossom into the outside world in the future,” said Mr. Chat.

Apart from the roof pattern, the team arranged the wood panelling vertically to create a design pattern in the wall and ceiling components that corresponded to the planting strips of the agricultural plots. They also translated the horticultural planting plot module into an inspiration for the design of some wooden wall details that have been trimmed into equal grids.

When nursery trays became part of the design

At the service counter, there are details of big and small grids lined up on the logo backdrop and other areas of the café. Look closely, it is a nursery tray.

When it comes to farming, ‘the nursery tray’ is one of the indispensable things that is used to nurse seedlings until they are healthy enough to be planted into the plot. The architects brought nursery trays which the students and the professors from the Faculty of Agriculture were all familiar with, arranged in modules ranging from small, medium to large in each layer and fastened with a wooden frame. In addition to conveying the vibe of the faculty of agriculture, the architects also intended to portray the gradual development of life in the university.

Choose your favourite corner with your favourite cup of coffee

After picking up your drink, you can choose any corners you like. To support the usage of a co-working space, the architects have widened the span of the structure giving an airy space in the centre and designed a variety of tables and seats. Whether you come by yourselves, as a couple, or as a group, there are functions that can accommodate all groups of users. You’ll never feel lonely studying by yourself in your room if you visit this co-working space café. For those who look for privacy, the architects also included a partition in some seat corners.

Architecture that reveals the beauty of vegetation over time

As the café is located between the Faculty of Agriculture and the experimental planting plots, the architects intended to design the building to blend in with the surrounding context as much as possible. The building serves as a natural connection between these two areas. The architect used full-width opening space and partitioned it with floor-to-ceiling full-length window panels. People outside the cafe would see the plantation and the faculty building while the people inside also enjoy a natural view from outside.

Even more interesting is the view of the agricultural plots that are decorated with colourful flora, flowers and animals which rotated alternately in each season, allowing us to truly observe the beauty of nature over time.

“Wood” represents warmth and softness

Why incorporate wood, which is hardly the only material used in this work, in the design?
Mr. Chat recalled that compared to other materials, wood is warm, accessible, and more harmonizing with the nature of the Faculty of Agriculture. It also clearly represents the farmhouse style, which upon looking up on the internet, we discovered that the original farmhouse was entirely timber.

Mechanical and electrical systems hidden in the design

“Pillars” to many people are only for load-bearing functions. However, pillars could be designed for various functions than anticipated. For this building, the main structural pillars used to support the building’s weight are concealed behind the solid walls. Whereas the loose pillars conceal the air conditioning pipe system and rainwater pipes connected to the roof gutter. In addition, the architect divides the strokes of the pillars evenly, which, if viewed from a distance, can be seen as a pattern resembling the planting line of agricultural plots.

“We’re attempting to leverage architecture to seamlessly hide all systems in place.” Mr. Chat said.

Starting from Place, ending with Place

Although pommballstudio has designed numerous cafés, the architects noted that the diverse contexts of locations impact the target audience, particularly BLUE COFFEE, which is located in the faculty of agriculture, where the majority of customers are people in the university. As a result, the café evolved into a Co-working space café that focuses on working or hanging out functions rather than those meant for café hoppers that they ever designed in the past. Hence, they did not think about photo spots when designing BLUE COFFEE.

With the concept anchored to “Place”, every step of the design process from start to finish, therefore, focuses on choosing and incorporating elements that represent the Faculty of Agriculture. As a result, people can easily access the design which includes building layout, building mass, space design and interior decoration.

While the context of the location and the user is a fundamental thing that every architect must always consider, bringing the location as an inspiration from the design to the details can be a fun challenge.

Location: Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University. 239 Suthep Road, Suthep Subdistrict, Mueang Chiang Mai District
Built Area: 270 sqm.
Architects Firm: Pommballstudio
Architects & Interior: Tanachat Sooksawasd, Karn Khamheang, Warongkorn Wanikkun, Sirawit Jittiwatanaphong, Patcharin Inta
Structural Engineer: Chaiwat Kaewkom 666 STRUCTURE DESIGN
Construction consultant: Jittraporn Wuttikarn FEEL LIKE HOME CONSTRUCTION CO., LTD.
Photo credit: Thanakrit Wattanasiri

Nara Aunjai

Nara Aunjai