Chuan’s Kitchen II
On first impressions, it appears that the design of two new restaurants in Guangzhou by native studio Infinity Mind could not exist further apart. The first, a Sichuan hot pot restaurant that we covered last year, is a bright, almost holographic spatial revival of the hot pot culinary genre. The more recent – another Sichaun dining space – is a dimly-lit, earth-toned space built from reclaimed construction material. But a conceptual connection does exist between the two projects. In both locations, Infinity Mind’s design process was centred on finding a balance between traditional culture and contemporary aesthetics.
This is a recurrent theme in Chinese hospitality projects of the late. Through the design of a café in Zhengzhou, Moc Design Office sought to revive the younger generation’s interest in tea culture and calligraphy through a compellingly millennial-friendly space. Thirteen hours away, Beijing Wuxiang Space Architecture Design Studio animated a wellness-driven hotel – the world’s first ‘tea culture’ hospitality experience – by taking reference from the region’s centuries-long heritage in the industry. The more Western influence the country is exposed to, the more essential it seems that design help reignite the veneration for national customs.
Chuan’s Kitchen II reflects a similar eagerness to fortify pride in Chinese heritage through spatial design. Yingjing County is a region that’s been renowned for its black pottery-work for nearly 2000 years. To explore the design application of a typical manufacturing element from the practice, the studio used earthenware gaskets [a sealing device used to separate coal and greenware in the kiln] as the primary source of decoration. Made from the same material – white clay and anthracite – as finished products like utensils and cooking pots, the functional gaskets typically get discarded after seven or so firing processes. Infinity Mind saw a new potential for their use.
‘After nourishing China’s folk life for more than a hundred years, the flavour that came from the Shu (Sichuan) area suddenly disappeared, during the transition period of contemporary industrial civilization,’ the studio reflected. ‘It hit us that there ought to be some reflection about how to inherit this folk art.’
Their idea of inheritance? Surface coverings: the studio extracted the gaskets and used them to interlace and weave arcs into huge chain nets that connect with vertical iron walls enclosing the external façade and two dining areas. Working in unison, the effect is powerful: standing at over 20-m tall, the walls create a sense of impressive visual weight. The gaskets also have their place overhead, as the studio was able to customize them into pendant lamps.
But they weren’t the only design element that Infinity Mind reclaimed to create the restaurant’s surfaces. Using soil materials from a metro 40-m underground, the studio made wall and floor tiles for the bar area, inner wall and the entire ground of the space. Lighter than the chain nets in colour and in aesthetic mood, the juxtaposition of materials imparts harmony in the interiors.
Chuan’s Kitchen II serves as a reminder to locals that the handicraft and heritage – and cuisine – that they are familiar with is not only applicable to, but appropriate for contemporary settings. Furthermore, it proves that there remains a lot to learn from regional design understanding: designers can create stand-out spaces by referring to familiar roots rather than instantly grasping for what works well abroad. By using age-old techniques and discarded material in an innovative way, Infinity Mind forges a bond between generations of design – and people.