Just a few short years ago, the Jinxing Miners’ Canteen was in a state of disrepair: The ceiling had all but collapsed, the wood was rotting and the entire thing needed far more than a fresh coat of paint. Its restoration was the perfect challenge for French architect Aurelien Chen, who specializes in cultural and renovation projects.
Originally built in the 1970s, the canteen (and the adjacent offices designed by German architects in 1912) once served a community of coal miners. The new iteration by Chen is a vibrant cultural space, complete with a literary café, library, exhibition spaces, bar, restaurant and theatre.
Though the building was in poor condition, it had good bones: Its characteristic “Red Era” style served as the starting point for Chen’s redesign. The interior also featured typical elements of Western architecture in China, including a flower-shaped ceiling rose whose form drove the design of the main hall. But the true pièces de resistance are the arched doorways and vaulted basement, which were uncovered during the construction phase.
The colours, materials and furniture of the “Red Era” have been reinterpreted to modernize the interior. In the main hall, a flora-inspired installation takes centre stage under the gabled wooden roof. The multifunctional space can be used as an information desk, exhibition space, rest area, stage or for roundtable discussion. The surrounding furnishings take after the centrepiece’s organic form, inspired by the existing light fixtures’ concentric circles with integrated bookshelves to reduce clutter in the open concept space.
Expertly marrying existing and new elements, the bar is separated from the main hall by a black metal mesh folding screen. The building’s concrete walls, painted with slogans from the “Red Era” in Chinese characters, support the bar, which repurposes the canteen counter from the original building. The graphic black and white checker-patterned tile floor nods to the space’s original finishes, while vibrant green counter stools and a partition wall made of red and yellow perforated metal panels add a pop of colour.
On the other side of the partition, the restaurant strikes an entirely different tone. Here, rich hues of navy and brass impart a luxurious feel, while the dimpled metal ceiling bounces light around the space. To further emphasize the archways discovered in the construction phase, Chen mimicked these forms in the restaurant’s booth alcoves, also made of black metal mesh.
Below, a cut out in the checkered floor, covered with glass, allows visitors to peer down the original staircase into the basement, visually linking the two levels. In this space, Chen chose the path of minimal intervention, embracing the historic vaulted structure to create cozy reading nooks and exhibition spaces.
An arched Corten steel volume on the façade now contains the new staircase, while blue metal ornaments have been added to the other openings to unify the building with its historic neighbours. Initiated by the local government’s Sustainable Development Program, the Jinxing Miners’ Canteen renovation forms part of the Urban and Rural Planning and Design Institute of CSCEC’s new master plan for the site. Given just one year to design and complete the project, Chen’s sensitive — and efficient — redesign offers a window into the past, while creating a space that serves the community in the present.