In 2022, mou architecture studio was invited to design the Arcade Project for its public cultural space in Nanjing. The Arcade Project takes its name from the unfinished writing project of the German scholar Benjamin. The Arcade is the physical space where 19th century Parisian consumer culture was born, a shopping centre in the form of a street market, narrow and winding, housing cafes, repair shops, salons, restaurants, theatres, etc. Benjamin marvelled at these 'internal boulevards with glass roofs', where people no longer had to be exposed to the elements, the Arcade was like a city, a microcosm of the world, which is a vision that the Arcades Project cultural space aims to realise. It is hoped that through this renovation and design, the local community will be revitalised and the cultural life of the city community will be enhanced and connected.
Located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of 116 Hongwu North Road in Nanjing, this building is right at the border point from the busy street into the community life. There is no entrance from the front and access can only be gained from a very inconspicuous stairway at the side of the street in Belly Belt Camp. The first visit to the site revealed that the entrance to the stairway was narrow and long, and that if the upper floors were to be used as a public cultural space in the future it would have a hidden feel. We used steel plates to nestle a white corridor into the original entrance passage and set the entrance door back to the inner entrance, the new white corridor and the street form a transitional grey space, creating a new connection with the street.
Although the original building was located on the corner and had a relatively open view, the second and third floors were originally used by an educational and training institution, and the interior was divided into a number of small connected rooms using a piece of wall, especially on the second floor where the windows on both sides of the street were completely blocked. We can imagine how bad it would have been for the students to study in such an enclosed environment with no natural light. So the closed structure around the perimeter of the windows was removed and the interior was able to see the light again, looking out through the windows as if in a city scale scale. It was vital to create an atmosphere of relaxed, spontaneous and inclusive space.
The second floor is a functionally complex space that needs to cater for book displays, cashier, creative displays, coffee, bartending, guest areas, relaxation, event salons, Live and other functions within this 140 sq ft single floor space. During the day, the space will be open to the public as a bookstore, and in the evening, it will be integrated with a bar function.
Public space is a place where people can create their own space and discover their own way of using it. Just like in a park, we often see people reading quietly on a bench or in a pavilion; children playing; a woman chatting; a man sitting around playing chess... People of different ages and purposes come together to create a relaxed scene, with various events happening at the same time and space, in a rich variety of states. We want to realise the intention of a park-like scene here too. Could there be a pavilion where such a scene could be realised and the corresponding problems solved? After some deliberation, a plan was developed for a pavilion that could accommodate all the functions and scenes.
A 3.6m x 10m rectangular pavilion accommodates a bar, a display, a lounge and an event salon at the same time. The original site was only 2.4m high under the beams and was quite oppressive, so the pavilions had to be built light and airy enough to counteract the negative impact of the space. The pavilion, which was eventually hollowed out to its functional and structural properties, was gently lifted by the poured concrete base and suspended in the middle of the site.
The dismantling revealed many points of memory from its construction, which, even if seemingly imperfect, took on a primitive quality on the surface of the original concrete. We then removed the plaster layer and polished it, allowing this originality to rise to a state of its own charm and the memory of the original building to live on.
On the second floor, facing the stairway, you can see white metal bookshelves spread out against the wall, forming a long corridor in the middle of the pavilion, from which you can take books and sit back on the benches at the edge of the pavilion. The pavilion is seated both inside and outside, but the area in the middle is enclosed and resembles a theatre, with a special way of entering by lifting your legs. In the evening, the pavilion becomes a "relaxing pool" for friends to have a drink.
The space on the second floor has to serve both bar functions in the evenings, but the restricted area cannot accommodate two separate scene-use mechanisms at the same time, so instead we considered ways to integrate the two functional attributes and borrow them from each other.
The bar area of the newly constructed pavilion is used for coffee making during the day and bartending at night; the folding table on the pillar can be used as a reading table during the day and a stand-alone single table at night; everyone can sit on the benches around the pavilion and on the window side during both day and night. The two functional scenes overlap, and we even see it every day in the arcade plan with a book in the left hand and a glass of wine in the right.
If we classify the state of book displays and activities, they can be divided into static and dynamic scenes. Each of these scenes has its own advantages and disadvantages. As fixed, regular displays, these static book displays are easier to maintain but also tend to get boring. For carefully planned dynamic events, they can sustain popularity and atmosphere if they go well, but they can also increase operating costs and the hardware loses its purpose of existence when no events are running. In addition to this, we are faced with the practical issues of the size of the stand required for daily book displays, the number of seats required for the event, the removal of the chairs and stools after the event, and how to store them. Because of the constraints imposed by the space, we had to consider an operational mechanism that combined static and dynamic scenes.
By constructing a combination of benches, several problems can be solved by combining them into a single problem. The benches can be freely stacked into stands and can be expanded or reduced depending on the size of the display required. Once the venue has been used for an event, people can move a stool and find a comfortable place to sit in the venue, and then return it to its original position as a stand when the event is over. We hope that the mechanism of combining square benches will not only solve the problem of functionality, but that through this process a deep connection will be established between all participants.
The permanent functions of the three-storey venue are mainly self-study rooms, psychological holding rooms, offices and the display of books. Traditionally, self-study rooms are arranged in a large room with as many seats as possible. In order to balance the relative privacy of the functions with the mobility within the venue, the idea of dismantling and separating the spaces was developed. The idea was to create a very different system of space from the traditional compartmentalisation of a large space.
The space was eventually dismantled into six separate rooms, set at the same height and in different scales, distributed discrete within the site and connected to each other by corridors and creating a surrounding environment. Two of the study rooms, which house six students and two students, have corridors within them. One side of the internal corridor is used for the display of books, as the corridor has two separate entrances and exits, so that one can choose to enter and exit in any way one wishes, and one can instinctively lean on the window hole after selecting a book from the shelf. The room and its internal corridor, white and light, are both separate and not completely enclosed, maintaining a moderate degree of transparency with the external corridor space.
Rather than cramming these functions into one large room, the discrete configuration creates an openness to the site and also gives flexibility to the use of these individual rooms. Considering that the venue is also planned for smaller exhibitions, in addition to the external corridors that can be used as open exhibition spaces, these small individual rooms can also be exhibited as separate content. They can be used flexibly according to the scale of the exhibition, and can also be used for exhibitions on different themes at the same time.
Through the gaps in the space you can see the static or dynamic scenes inside, and as you walk through the interlocking corridors, your body expands and contracts at times, as if you were in a street or alley, roaming through a miniature city.