Located in East Beijing, Shan Café was first conceived when its owner wanted to convert the first and second floors of an office building into a café with a large open area, which would encourage customers to stay and communicate freely. Since the client also enjoyed the mountains, the space was specially but subtly designed to hint at mountain landscapes and the great outdoors.
The budget to design and construct the café was a bit limited, so only commonly attainable materials were used. One anomaly of the space was that its first level was 3.8 meters high, which is too high for one floor, but not really high enough for two. So the design of the space turned out to be full of challenges for the Beijing studio Robot 3, who were tasked with the project of bringing Shan Café to life.
The word shan, meaning mountain in Chinese, reminded the designers at Robot 3 of a poem written by Su Shi: “From the side, a whole range; from the end, a single peak; Far, near, high, low, no two parts alike. Why can’t I tell the true shape of Lu Shan? Because I myself am in the mountain.” The poem would give the designers a crazy idea to dig down one meter at the center of the entire space, and then build a large mezzanine over it.
When customers walked into the lower level through the mezzanine, it would very subtly simulate the experience of “walking into the mountain”. The floor height of the mezzanine is quite low, so once inside it, customers could only sit or lie down, which makes it a good area for chatting amongst a couple of friends. Under the stairs which lead to the second floor, there is a log cabin.
The second floor is divided into several small areas, but instead of building solid partitions, Robot 3 made shelves stacked with rows of green plants. As the plants inevitably would grow, the space would also change with the passage of time. Design features such as this and the choice of construction materials were all carefully considered to maximise the flexibility of the space and to enhance the feeling of comfort for visitors. Here is a space that, despite being in downtown East Beijing, effectively evokes the airiness and openness of the great outdoors.