Located on Anfu Road, a bustling shopping strip in Shanghai chock-full of big brands, the Saturnbird specialty café stands out by providing a restful and one-of-a-kind shelter for visitors. Beyond its folding “Iron Gate,” the interior is as unique as the packaging for its premium instant coffees, which are sold in scaled-down replicas of disposable coffee cups. The 50-square-metre project, guided both by Taoism and strict utilitarianism, pushes the possibilities of transformation, from the large scale of the overarching space itself to the tiniest detail.
To temper the hard concrete surfaces of the shop’s industrial interior, the designers used an array of tactile materials, including handcrafted cob bricks, terrazzo tiles and cardboard — a highly recyclable and biodegradable material. They employed rammed-earth brick to polish the irregular concrete wall. And they composed a display rack of paper brick receptacles with 30 sets of cross-shaped stainless steel suspension arms supported by tenon joints. And, yes, those construction details matter immensely.
The designers’ appreciation for joints, the hardware that brings materials and ideas together, is evident in their attention to the details: the buckle latches, M6 screws and carpenter’s clamps that allow their ingenious furnishings — which are crafted from warm-hued birch and feature machine-like metal grilles and faceplates — to be expanded and compacted with ease. Benches fold up against walls, stools shrink or grow in height and tables nest together or link up. All this flexibility allows the owners to program the space each evening with events and exhibitions. The coffee shop truly welcomes in patrons — in more ways than one.
Team Robben Bai with Helen Yu, Leqian Xue, Mengxuan Sheng, Xiaoyi Liang, Yejing Wu and Enze Wu
Beyond its folding “Iron Gate,” Saturnbird’s interior is as unique as the packaging for its premium instant coffees.