The small Decade Café, designed by local design studio TOUCH Design, is located at No. 93 Chifeng Road of Tianjin, close to the busy Binjiang Road Commercial Street in Tianjin, China. The exterior appearance of the café already hints from afar at what visitors can expect inside. This architectural design deliberately sets a counterpoint to the noisy and hectic urban surroundings, which culminates in the use of the café: the intention is to create a place that facilitates a decelerated way of life by providing a cultural meeting place.
The requirement profile is therefore particularly attuned to the design. While the visitor is aware of the time limit of the visit, there is also a mood of indefiniteness. The product consumed, the coffee, invites the visitor to linger while at the same time conveying a connotation of a limited period. Two cultural influences are united in an area of only 60 square metres—coffee and music. In the café, the owners offer good coffee to enjoy and a music exhibition by displaying their record collections.
The office conceived both the architectural and interior design of the café, thus combining an ingenious blend of these two disciplines. The material concept that defines the interior and the exterior is particularly striking: cream-coloured terrazzo with yellow-orange accents lends the café a modern minimalist character and simultaneously enlivens it with accents of colour.
The choice of materials also reflects the statement the architects want to make with their design. A visit to a café provides the basis for the gathering, the white, undisputed common ground. The colourful, confused accents of the terrazzo symbolise the versatility and temperament of the musical influence provided—a dialogue between two states of mind that are different in their essence but nevertheless operate in a timeless space.
Complementing this, the colour counterpoint references the tension between tradition and innovation; the white terrazzo embeds itself in terms of the material and the simple cream-white colouring to the existing historical city walls at the same time stands out as innovative architecture through its haptics and colour.
The café’s façade comprises almost entirely the entrance door: a glass front is implemented, which allows the visitor to look deep into the café’s inner workings as soon as they enter. As the name “Decade” already suggests, the office plays with the motif of time, which works in the orchestrated design of the interior through linear lighting. It seems as if one enters into different portals, walking from one threshold space into the next.
The immersion in this transcendent world is emphasised by implementing two steps directly at the door’ s entry point. The visitor settles down, in the truest sense of the word. The lighting under the steps stages and emphasises the transformative character of the experience of entering. This goes in tandem with the architects’ desire to preserve the ceiling of the existing building and thus create a sequence of rooms—both in terms of their room height, and more broadly, their sense of space.
From an architectural point of view, the single-level, tunnel-like floor plan is divided into three parts. One enters the café through a glass front and reaches the first waiting lounge area after descending two steps. The first musical records are displayed on the flanking walls, allowing the visitor to directly understand the mood and theme of the café.
The “second entrance” functions as a signpost—a passage framed by linearly implemented light accents, bearing the name of the café and entirely clad in the dotted terrazzo. Like a threshold space, the visitor enters a kind of intermediate zone; space becomes visibly and tangibly narrower before opening up into the main room. This spatial opening is underlined by the use of another material, glazed reflective stainless steel, which also comprises the storage area of the café.
In the last, third room, seating is provided for individual visitors as well as for groups. The interior design reflects the essence of the dotted terrazzo: the entire ceiling as well as selectively chosen walls, tables and shelves are kept in a plain white. Simultaneously, the chairs and the decoration of the music plates animate the space through the use of colour.
In the rearmost area of the café, the actual place where the food and drinks are prepared, the designers have highlighted the ceiling by covering it with mirrored stainless steel, thus supporting the open, transparent character of the café’s owners.
One of the particular highlights of the design is the excellent lighting of the space. Although the café is a typical deep shop-like space that, typologically, only allows light and ventilation from the front façade, the designers have managed to achieve the opposite effect. The shop is not dependent on the lighting of the surroundings, but rather the surroundings, especially at night, benefit from the ambience of the café and are illuminated by it.
The studio succeeds in directing the viewer’s focus through intelligent focal points and in staging the feeling of space almost theatrically. With this design, both the owners and TOUCH Design aim to offer an antipole to the hectic, ever-urbanising city. In this place, visitors can come to rest, and a timeless cultural meeting place can be created.