The Zolaism cafe is situated in a coastal area in the city of Qinhuangdao known as the Aranya Gold Coast, just a few hours drive from Beijing.
The coffee shop has a flat, white-painted roof and glass walls that run through and around its four boulder-like columns.
Fabricated from glass-reinforced concrete (GRC), the columns were introduced by BLUE Architecture Studio to make the cafe’s interiors appear more like a natural landscape.
“In the vast world, humans are a small and lonely entity,” explained the Beijing-based practice.
“The tranquillity and vastness of nature helps people to escape from the rhythm of urban life and to return to their true selves.”
Rather than relying on computer software to plan the form of the columns, the studio designed each one of them by hand.
Increasingly larger models, first made from foam and later from clay, helped the studio to decide how the columns would be shaped and arranged within the cafe.
Spades and various other tools were used to give the columns their roughly hewn surface finish.
“The whole construction process was full of unknowns and uncertainty,” said the studio. “To a certain extent, we gave up the overall control of architectural form. Instead, we let our hands do the thinking and allowed the design to go with the flow.”
Once the shapes were finalised, the studio created moulds and filled them with GRC, which was chosen for the stark contrast it provides with the delicate glass walls.
On site, the column parts were assembled around steel support pillars.
Two of the four columns are hollow to accommodate more intimate seating areas that can be entered via arched doorways.
Inside, they are sparsely furnished with benches and paper lanterns while small portholes offer views out to the cafe and the street beyond.
Extra chairs and simple white dining tables have been dotted throughout the rest of the Zolaism cafe in a bid to give the floor plan a sense of fluidity.
Customers also have the option to sit on the thick ledges that are carved from the base of the columns or on the rugged low-lying GRC blocks that form benches on the cafe’s outdoor terrace.
Running the length of the cafe’s rear wall is a service counter, painted grey to match the tonality of the columns and floors.
BLUE Architecture Studio was set up by architects Yoko Fujii and Shuhei Aoyama in 2014.
Elsewhere in Aranya, the studio recently completed the 1402 Coffee Shop, which consists of a rectangular volume inserted into an existing brick building.
The photography is by Eiichi Kano.