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BLUE Architecture Studio erects rocky columns inside Zolaism cafe

Structural columns disguised as huge, craggy boulders dominate the interior of this cafe designed by BLUE Architecture Studio in the Chinese seaside resort of Aranya.


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.

Exterior of Zolaism Cafe with overhead spotlights illuminating concrete boulder-like columns
The Zolaism cafe features boulder-like columns

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.

Cafe in Aranya by B.L.U.E. Architecture Studio with white chairs and tables behind glass wall that ends in rock-like column
The cafe’s glass walls run through and around the columns

“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.

Entrance of Zolaism Café with boathole window in the wall
Glass-reinforced concrete was used to fabricate the columns

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.”

Rock-like columns of cafe in Aranya designed by B.L.U.E. Architecture Studio
Thick ledges at the bottom of the column provide customers with a place to sit

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.

White table and chairs in Zolaism Café next to glass wall and surrounded by boulder-like columns
The cafe also has a handful of simple white chairs and tables

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.

Seating nook inside boulder-like concrete column designed by B.L.U.E. Architecture Studio
Some of the columns are hollow to accommodate intimate eating areas

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.

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