Project Description


Client: Hypothetical
Type: Commercial
Location: Wan Chai District, Hong Kong
Area: 644 sqm
Role: Interior Designer
Contribution: Concept, Material Exploration, Research & Analytical Studies, Prototyping,
Publication: Al Iqtisadi

This project was designed for a private museum owner who required a café, archival space, bookstore, office and exhibition space for gatherings of art enthusiasts.
The semester-long study was broken into three exercises that investigated strategies for the design of this hybrid programmatic space.
The design process involved interrogation of a pliable material – bendable plywood, which informed a unique material language while integrating various programs and also revealed new strategies for use in architectural and structural systems.

Wan Chai District, Hong Kong


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The initial exercise for the project consisted of a case study of a precedent project with a similar program. The assigned study for my project was the St. Marks Bookstore in New York City designed by the Clouds Architecture Office. The analysis of St. Marks taught me the technical requirements of a bookstore and also highlighted how the design allowed the small interior space to function more efficiently. The bookstore was studied through making analytical drawings and three dimensional models to reconstruct the space and identify important aspects of the design.
My analysis revealed specific tactics that would later help me design the final project in Hong Kong. Through my research I discovered a number of unique design features in St. Mark’s Bookstore. A diagonally canted bookshelf, with a wrapping and peeling form was used by the architects to integrate book display and create public and private spaces. Hidden vertical book dividers allowed for easy browsing, less eye strain and transformable furniture for multi-purpose utilization of space. My study of St. Marks revealed conceptual design strategies for creating interior spaces by wrapping linear, curved elements. The unique geometry of the bookshelves lent a character to a small space while also serving it functionally.
This preliminary case-study project eventually lead to a second exercise that explored the design of a book pavilion that investigated the use of specific building materials and joinery systems. For this exercise, there was no building site, rather just a set of dimensional constraints within which I was expected to satisfy and accommodate a variety of functions like bookshelves, café, and seating. This is where I first embarked upon the discovery of materials that inherently support literal wrapping and chose bendable plywood as my primary design material.
The design and production of a physical concept model allowed me to determine how narrow strips of plywood could be woven in different directions to create space and structure. Strip width was based on an average book’s size. A second series of prototype models allowed me to better understand how long the strips could span structurally and also how close I could bridge the gaps between the 2-directional weaves.
The lessons from the schematic design research undertaken in the first 2 exercises provided a platform of knowledge to apply to the final design project, The F22 Bookstore| Cafe | Gallery hybrid situation in Hong Kong’s busy Wan Chai district on the 4th & 5th floors of a commercial building.
The course briefing provided was for a client who is a camera enthusiast, photographic art collector and a private museum owner. He required the F22 space to have an exhibition area, archival space for rotating collections, a bookstore, café, office and a flexible, multi-function space for gatherings of art curators or photography enthusiasts.
The first stage of the project dealt with space planning which in turn informed the manner in which the strips, or bands of bendable plywood divided the space into zones. The most explicit function of the woven plywood strips in the project is to create zones and transition points for different functions. Strips are mounted within the existing building shell over the gypsum walls and embedded within the flooring. The exhibition space for example, features fewer plywood bands to provide more space for the art pieces. The bands form the threshold of a grand staircase, which also accommodate a variety of functions like theatre style seating and an impromptu stage setting for gatherings on the 4th floor.
The lower level, houses a café which fashions a bent plywood counter top for catering service for events in the exhibition area. It also features counter top lighting that is made from the weaves of wood on the ceiling orthogonally rotated to wrap and form the floor of the upper level. This action deconstructs the weaving into two layers uniting the two floors to form a more holistic space while also distinguishing the difference of layers through the use of lighter and darker stained bands of plywood. A person standing on the lower level can visually perceive the bands of plywood bend and disappear upwards implying a continuance of space to something beyond what the eye can see. Walking upwards from the grand staircase further reinforces this visual effect. The upper level houses a quieter space for reading, extra storage for books and an office for the gallery curator.
While conceptual models aided the development of ideas quickly and efficiently, physical mockups were built to help understand the real life structural capacity of my innovative plywood system. A full scale mockup was designed to test minimal radii and examine curving potential for the scheme. The first step, was to design molds to bend the plywood around. This was accomplished by cutting medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panels in the required radius and laminating them together. Models were built to test the structural ability of the plywood to handle the gravitational force when it spanned long distances. Forces were countered by layering multiple (5) sheets of 5mm plywood to form a single weave of plywood. This manual process of experimental building guided me to identify and address a number of physical realities in the overall project. These realities included the feasibility of the project in terms of time and an understanding of how this new plywood system could be attached to the existing concrete shell.
The important research outcomes from this project include the development of an innovative organizational system that integrates the various programmatic elements of a bookshop, café and gallery space. The research project also revealed new strategies for the use of laminated plywood as an architectural and structural system that can also create furniture and partitions for interior design. The project allowed me an opportunity to design an interior space that speaks a unique material language using a system that I had no prior knowledge of. The project was unique among my classmates in that it allowed me to interrogate a pliable material through a set of experimental models to determine bending limits and physical constraints. There is a sort of flexibility and uncertainty to the outcome of the project once actually built that is quite exciting and compels me to study it further in the future again.

Formwork #1

Formwork #2

Interaction between Mold & Plywood

This project was also submitted for a Student research award in 2017 conducted by the Sharjah Islamic Bank. The Hybrid Project garnered the third prize among a host of competitors in the region.