Tianjin 311 Photography Studio: To Sense Through Light And Space

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Text description provided by Salone del Salon: The original Cotton Spinning 3rd Factory (Cotton 3rd) was built in 1921, and used to be Yuda Yarn Factory, an important legacy of the Tianjin textile industry. Designed and built by China’s famous designer Zhuang Jun, and with the renowned Peking Opera artist Mei Lanfang as its shareholder, the factory is where firstly introduced the eight-hour system of labour in China. The reconstructed Cotton 3rd is one of the key projects for promoting the development of cultural and creative industries in Tianjin, which covers an area of 160 mu and has a GFA of 230,000sqm.

Located here, the Tianjin 311 Photo Studio site was transformed from a stand alone old factory building. The mottled brick wall texture contains some vicissitudes of the history, while the inside reveals a colorful and splendid world. Using light as the medium of perception while following the functional attributes of a photography studio, the designers rearranged the spatial order and had it reborn.

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Standing in line with the design philosophy of “forms follow function”, designers provided bold scheme with rigorous methodology, and strove to make the photography studio grow in a natural yet resilient way, just as “CRAZY TEAM” board held by an artistic figure on the facade says: Youth allows for crazy, and crazy inspires unlimited possibilities.

 New and Old, Retain and Revive. As time keeps passing by, these two must become a couple of eternal themes facing design. The old factory building is over 8 meters high, with a structure made of red blocks and steels. It’s circular-arc-shaped ceiling made of concrete seems very much like a dancing gray cloud, which is solid yet light. Through thorough study, designers reconstructed and reorganized the old building while showing its relics enough respect, making a compound space that meets multiple demands of the photography studio come into being.

“Old building transformation means more challenges. I hope to create a natural transition between the old and new, as if they were born and grown together.” designer Salone explained. Entering from the side door, you will be greeted by a “Sky City” in the high-ceiling space, which works as the first step of the designers’ spatial construction process. Base on the perception of a three-storey structure, the ground floor was designated as working area for photographing, the second floor as office and the third as meeting rooms.

After building the first and second floor, the most tricky part of the design reveals itself– how to have a light third floor naturally “grow” out of them without utilizing the ceiling. Designers eventually found the solution from the side beams. To consolidate the supporting system of the third floor meeting rooms, inwards brackets were made on the side beams. There is no treatment made to the tough appearance of the brackets, and by exposing themselves like that they ingeniously follow the LOFT industrial style design language.   

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The founder of the studio always dreams to have this opening and interactive “Harvard Lecture Hall” introduced into the workplace, so as to meet the needs of photographing, appreciating, sharing, etc. To have this dream come true, designers precisely decided the second step of building the space structure: To Advance & Centralize. With a large white wall as background, the ceiling and black steel roof frame exposed, the 7-meter high shooting area exudes a casual and free LOFT feeling.

Seeing the great potential of the staircase facing the shooting area, designers integrated “Harvard Lecture Hall” into the it as a perfect interpretation of the above mentioned “forms follow function” philosophy. Being made of hot-bent glass, this crystal clear round staircase enjoys a blurred boundary and appears to be lighter. Piano-key-shaped small steps on the left and right sides are for better experience. Light strip embedded at the edge of the step resembles splendid floating stars among clouds. Looking up, one sees starry night against the blue sky. Sitting down, one enjoys the story behind photos or participate in discussions, and all that defines a nice leisure time.

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With Harvard lecture hall becomes the visual focus of the high-ceiling floor, designers further elaborated the “Symmetrical Aesthetics” in terms of spatial layout. All the functional compartments are concentrated in a symmetric way around the staircase, which stands in line with the Carlo Scarpa’s structuralism design aesthetics. After the transformation, the first floor accommodates the darkroom in the innermost layer, and has the editing room, dressing room and the equipment room in its surrounding.

By raising the ceiling height of the second floor, a comfortable office area comes into being, from which one can continue to step up the stair and pass through a light glass bridge leading to the third floor. Large glass windows are used in each and everyone of the four walls on third-floor, so as to introduce transparency and lighten the weight. 

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Photography is an art of light and color, and through them, it is the authentic figure and scenery reproduced in an artistic way. The designer Salone emphasized, “We don’t want to do too much modeling in the photography studio, and we achieve interesting visual effects through the change of colors. When you look back or look down, it’s various colors that you see might have different emotions aroused in you.”

Thus, rich colors such as blue, red, and green entered the studio, breaking the thick and rough sense inherent in the LOFT industrial style. As the natural background color of life, green is used at the ground floor. The Harvard Lecture Hall is decorated in an accent red. With it extended to the third floor, the visual focal point of the studio has been made.

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Blue is applied in the main structure, including side beams, brackets and the bottom of the floating third floor, outlining a clear structural logic of the space. Different color tones set various volumes apart from each other, which not only makes functional zoning easier, but also introduces a lively atmosphere into the space. For a photography studio, the lighting environment is of the utmost importance.

Designers saw themselves as colorists in this project. Through the change of light, they sensed the authentic texture of the space and had therefore proposed a reasonable functional zoning scheme. With not many high-rise buildings surround, the studio site enjoys ample natural lights, thus designers chose roller blinds to create an appropriate light environment.

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Color toning chamber is extremely sensitive to light and is therefore placed at the innermost layer of the space to avoid direct sunlight. By doing so, the second-floor that enjoys best sunlight was left for office. 311 Photography Studio, a “Sky City” concealed within the Cotton 3rd Creative Blocks, is exporting its unaffected design aesthetics through a crazily creative manner.

All the layouts and colors applied are in line with the demands of the studio. Sensing through light, designers recreated a space that naturally grows, and by integrating old and new, SALONE DEL SALON introduced vitality into this long-existed architecture.

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Photography: Xiao En

Photographer Assistant: Huang Xinhui

For more information, visit the Salone del Salon website

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