Fishtank is a minimal interior located in Nanjing, China, designed by Office AIO. Housed in a former storage room within an arena, the shop sits between two overhanging bridges and faces a busy four-lane ring road. Its exterior, painted in cold grey with black recess lines and punctures for service vents, is essentially the arena’s facade. However, when commissioned to design the space, Office AIO saw an opportunity to transform the site into a recognized brand.

The design team sought to create an undisturbed world within the cloistered and tame site, much like a fish tank, contained by a “non-existent” facade but relishing in its own habitat. The outer and inner worlds are separated by a glass facade that lightly brightens up the space and hints at the grid lines of the pre-existing panels. A vent that once existed now serves as the “exit door” that leads patrons from the outside world into the cafe.

Inside, orange brick tiles visually mirror the street pavement, elevating the semi-outdoor buffer zone into an open community joint. The soft white terrazzo floor with color-speckles contrasts against the chaotic concrete city outside, calming and brightening up most of the footprint. The slanted ceiling is finished with textured plaster in warm grey, resembling pumice waves floating in the ocean, with rounded edges folding “soft seams” for light fixtures to probe through.

The bar area features multiple blocks of differing heights and configurations, accentuating the irregularities of the site with a whimsical touch. The bars are centered with movable stools so that coffee enthusiasts can observe the brewing act, learn about their palette with baristas, and chat about greater coffee cultures. Surrounding the bars is a C-shaped bench made of Corian, with an edge that opens toward the entrance, inviting patrons in. Bespoke tables, finished in warm oak and the brand’s pale green and alternated by sizes and heights, are accompanied by stools in tan leather and raw steel from FRAMA, selected for their “super-normal” expression.

The simplistic forms of the furniture, along with the pastel colors, provide an out-of-the-world experience for coffee enthusiasts seeking a nonchalant but lighthearted atmosphere. Fishtank offers patrons the freedom to create their own “nook” by moving around the cushions and small tables. Overall, the design of Fishtank elevates the coffee shop experience from a neighborhood cafe to a recognized brand in its own right.

Photography by Wen Studio