Before Chen began his adaptive reuse and renovation, the building was little more than a crumbling concrete shell. However, there were reminders of its former life in the form of painted slogans on the walls, and a ‘cloud’-shaped motif in the centre of the canteen ceiling.
Although this concrete ceiling has since been removed and replaced with wooden panels and beams, the architect preserved this symbol with a similarly cloud-shaped information desk which sits beneath a metal framework. What was once a serving counter is now flanked by stools, giving visitors space to sit and read.
The original painted characters are still in place as well and the French architect added new flooring, tiles and undulating bench seating to the space. An additional dining area features metal, arch-shaped booths – chosen to echo some of the details of the canteen – which sit beneath a glass ceiling.
Tourists can retreat to what was once the building’s vaults – some of which are now reading nooks – to browse exhibitions.