Image Credit : Courtesy of Metagram





Project Overview

Espresso Alchemy in Harbour City, Hong Kong is situated in a site spread across two separated spaces with vastly different characteristics.

Metagram used the architectural device of the 'arch' to create enclosure, to connect the spaces to the site and to establish an iconic appearance.
A collection of wonderfully rich materials were used to create warmth and vibrancy, whilst representing the artisan art of coffee making.

Project Commissioner

Espresso Alchemy

Project Creator



Lead Designer: John Chow, Metagram
Lighting Designer: Eugenia Cheng, LightOrigin Studio

Project Brief

Espresso Alchemy Harbour City was the 4th collaboration between Metagram and the Espresso Alchemy.

The objective of this project was to create an iconic and delightful space that would stand out in the context of a high-end Hong Kong mall, while navigating very challenging site conditions and a pandemic.

During 2020 dozens of cafes were opening on a monthly basis as artisan coffee became the latest craze. As an established brand and a leader of fine coffee in Hong Kong the design of Espresso Alchemy needed to stand out to showcase its caliber. The design would need to be innovative and break away from typical norms in Hong Kong café design (for example polished concrete floors and cement rendered walls).

Simultaneously, the design would need to consolidate a site split in two (a common mall area and a private tenancy), the common area possessing numerous design limitations.

To achieve this Metagram used a collection of innovative architectural devices enriched with delightfully rich materials.

A key feature was a 'stoa' of arches was created in the common mall area. Mirrored arches were connected by tightly stretched red elastic forming a subtle series of barrel arches. The resulting volume was visually striking, standing out against its surroundings and providing the much-needed refuge for café patrons.

Internally an oddly shaped tenancy was unified with a single, central vaulted dome forming an uplifting axis from which the design was oriented.

Project Innovation/Need

Metagram's design was an intentional departure from the typical café aesthetic which would often feature an industrial aesthetic of concrete and pale timbers. The objective was to offer a higher level of dining for café patrons at the same level of accessibility.

The arches were highly innovative for a common mall area which typically has significant limitations. The stretched elastic allowed the design to escape fire system limitations and the self supporting nature of the arch creates enclosure without compromising on openness. Simultaneously the arches tie both spaces together and to the context. The sizing of the arches matching the rhythm of the mullions, and appear in both spaces. Their distinct colour highlighting the Espresso Alchemy brand, and contrasting against the bland white context.

In the tenancy area of the cafe, Metagram designed a single central vaulted dome unique to cafes in Hong Kong. Its regular shape and height creates an uplifting atmosphere encouraging patrons to look up instead of focusing on the narrow and irregularly shaped space.

Design Challenge

There were two key challenges in the design of this cafe, both of these needed to be overcome to create a successful design.

Firstly, the disconnect between the two spaces needed to be reconciled - the arches helped to unify the spaces as well as the distinct colour scheme, which stood out in the mostly white context. The tenancy space needed to be open to the common space to ensure visual connection, but excessive openness would leave patrons feeling exposed. To solve this, the design used fins of red laminated glass to add a semi solid barrier to provide both privacy and transparency.

Secondly, the limitations imposed on the common mall space meant that we were unable to modify lighting, modify the ceiling, or totally enclose the space. The arches also aided in this difficulty by providing vertical structure which would enclose and provide a vertical point from which to hang warmer coloured lights. A large column in the common space was clad with plywood and coated in venetian plaster adding a volume to anchor the space. The venetian plaster added a warmth and rich texture to the space.

COVID-19 also posed an economic challenge, limitations on budget ensured that the design had to be innovative in materials and execution.


The dimension of sustainability that was most prevalent was the reduction of waste.

As the site was previously operated by a different food and beverage vendor part of the brief was the reuse of as much of the previous tenant's fit out as possible to minimize waste and unnecessary rework.

Elements reused included the kitchen and some of the HVAC systems.

As the project commenced half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, food and beverage establishments were undergoing unprecedented economic impact, involving closures and reductions in capacity. As Espresso Alchemy provides livelihoods for dozens of staff it was critical to maximize the speed of the project and provide flexibility in its program in order to be economically sustainable.

Materials were sourced from locally available stock, minimizing the environmental impact of specialized shipping, and carefully selected to allow for minimal lead times.

This award celebrates innovative and creative building interiors where people eat and drink - this includes bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs. Judging consideration is given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes, aesthetic presentation and functionality. Consideration also given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.
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