Dezeen Magazine

Dezeen Awards China Interiors project of the year "preserves built history"

A courtyard house converted into a fragrance store by FOG Architecture has won Dezeen Awards China 2023 Interiors project of the year, as seen in this movie produced by Dezeen.

The studio picked up the prize, which was sponsored by Gaggenau, at the inaugural Dezeen Awards China 2023 party yesterday, which took place at the Neri&Hu-designed Sukhothai hotel in Shanghai. The project was also named retail interior of the year.

Exterior view of FOG Architecture's To Summer fragrance store during the day
The ToSummer fragrance store was crowned interior project of the year

Located in Beijing, the flagship store for fragrance brand To Summer occupies a 280-year-old siheyuan – a traditional typology prevalent in the region consisting of a courtyard enclosed by residential buildings and hutongs.

Traditionally, courtyard houses were designed to provide privacy, comfort and quiet and typically reflected hierarchical family systems, in which space is delineated according to each family member's position.

Interior view of corridor in FOG Architecture's To Summer fragrance store
The retail store occupies a 280-year-old siheyuan in Beijing

The studio was tasked with converting the previously closed-off, private residence into a welcoming and open public space that connects and invites its local community while preserving its original structure.

"Commercial retail space is no longer confined to shopping malls," co-founder Zhan Di said in the video. "It has to return to its role at the centre of the community."

Instead, the practice adopted an "anti-siheyuan" approach, creating loose "sub-spaces" by removing all walls and partitions and substituting many of them with glass. This visually opened up the space while retaining distinct areas.

Interior view of FOG Architecture's To Summer fragrance store revealing the wood columns and trusses
The architects restored the space to reveal the original wooden trusses and columns

To highlight the structural beauty of the building, the studio replaced the street-facing facade with glass to open up views of the space to pedestrians. Decorative materials were also removed to reveal the building's original triangular timber roof trusses and wooden columns.

When natural light is filtered through the equidistant arrangement of columns, it causes an interplay of light and shadow that creates a sense of depth in the space.

Close-up of the acrylic ceiling with a water ripple pattern
The store features an acrylic ceiling with a rippling water pattern

Water elements, which are typical in traditional oriental gardens, were featured throughout the space. The architects fitted some areas with an acrylic ceiling with a pattern that mimics the gentle ripple of water, which interacts with light to create natural and shadow effects.

The discovery of a century-old well on the site informed the installation of a rain chain suspended from the roof to the mouth of the well, to represent "a rejuvenation of life in the courtyard."

Courtyard view of FOG Architecture's To Summer fragrance store
A rain chain connects the roof of the building to the mouth of a century-old well

"This project showcases how sensitive and minimal intervention can inspire and preserve our built history," the judges said.

"It demonstrates the studio's skilful hand in sensitively transforming a traditional courtyard house into a new retail experience."

Interior of To Summer store with clay brick walls and shelves lined with fragrances
The store features clay brick walls and resin displays made from porcelain powder

Various original elements within the building were damaged or demolished by the previous owners, which consequently required careful restoration and consideration for appropriate material selection.

The interior walls were clad in clay bricks as a contemporary interpretation of the original brickwork, while white porcelain powder sourced from recycled product packaging was used for resin display stands to soften their appearance.

The courtyard roof was paved with blue brick tiles, laid in a "press six and expose four" arrangement, while cracked and damaged Yuanyang tiles were replaced.

Roof of FOG Architecture's To Summer store with blue brick tiles
The roof of the ceiling was paved with blue brick tiles

"Winning this year's Interior project of the year is very significant for us," Di said. "This award is a motivation for us to present more of our research findings in future projects in our way."

The To Summer flagship fragrance store was up against six other interior project winners to win the overall interior project of the year award.

Entries were judged by a jury comprising renowned industry figures such as interior designer Kelly Wearstler, Linehouse co-founder Alex Mok, interior architect André Fu, British designer Ilse Crawford, and Shanghai-based Li Xiang.

Launched this year, Dezeen Awards China shines a spotlight on the best Chinese architecture, interiors and design, providing international recognition from around the globe.

The photography is by InSpace Architectural Photography.

Dezeen Awards China 2023

Dezeen Awards China is the first regional edition of Dezeen Awards, to celebrate the best architecture, interiors and design in China. The annual awards are in partnership with Bentley Motors, as part of a wider collaboration that will see the brand work with Dezeen to support and inspire the next generation of design talent.