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A Workspace for Alchemists

With its space defined not by rigid partitions but a fluid ‘ribbon’ of recycled plywood, the new office of CNA Metal Group aspires to be a physical manifestation of the company’s focus in the afterlife of materials. Sylvia Chan writes.

A Workspace for Alchemists


February 2nd, 2016

Located in a commercial building in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong and completed in 2015, the 3,000-square-foot office is the new home of CNA Metal Group, a company specialising in the trading of recycled metals, plastics, paper, and e-scraps. The office features a prominent organic ‘ribbon’ that loops through the space. The ‘ribbon’ defines different functional zones and at the same time brings “life, fluidity and movement into an otherwise majestic yet rigid space”, according to Enoch Hui, Director of Atelier E, the firm responsible for the project. “The ribbon is in the form of a tree. We defined the pantry, the conference room, and the manager’s rooms first, and located them according to Feng Shui [guidelines],” Hui says. He adds that through study models, the design team fine-tuned the shape of the ribbon to suit the functional purposes of different spaces.


The ‘ribbon’ is made from approximately two thousand recycled wood planks hinged together with recovered metal elements. It serves as a physical embodiment of the company’s recycling business. The structure is suspended from the ceiling with metal chains and anchored to the floor, as if growing out from the ground.


On the floor below the ‘ribbon’ are metal elements laid out like pebbles. Hui says, “They are the used metals collected by the company. The metals become a metaphor of the soil, which brings nutrition to the tree [the ribbon] through the metal chains.” The rest of the floor is paved with carpet tiles in hexagon shapes. “Hexagon is an organic shape, and we used the company corporate colours of blue and green for the flooring,” says Hui.


The fluid form of the ‘ribbon’ leads both the staff and visitors to different spaces of the office, while its porosity resulting from the wood planks hinged together visually connects people at different locations. To provide better sound insulation for both the manager rooms and the conference room, glass partitions are installed behind the ribbon structure. The workspace adopts an open plan otherwise.


To represent the genesis of the company’s business, which deals with raw materials, the exposed reinforced concrete structure of the existing office building is deliberately maintained. The mechanical services conduits are also untreated. Hui says, “The atmosphere of the office is kind of industrial – we didn’t make a lot of changes to the existing finishes but concentrated on the ‘ribbon’ feature.”


Atelier E also designed the furniture in the office, including the desks, the conference tables, and the lampshades. The furniture employs wood planks as the main material, echoing with the ‘ribbon’ concept. Hui says, “We wanted consistency in the design, so rather than buy office system furniture that would hardly be able to match with the concept of the office, we decided to design the furniture instead.”


Hui says the whole ‘ribbon’ system can be reused if the client moves out. The reused materials in the CNA Metal Group office define spaces where conversations about the environment and recycling take place. The space is a statement in itself about how materials become new entities and acquire new meanings through design.


Atelier E

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