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Creative Transition At The Refinery

The concept for The Refinery, a grill bar and workshop for creatives, emerged from a former creative collaboration at an old factory building at 115 King George’s Avenue. Jax Tan writes.

Creative Transition At The Refinery


September 23rd, 2015

Top image: The mixture of imported and custom-made furniture includes marble-top tables. Drums contribute to the industrial flavour

Photos by Edward Hendricks

There was a time when Singapore’s Jalan Besar area thrived with amusement park antics. The New World Amusement Park, established by a group of prominent Straits Chinese in 1923, saw the area pulse as an entertainment hub and pleasure district. Elsewhere in the area, around the vicinity of Jalan Besar Stadium, manufacturing works, contracting businesses and engineering services occupied the factories and shophouses.

Today, the amusement park and many of the surrounding leisure businesses have disappeared, and just a vestige of Jalan Besar’s industrial past remains. A number of buildings and leftover spaces wait to assume a new lease of life.

Cables cut through the air space. Elevated industrial-style shelving above the entrance references the surroundings

Such is the predicament of 115 King George’s Avenue – an underused industrial space at the end of a row of hardware shops and factories. Named The Refinery, the new multi-disciplinary creative workspace and grill bar is a joint venture between design consultancy Architology and craft and makers’ group The General Company.

“We chanced upon this space through mutual friends. When we first saw it in its raw state, we fell in love with the sheer height of the ceiling and that natural light falling into the space,” says Colin Chen, Founder of The General Company. Previously neglected, the site was the first test bed for Transitional___ (read Transitional Space) – a creative endeavour by Shophouse & Co that connects the creative community with under-utilised spaces for a limited period of time before new tenants take over.

“This temporary window allows creatives to come together to experiment and conduct feasibility tests for new concepts. In this instance, the transitional space is what you see now as The Refinery,” explains Terrence Quah of Architology.

The mezzanine above the main bar is accessed by a spiral staircase beside the Tokyo Pop wall mural by Oak&Bindi

In fact, as part of the first edition of the initiative, The General Company was involved in using the space to test out its ‘future retail experience’, holding workshops for various craft endeavours. The intention was to foster a culture of appreciation for craft. “We stepped in and experimented with this space and decided to take it on at the end of the day,” explains Chen. Meanwhile, Architology wished to “showcase its experience in working with restaurants and bars by creating a concept of its own, from the design of the space to the conceptualising of the entire dining concept like kitchen layouts, food, drinks and branding,” Quah adds. What better way for the two initiatives to come together than in a space with unexpected potential.

“The space wasn’t designed for a full F&B concept. The idea was to bring creatives together – a collective of people in a venue with which we could expect more projects to spin off. The F&B function is here to help push the concept forward,” shares Chen. Indeed, the ground floor is an eight-metre high space populated with long communal tables that could sit more than six at any instance and an abundance of singular loose seats ready to be pulled out for more company. It is a space that encourages socialising and mingling, with drinks as the social lubricant – a space of endless possibilities.

The creative workshop space on the uppermost floor includes areas for making and crafting

Furthermore, all the loose furniture on the ground floor is reconfigurable to accommodate exhibitions and showcases for young and upcoming designers and individuals. Of the intention to harvest The Refinery as a thriving space for the long run, Chen remarks, “Ultimately, we didn’t just want to be marked as a new F&B kid on the block.”

In contrast to the ground level, the second or mezzanine level is a dimly lit space styled in black. Quah explains, “We used the dark colours to create a lot of high contrast, depth and drama.” Alluding to a stage set for the actor, Quah shares that there are plans to “bring the mixologist out from behind the bar, and to showcase the act [of making drinks] itself.”

Shelving units with expanded metal mesh surrounds separate zones without blocking daylight

Precisely, craftsmanship is what The Refinery is all about. The third floor is the workshop, available for talented individuals with unique skill sets looking for a space in which to create. Presently, The Refinery Workshop is already being utilised by independent creatives including industrial designer Melvin Ong of Desinere, printmaker Joseph Chiang of Monster Gallery, 3D printing specialists Mark Lim and Hayden Tay from 3D Matters, and leather crafters from Miller Goods. They share the airy and naturally lit workspace filled with long tables, and a workshop for “mounting and hammering, sawing and drilling,” Chen explains.

The building at King George’s Avenue is also home to factories and hardware shops

The Refinery was designed to be communal and to support collaborative working. Chen elaborates, “In essence, The Refinery is about bringing multiple groups of people together. It has been designed to be filled up and function somewhat as a blank canvas for people to come forward and collaborate with us. In this way, we can make more things happen in the space.”


The General Company

* This article first appeared in Cubes Indesign magazine (Feb/Mar 2015)

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