Hidden on the second floor of a multi-tenant building in Sumida, Japan, ‘PENITENT’ is an intimate and ambient cafe designed by Japanese studio knof. Together with the client, the design team delved into ‘the meaning of creating a cafe even amid the coronavirus pandemic, where people are calling for ‘staying at home.’ Based on the concept of ‘getting together for a short time and spending the day alone,’ we aimed to create a place where people can feel the joy of sharing space with strangers while respecting their way of spending their time,’ explains knof.
 
Based on this concept of ‘sharing’ and ‘disjointing’, the resulting spatial layout unfolds as follows: multiple seating areas with different characters, a large and multifunctional table with centripetal force, a movable art screen that changes patterns and colors depending on the weather and time of day, and a subtle material palette that complements the dim lighting scheme.
 
Setting the scene, knof writes: ‘On one side of the large table, the owner is brewing coffee. Meanwhile, you hear the sound of a record playing nearby. When you look up from the book you’re reading, you catch a glimpse of other customers talking in whispers and the hot coffee being brought to you.
a movable, pleated artwork floods this japanese cafe with a homely ambiance
all images © Haruki Kodama
 
 
 
Delving into the first hero feature of the ‘PENITENT’ cafe by knof, the large table facing the art screen spans 3.8 x 3.4 m and reveals a nicely patterned wooden surface supported by discrete, round steel legs. ‘The table is so large that you don’t have to worry about what the person sitting next to you or facing you is doing,’ notes the designersAdditionally, by setting the table where the owner brews coffee and prepares the food, the team creates an extension for various activities to unfold, inviting guests and the owner to share an experience while respecting each other’s space.
 
The second star of the cafe sits adjacent to the table as a movable and colorful iconographic artwork. Envisioned by Mayumi Ozawa and Masahiko Setoyama, the installation takes the shape of an illuminated curtain wall that changes appearance throughout the day. Once the design was set, knof went on to build the artwork by arranging 11 FRP corrugated panels into three layers and attaching transparent/non-transparent cutting sheets to them. Each panel is suspended by a rail and can be moved left or right depending on the weather, time or need for ventilation. While the curtain moves, the iconography changes accordingly.
a movable, pleated artwork floods this japanese cafe with a homely ambiance
‘PENITENT’ cafe owner brewing coffee 
 
 
Due to its corrugated texture, the image gives a completely different impression when viewed from different angles. Meanwhile, the artwork’s two different pleat sizes, large and small, add complexity to the changing imagery.
 
‘The base FRP corrugated plate is not completely transparent and has a unique charm of a material that blurs in rainbow colors when light passes through it. The vivid colors of the cutting sheets are added to it, and the sunlight and lighting shine through and dye the inside of the store in various colors. Because it faces the south window, the space changes greatly depending on the weather and time, such as when the sun hits, when it goes down, or when it’s cloudy. We are also looking forward to the change that FRP will turn yellow and become familiar with over a few years,’ shares the studio. 
a movable, pleated artwork floods this japanese cafe with a homely ambianceview of the large table and movable, colorful artwork 
a movable, pleated artwork floods this japanese cafe with a homely ambiance
two different pleat sizes add dynamic flair to the artwork 
a movable, pleated artwork floods this japanese cafe with a homely ambiance
subtle material scheme and a dim lighting design 
 
a movable, pleated artwork floods this japanese cafe with a homely ambiance 
an intimate ambiance pervades the cafe
a movable, pleated artwork floods this japanese cafe with a homely ambiance
the iconographic wall changes appearance based on time and weather
 
 
 
project info:
 
name: PENITENT 
location: Azumabashi, Sumida, Tokyo, Japan 
floor area: 77.62 sqm 
design period: 12.2020 – 03.2021
construction period: 03.2021 – 05.2021
architecture and interiors: knof
client: Yuki Yamaji
artwork: Mayumi Ozawa 
art direction and logo design: Masahiko Setoyama 
construction: First Housing Co., Ltd. / Yuji Nishizawa, Ryosuke Suzuki, Masayuki Kudo
cutting sheet construction: In Detail / Katsuaki Amano, Takafumi Naito, Masaru Nara
lighting plan: Modulex Co., Ltd. / Takeshi Yoshida Kenta Fukumura
photography: Haruki Kodama
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