In Almaty, Kazakhstan a striking transformation by local architecture firm NAAW Studio has breathed new life into a former Soviet railway workers’ housing block, converting it into the stylish Fika restaurant.
The studio’s innovative approach has not only preserved the original 1950s building’s features but also cleverly integrated them into a contemporary design.
Studio NAAW delves into the historical and social context of the TurkSib Workers’ House, emphasizing a fusion of the original ornamentation with playful, modern details inspired by Almaty’s vibrant surroundings. This unique blend creates an atmosphere that honors the past while embracing the present.
Responding to the client’s vision for a café that functions as an urban space, NAAW Studio strategically opened up the interior to seamlessly connect with the streetscape. The design philosophy aims to reduce friction between the restaurant and its urban environment, providing a welcoming space for patrons.
“We wanted to ensure that the interior did not romanticise the legacy of the colonial era, but at the same time did not deny it,” NAAW co-founder Elvira Bakubayeva explained. “When we found the original ceiling mouldings and capitals in a dilapidated state underneath the suspended ceiling panels from the past owners, we made the decision to preserve and give them visibility without a thorough restoration.”
The finishes chosen for Fika restaurant reflect a careful balance of elements. Light grey terrazzo, white walls, and exposed structural concrete dominate the interior, creating a neutral backdrop. Accents of cedar wood and vibrant pops of colour add warmth and character, enhancing the overall aesthetic. “The key feature of the place is its openness,” Bakubayeva explained. “We wanted to make it an extension of the city through a lack of unnecessary walls, an open bakery, spacious seating and large windows.”
One of the standout features of the renovation is the meticulous preservation of the building’s original geometry. Angular windows, aligned with the historic openings, stretch along the length of the restaurant. These windows, fitted with undivided panes of glass, blur the lines between the interior and exterior. The result is an immersive dining experience that seamlessly integrates with the surrounding landscape.
Two key art pieces were selected for the project, the first being a painted depiction of Almaty city by Nurbol Nurahmet and the second an abstract work by Assel Nussipkozhanova reinterpreting Kazakh patterns. “We wanted the art to reflect the idea of urban public space and tell the story of the building,” Bakubayeva explained. “The walls also feature photographs from the building’s construction and a recreated drawing of the original facade, which pay tribute to the building itself as an architectural object, a physical witness to history.”
NAAW Studio’s transformation of the TurkSib Workers’ House into Fika restaurant showcases a harmonious coexistence of history and modernity. By skillfully intertwining Soviet-era details with contemporary design elements, the studio has created a space that pays homage to the past while embracing Almaty’s dynamic present. Fika stands as a testament to the transformative power of architecture in preserving heritage and crafting inviting urban spaces.
Images by Damir Otegen via Dezeen
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