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Oatmeal Factory by JSPA Design

The vast majority of industrial architecture can best be described as utilitarian. Designed primarily for efficiency, it gets the job done. But in recent years, architects the world over have recognized that, as workplaces in their own right (which have also seen their share of transformation), factories can and should be spaces that upliftand serve a purpose beyond production. In Ningwu, located in China’s Shanxi province, the Oatmeal Factory by Beijing firm JSPA Design embraces this ethos.

Oatmeal Factory by JSPA Design

Surrounded by newly constructed industrial buildings, dry landscapes, and coal mines, the Oatmeal Factory’s context inspired its introverted design. Its manufacturing process, which transforms raw oats into flour, required two separate production lines with high-volume machinery. But while the plant is mostly automated, the space still needed to serve people, and accommodate offices, as well as a shop and café open to the public. In addition to satisfying these functional requirements, the architects have crafted an unexpected visitor experience that stimulates the senses, through light, shadow, space and materiality.  

Garden with grey brick walls and benches

In front of the factory, a landscaped area outfitted with benches and reflective pools is open to the local community. These pools become part of the spatial choreography, utilizing rainwater collected from the building’s roof and circulated through case-in-place concrete water exhausts. The final waterfall runs parallel to a twelve-metre concrete wall at the factory’s central entrance, where a wide walkway beckons visitors inside.

Grey brick hallway with concrete colonnade
Grey brick hallway

Grey brick walls, which reinterpret local construction methods, form a border around the property, marrying the building with its site. Each of these walls defines a different entrance that serves a unique function, from raw materials delivery and product loading to staff and visitor entrances.

Oatmeal Factory production line with sawtooth concrete ceiling
Red brick hallway with sawtooth concrete ceiling

While workers take a more pragmatic route into the building, visitors are instead guided through a curated spatial experience. These two paths never cross inside the factory, ensuring clear separation of the two realms, though visitors can observe the production line from an elevated corridor overlooking the workshop. A sawtooth concrete ceiling filters northern light into both the hallway and the double-height production space, unifying them through a shared architectural language.

Oatmeal Factory by JSPA Design

JSPA Design divided the interior program into two distinct zones: On the opaque ground floor, a system of brick walls encloses and hides the production spaces, while the volume above, wrapped in an austere colonnade and topped with a gridded concrete ceiling structure, hosts the public programs. The exposed concrete imparts a contemporary sensibility, binding the architecture and the structure together. Throughout, patios and large gardens punctuate the massive structure, imbuing the interior with natural light and creating what the architects describe as “impressive spatial dilations.”

Public space at Oatmeal Factory by JSPA Design

The interior is comprised of a series of monochromatic spaces — clad in red brick or a combination of grey brick and concrete — that feel both understated in design and dramatic in their scale. From dark and moody hallways, with carefully controlled lighting that highlights the tactility of the masonry walls, visitors emerge into larger contemplative spaces. A series of verdant courtyards and pools, which reflect the surrounding brickwork’s striking texture, bring a dose of nature into the spartan spaces.

Public space at Oatmeal Factory by JSPA Design

At the rear of the complex, the employee dormitory was conceived to be “invisible.” For privacy, the building is concealed within the thickened brick wall, with adjacent patios that bring in natural light. A garden between the factory and the dorm is outfitted with a concrete table and square seats, forming a gathering space that fits seamlessly into its site.

Outdoor seating area outside factory with concrete table and stools

With a rich mixture of materials and textures and a dramatic yet minimal design, the Oatmeal Factory’s sensorial promenade has turned the journey of production into a destination.

Grey brick courtyard with tree and reflective pond
In China, a Factory Replete with Sensory Splendour

Beijing-based studio JSPA Design conceived of the industrial space as an evocative promenade.

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