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Architecture (MA)

Sheryl Beh Wei Shan

Culture, history, memory, community - these are the main driving themes throughout my practice. This is a passion born from my Malaysian Chinese heritage as I witness, from my hometown, disregarded spaces and memories and the making of heritage as a new industry.

I believe that communities are integral to the designing of spaces - for architecture is simply the canvas onto which memories are made, histories told. But with increased capitalistic cycles, this begs the question: how can history and heritage sit comfortably with gentrification?

As a design approach, I engage with literature and historical research to understand a site in its wider context. For in a world of rapid change with global warming and the impending loss of heritage diversity, I constantly strive to design sustainable spaces that empower communities, that encourage new unions, and perhaps promote healthier ways of living with the environment.

Cosmogram drawing - Photoshop - IIlustrator- Rhinoceros - Sheryl-Beh-ADS2

The Dialectic Kitchens - Rethinking London’s Chinatown to restore a disappearing community 

Community. Heritage. Tradition. 

Food makes a huge part of Chinese culture and identity. And this is where Chinese dialects begin: around the table, across rituals of cooking and the collective act of food sharing. This is an act that has travelled with migrants all over the world - one that spans across both the physical and digital realm. From the failure of the Opium War, China’s linguistic homogenisation, to the makings of the ’other’, Chinese dialects are better preserved amidst diasporic Chinese communities.

However, the transatlantic movement of food and commodification of it is the beginning of a new curated food culture that could be considered ‘palatable’ in the West. Today, English and Mandarin now drive the ongoing cycles of global trade, politics, education, and hybrid identities. Dialects are now discriminated against as one for the uneducated. Challenged also by the linguistic limitations of the digital space, Chinese dialects are losing their place in the modern world, hence its impending erasure. 

This project positions London’s Chinatown as an urban artifice to investigate ways that architecture could navigate questions of heritage, the loss of dialectic and food diversity in the face of racial capitalism.

London’s Chinatown began at Gerrard Street- once deemed dilapidated in conjunction to the other prosperous locations of Oxford and Piccadilly Circus. It was the low rent that encouraged the move of the Chinese community from lime house to here - where restaurants began popping up. The community grew- transforming the once notorious street to a celebrated destination for the locals, as well as a safe urban space for the Chinese communities. In the early 1900s, it even recorded multiple Chinese dialects within the tight space.Today, it is owned by British real estate investment fund, Shaftesbury PLC. Due to the disunity between Chinese leaders, Shaftesbury PLC turned Chinatown into a product to be marketed, outfitting it with ‘trendy eateries’. In tandem to migration policies that favour the wealthy, the coming of big brands and chain restaurants have driven out many old-school cantonese restaurants and the actual Chinese communities - leaving it a skeleton of the community hub it was before.

The project aims to create a space for these Chinese dialects through first, the rituals of food sharing and cooking. And secondly, through the architectural typology of the Kitchen, the street & the teahouse. Located in London’s Chinatown, the project seeks to work with gentrification and once more, bring back the disappearing Chinese community by reviving Chinatown as a place of life through a series of design interventions.

The dynamics and motions that dialects incur across the table through the rituals of food sharing and cooking is a culture shared amongst the Chinese diaspora.
Illustration - Drawing-SherylBeh-ADS2
Language as a form of home Language evolves with the ongoing negotiations of ‘identity’. Chinese Community Centres were established to support diasporic Chinese communities and preserve Chinese culture. But with increasing displacement and decreased ties to physical spaces, ‘home’ is a mediation between the digital and physical.
Chinese food was first introduced to London through one, a feeling of home for Chinese migrants, and two, the teahouse- a highly curated and gentrified version of Chinese cuisine. Today, Chinatown marries both architectural typologies into a gentrified hub that threatens the dialects it began with.
What was once a safe haven for Chinese immigrants in the dilapidated Gerrard Street is now one of London's top tourist attractions - Chinatown. The eventual marketing of food and heritage has drastically driven up rent prices, and with it, the communities that once belonged there, the dishes, the dialects. What is left now, are trend-conscious eateries.
Communal- Celebration- kitchen- axonometric- drawing- illustration- photoshop-Sheryl-Beh-ADS2
The Celebration KitchenThese interventions rethink a new use for the back alley : traditionally, a social space for Chinese migrants across a global scale, and also in this context, records the highest concentration of the Chinese community. In tandem to the utilising of existing kitchens as potential cooking schools, these alleyways revive a traditional way of communal cooking. In the use of this kitchen, it is the rituals of cooking and prepping that begin these dialectic conversations.
Communal- Celebration- kitchen- axonometric- drawing- illustration- photoshop-Sheryl-Beh-ADS2
The Home KitchenThe ‘Home’ Kitchen is a support kitchen for the staff of the surrounding restaurants. It is inaccessible to the public. It caters for the quick dishes that are generally called for in this modern era of production. This site focuses on the role of the kitchen as a social space where all these dialectic interactions take place. In this space, throughout the day, the ‘Kitchen’ is mainly a social or resting space for the staff. But it comes alive mainly at night: after restaurants close.
Communal- lodgings- axonometric- drawing- illustration- photoshop-Sheryl-Beh-ADS2
The LodgingUltimately, dialects is about community, co-living and adaptation in terms of materiality. This design takes inspiration from traditional Chinese courtyard houses: the courtyard is the centre to village and communal social life and hence, dialects. This intervention takes inspiration from the idea of a vertical village - outfitted with temporary lodgings for the staff, community meeting rooms, storage, fluid meeting areas and tea areas, all around a public courtyard.


Illustrator, Photoshop, Rhinoceros 3D