The Beryl’s Visitor Centre must surely be among one of the best designs and is a love letter to all chocolate lovers – with a galore of surprises in store for all who visit the chocolate factory
Just like Forrest Gump’s famous quote: “Life was (is) like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”, visitors taking a trip to visit Beryl’s Visitor Centre in Seri Kembangan, Serdang will be left wondering what delicious chocolate treats they will take home during their visit as they enter the emporium filled with Beryl’s finest selection of premium chocolates. Located a mere two minutes’ drive from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) off the North-South Expressway, this chocolate factory brimming with a kaleidoscope of surprises is a fitting stop for both tourists and locals alike looking to savour their favourite chocolates.
Indeed, at every nook and corner, the Beryl’s Visitor Centre holds many unexpected surprises in its intricate architectural design and layout that unfolds the deeper one ventures into the space. While visitors expect to be able to savour and take home the best of Beryl’s premium chocolates, the centre also plays host to a fast-emerging educational space for school children and visitors alike dropping in throughout the year for a lesson on how their favourite chocolates are crafted from start to finish. Within the spacious hall of harmoniously interwoven timber and steel, the Beryl’s Visitor Centre integrates a chocolate museum, chocolate boutique and a live view into the chocolate making process, crafting a well-rounded chocolate experience like no other. The true genius of the centre lies in its ability to entertain as well as educate visitors on the makings of chocolate in an interactive manner while immersing them in the building’s welcoming and naturally lit space that encourages a longer stay.
Part of the draw owes its courtesy to the garden that grows cocoa trees and many other dimensions of interest in the chocolate making process while the genius of the overall architecture lies in its use of materials and spatial execution which is another marvel to behold.
“What I like most about the Beryl’s Visitor Centre is the thought that visitors can come together here to learn how chocolates are made. It’s not the only exhibition centre that is the focus point but the exposed steel with timber designed for the staircase area and the peeping wall for the children to look through like a hidden peep hole that makes the overall experience all the more interesting,” shares seasoned architect Lok Kuang Wooi of Wooi Architect well-known for focussing on design and paying intricate attention to detail in all the projects he undertakes. This assignment marks a departure from his design undertaken for private bungalows. However, Lok’s natural mastery in maximizing the use of natural materials emerges strongly to the fore – attesting to his brilliance in coaxing poetry out of the mundane language of natural raw materials.
Upon entering the Beryl’s Chocolate Visitor Centre, one can choose to either venture to the viewing platform to watch the chocolate making process unfold before them or take a stroll into the chocolate museum’s many historical exhibits areas to partake of the rich history of chocolates and learn about the many processes involved in the creation of delicious chocolates starting with drying the cocoas all the way to beautifully packing the chocolates in the end.
“Firstly, looking at the process – the central volume is very tall. The first level is the Mezzanine floor where one can view the factory in its entirety and if one were to look to the other side, there is a museum. A small stroll down the steps is where the visitors can sit down to view an audio-visual rendition of the chocolate making process and they can also explore the retail area complemented by a central reception hall.
Testimony to the fascinating draw of this place, the sight of 30 to 40 busloads of students from all over Malaysia dropping by for a tour of how chocolates are made has turned this into an educational process – even as tourists drop by to purchase their cartloads of chocolates to take home.
“The entire design of the Beryl’s Visitor Centre reflects an open design. Typically speaking, the usual connotation of a gallery or museum denotes that of an enclosed area where one temporarily loses touch with the outside world. But, for me at any point – at Beryl’s Visitor Centre, one will still feel close to nature – with sunlight streaming into the place rather than being confined in a closed space. So, it’s very lively with man things happening inside,” he shares. “The whole concept revolves around letting the children have an authentic experience exploring the space so it’s not just like a boring exhibit. For instance, when they are awaiting their turn with the teacher – they will be able to have a look to see what the process is about and while waiting – I’ve made the process very comfortable for the children not to lose their orientation with the infographics of things being displayed at one area while another part highlights how chocolates are made. There’s also a place where the cocoa trees are planted which they can view from the balcony or go to the garden per se.”.
Like a pandora box of surprises, the chocolate factory embraces an open space concept with spaces flowing freely, interlocking design sensibility with functionality and practicality. At any one time during the tour – no one will feel like they are being confined in an enclosed space. A central volume area takes pride of place as well with a café being planned in the area.
The genius of the space has not escaped recognition – with the Malaysian Institute of Interior Designers (MIID) awarding the Beryl’s Visitor Centre with a Silver Award during its 2018 dinner ceremony under the exhibition and retail space category. Incidentally, it is understood that there was no Gold Award winner that year.
Lok is grateful to the client for giving him a freehand to unleash his creativity on the space design.
“The client was open to ideas and that’s what I like about them. And, while they have built more conventional space design factories – they were open to me experimenting with this space. From what was originally an existing portal frame with a pitched roof warehouse – we managed to carve out and renovate the space from within. The client’s brief was to convert an existing pitched roof factory to provide a generous and comfortable space for visitors to experience the process of making chocolates by providing a gallery and exhibition space for visitors mainly comprising primary school children.
“And, while this is one of a few visitor centres Beryl’s owns, it is the first project we designed for Beryl’s. We also polished the concrete and the floor above and used local timber to give texture to the space – utilising meranti. Now, when you look at the effect when sunlight shines through, the resulting shadows appear like chocolate figurines on the wall juxtaposed by shadows on the floor. So, the whole idea revolves around nature and is about the celebration of sunlight – and not just being confined in an air conditioned area but makes one more conscious of how one experiences the space with penetration from natural sunlight,” he explains.
“And, we worked within the budget. Normally, when people create the concrete floor –they need the steel grid so basically, I used that to create the texture of the timber so it becomes a pattern in the way in which it creates a filter for the front and back wall measuring 20 ft. We kept the garden for the chocolate trees intact as we thought it is important for children to appreciate the fact that the trees provide us with chocolates,” he says with a bemused smile.
Construction carried on the Beryl’s Visitor Centre commenced in mid- 2017 and was completed in June 2018. Incidentally, its retail component occupies pride of place on the ground floor which is open to the public as well as a mezzanine exhibition area and galleries which require prior bookings.
Overall, the Beryl’s Visitor Centre excels in its rendition and ability of perfectly capturing and creating a world of its own while embracing the scope of its natural surroundings and beyond to enable trees and sunlight to complement the overall space in a harmonious composition of time and spatial inclusiveness. In all, in creating the space, evolutions were incorporated to the original design details such as the sun screen, staircase and lighting area.
Exposed brick walls and polished concrete floors acting as canvas against a screen of infinite possibility of ideas complemented by meranti timber pieces doubling up as sun screens of which the main door is made of plus BRCs and merbau flooring give the place just the right rich texture quality.
Above all, Lok maintains that when he undertook the design, his inspiration was to essentially imagine what the overall space would be like if he were to experience going to a chocolate factory.
“Designing with the children in mind visiting the place, I designed to incorporate a sense of wonder and curiosity which is important,” he reminisces in satisfaction on a job well done. “The slit of sunlight and the vegetation introduced to the central volume and the perforation on the brick wall serve to entertain children’s curiosity,” he concludes.
Admission is free but special tours of the exhibition space is by appointment only.
For more information, log on to www.berylschocolate.com.my