Today’s coolest restaurants break down design into showcases for streamlined style that’s a visual palate cleanse.
Hold the cheese. Lose the oil. Salad instead of a sandwich. Designers are adopting the same lighten-up approach to the built environment that increasingly health-conscious diners are taking to the food they consume.
Trippy images in Absinthesalon Melbourne riff off the drink's reputation, while a riot of artificial flora on the ceiling flip the perspective. Photo: Griffin Simm
Here, a trio of projects—from a Portland, Oregon haven for Zen design to an exuberant multi-venue space in Barcelona to an arty-chic absinthe bar in Melbourne—show the range of applications that thinking has now.
Ditch the sauce, special or otherwise, and head for clean, well-prepared choices. That’s not the latest piece of common-sense nutritional advice; it’s Balazs Bognar, chief manager, Kengo Kuma and Associates’ design philosophy for Shizuku, the Tokyo-based firm’s first U.S. restaurant.
Screens play with light and shade, filtering out too-bright late afternoon sunlight and softening the artificial light. Photo: Jeremy Bitterman
For the Asian restaurant, originally a bento box lunch spot, the client (chef Naoko) had just one design request: Use sudare (bamboo fiber) screens. The restaurant’s small space, at just under 1,200 sq. ft., offered firm founder Kengo Kuma, Bognar and their team that chance to make the screens the dominant element. To do that, and not cramp the space, the screens are suspended from the ceiling in a complex pattern of loops and curves.
Kengo Kuma, Kengo Kuma and Associates. Photo: J.C. Carbonne
“I designed the restaurant as a Japanese garden. We used the screens to replace the roles of hedges and plantings to shape the space gently and obscurely,” says Kuma.
For designers, like chefs, versatility is key. Those same screens needed to perform three functions: filter natural light from the front window wall; modulate light from artificial sources; and highlight seating arrangements without interrupting traffic flow.
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