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In an Nōgaku 能楽 theatre, the stage is constructed as an independent roofed structure within a generic performance space, not dissimilar to how a wooden altar is enshrined within the temple. With no proscenium and curtain, the stage and the upstage bridge are completely open to view, blurring the line between inside and outside, the spectators and the spectated. The sense of “oneness” unique to this classical Japanese dance-based drama is further reinforced by the fact that the actors share the stage with the musicians, the chorus and the stagehands throughout the performance. By means of positioning, lighting and colours, a subtle hierarchy of the roles of various performers is established.

We apply the principles of the Nōgaku theatre to the design of a 130-seat cafeteria, asking ourselves the possibility of instilling an overarching ambience that brings together all occupants – including the customers and three different food vendors – to share a unified spatial-gastronomic experience. To that end, we propose an open kitchen presented as a horizontal scroll along the entire length of the cafeteria.  This “stage” is framed by the wood slat ceiling above, and dark granite floor below.  A line of illumination hovering above the serving counter highlights the shared moment when the chefs and the customers are brought simultaneously into the play.

 

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It would seem an unorthodox pairing for a donut café, where hues associated with fried dough and sugar glazing naturally come to mind. But for the new Cartems Donuterie at Kitsilano – a beachside neighbourhood sprawling with small retail, multicultural eateries and organic food markets, we digress from the typical gourmet or nostalgic aesthetics of similar establishments, and instead juxtapose the warm, colourful confection with a pared-down interior, restricting the palette to a few shades of gray. Besides the hanging plants, the only colours that stand apart are from Cartems’ conspicuous red paper boxes, and more importantly, the richly crafted pastry.

The study of synaesthesia - a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (wikipedia) – may shed some light into this unconventional approach. In the architect’s mind, the muted palette does not serve to dilute, but rather to heighten our gustatory perception, by visually underlining the warmth and sweetness of donuts with a hint of cool, almost tannic aftertaste. To that end, gray - a colour that is often considered achromatic or “without colour” – is preferred because of its tendency to recede and withdraw, building a deeper and more complex dimension when it is sensuously associated with tasting.

Raw, unfinished and everyday materials are used to compose our palette, adding tangible textures to the colour as well as drawing reference to how donuts, an understated snacks for commoners, have become a staple of vernacular food in North America since the First World War, when homesick soldiers were served donuts to lift their morale. Exposed concrete, unglazed shower tiles, rough bricks, unstained plywood, galvanized and stainless steel have found their way into our project, giving the space a utilitarian, almost factory appearance.

In A Wild Sheep Chase (羊をめぐる冒険 Hitsuji o meguru bouken, 1st published 1982), Haruki Murakami says “whether you take the doughnut hole as a blank space or as an entity unto itself is a purely metaphysical question and does not affect the taste of the doughnut.” On the subject of interior design, it may seem the contrary is also true: sometimes food tastes better when you strip away the surrounding inessentials and redundancies, so that one’s mind can be still and focus on the eating. The new Cartems Donuterie signifies the continuing commitment of FSOARK to search for the kind of essentialism in design that, by way of distillation and purification, one finds deeper meanings in the mundane and the ordinary.

 

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