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Book Mon Dec 28 2009

Book Review: Architecture Now! Restaurants and Bars

bookcoverFood- and restaurant-related coffee table books make up an expanding genre. Last winter, Alinea, the much-anticipated cookbook by Chicago's Chef Grant Achatz, at 416 pages and almost 7 pounds, was one of the most popular holiday gifts given and received by my food-obsessed friends. Architecture Now! Restaurants and Bars contains scant reference to food or chefs, yet it may be my favorite gastronomic book of the year.

It is one of the latest titles put out by Taschen, the Cologne-based publisher of both canonical and quirky art books. Vinyl-bound and vividly illustrated, the 426-page volume by Philip Jodidio documents 70 recent restaurant and bar projects from around the world by 56 architecture firms and designers.

In the introduction, Jodidio, one of today's most prolific popular writers on the subject of architecture, writes that restaurants and bars represent "our most expressive architecture." "More ephemeral than larger facilities or entire buildings, they are more apt to capture the mood of the times," he explains.

But most of the projects featured in the book seem more to reflect a day far in the future than the present. A lavish, ultra-modern aesthetic predominates, though the author posits that restaurant and bar design in coming years will reflect increasing restraint due to economic conditions. For now, Jodidio transports readers to fantastic sites like a curry laboratory in Tokyo, an 18-seat nautilus-shaped tree [house] restaurant in northern New Zealand and a bar in Cologne that is re-designed every year by a different well-known artist.

The author offers the following themes for the projects he details: "Room with a View," "Fusion Cuisine" "Paradise Now," "Arts and Crafts," "Chic and Discreet," "Rough and Tumble," "Modern is as Modern Does" and "Dynamic Duos."

"Room with a View" includes restaurants and bars with spectacular views of cityscapes in North America, Europe and Asia such as Architrave's Hitchcock-inspired Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar on a former helipad 61 stories above Bangkok.

With the theme "Fusion Cuisine," the author suggests that restaurant and bar designers have combined cultural influences as readily as chefs have done with food. Design firm SuperPotato, for instance, conceived the Nedalny Vostok (Russian for "not-so-far East") restaurant as a Russian eatery in a rustic Japanese style. It features Moscow's first fully open kitchen.

"Paradise Now" encompasses projects set in picturesque tropical locations. In such contexts, the author argues, design usually falls second to landscape. He cites as one exception Quadrucci Restaurant in the beach town of Búzios outside of Rio de Janeiro. Designed by architecture firm Bel Lobo + Bob Neri over a mangrove swamp, the strategic use of mirrors and glass lends a sense optic playfulness to the resort setting.

The author discusses, under the theme "Arts and Crafts," restaurants and bars that double as art exhibition spaces. Karriere Bar in Copenhagen, for example, has showcased work by famous contemporary artists such as Janet Cardiff/George Bures Miller, Maurizio Cattelan, Olafur Eliasson, Dan Peterman and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

"Chic and Discreet" includes restaurants and bars with innovative minimalist design. From afar, the windowless dining room of New York City's Corton restaurant, suffused with a white glow, resembles a porcelain box. Closer consideration reveals the whimsy of its embossed walls, the backdrop for Chef Paul Liebrandt's modern French cuisine.

The author uses the phrase "Rough and Tumble" to describe projects set in spaces previously designated for functions far removed from food. For example, Berlin's Bar Tausend, designed by Robert Neun, is set in the viaduct arches of a rapid-transit railway yard with concrete walls over 15 feet thick.

"Modern is as Modern Does" refers to restaurants and bars set in historically significant spaces like the 23-year-old River Café on the Thames in London. Stuart Forbes Associates led a £2 million redesign of the space following a fire there in April 2008.

Finally, "Dynamic Duos" includes restaurants and bar spaces that also serve other functions like the Neogama BBH Plug Bar in São Paulo. By day, the bar is the front desk of the advertising agency Neogama BBH. But the space doubles as a sleek, minimalist, back-lit venue at night and for company receptions.

Jodidio does little to remedy with text or photographs the problem he acknowledges of thinking about these gastronomic envrions apart from food and patrons. But the book ultimately proves that chefs and menus are more fleeting than restaurants or their buildings.

Since the publication of the book last month, I learned that one featured restaurant--Banq, designed in 2008 by the architecture firm Office dA and situated in a building formerly occupied by the Penny Savings Bank in Boston--was this past September renamed the Ginger Park Kitchen + Bar and a new chef and menu installed. The architecture, I was told by someone answering the phones there on a post-holiday Monday afternoon, hasn't changed at all.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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