It’s common knowledge that the majority of new restaurants go out of business within the first two years. Having been given the task of designing a successful restaurant at 32nd and Lowell in the Highlands, we began our design by asking why. After much research and many precedent studies, we hypothesized that culinary prowess was not in itself enough to keep a restaurant afloat. Good food can go a long way, but what customers really crave when they go out to dinner is an experience. With that in mind, we set out to dissect the traditional restaurant experience in an effort to create something unique.
What we found most interesting about the typical restaurant outing was the disassociation between the customer experience and what goes on behind the scenes. On one end, we have a pleasure-oriented environment filled with comfy materials, soothing light and the impression of leisure. On the other end we have a sterile environment; a machine where time equals money and bloody uncooked flesh is transformed into delicious culinary works of art.
Blend attempts to blur the lines between the two sides, involving the consumer in the machine and vice versa. Several mechanisms are used in order to accomplish this. First and foremost, visual access is provided where it doesn’t normally exist in a restaurant. There are very few walls in the building, providing unobstructed views of almost all behind the scenes operations. Even the building’s separate floors are visually integrated, light wells opening each level up to the next, creating a single space from top to bottom, front to back.
Second, the spaces typically condensed into the “back-of-house” are broken up and dispersed throughout the building, physically blending the public and private areas into one cohesive space. To cap it all off, these dispersed “back-of-house” spaces can be transformed into teaching stations, when several nights a week the entire restaurant is turned into one large cooking class. The customer learns where their food comes from, how it’s prepared and then is invited to enjoy it, totally integrating them in the restaurant process. The stations include several kitchens, a butcher class, a bakery, bar mixology and even a salad prep area complete with it’s own greenhouse where customers are encouraged to do their own gardening.
The long and narrow site was challenging to design within. With a zero lot line on both long sides and a 35′ height restriction, we were limited in our approach. To the east, a full length party wall stretches from front to back. To the west, a small open courtyard provides visual access to the side of our building for the time being, but threatens to turn into a full height party wall at some point in the not-so-distant future. Forced to compromise, we broke up this wall with a uniquely patterned architectural concrete fire-wall and a wood slat system that can easily be removed in the event of development next-door.
Our materials pallet integrates the interior with the exterior, further blending spaces. Dark architectural concrete forms the base with rich wood slats flowing from inside to out. Kalwall allows light in on the west zero lot-line and forms an enclosed greenhouse garden on the top level. The glazing on the front opens the building up visually and provides natural light into the deep and narrow footprint.
By engaging and integrating, Blend is sure to leave it’s customers with a wholly unique dining experience, from start to finish.
Co-Designer: George Kincaid