Architects and designers SHH have brought together and led an all-star team – including furniture designer Stefan Bench, lighting designers .PSLAB and Chelsea Flower Show double-gold medallist garden designer Kate Gould – to create two stunning new restaurant spaces within one of London’s greatest 20th century architectural landmarks, the Barbican Centre.
SHH answered a brief from the Barbican to make the most of the location within this iconic building envelope, in order to create the new environments, which aim to become known as destination venues in their own right. According to SHH’s lead designer on the project Helen Hughes, the project ‘sought to bring the Centre’s food and beverage offer up to the level of the Barbican’s long-established worldwide reputation for art exhibitions and performances.’
SHH served both as interior and branding designer on the project, which encompassed both the former 450sq m ground floor café, now a restaurant and shop, re-branded as ‘Barbican Foodhall’, and the first floor bar and restaurant – now ‘Barbican Lounge’, as well as the outdoor terrace spaces for both venues.
“Our overall approach’, explained Helen Hughes, ‘was to link the spaces back to the wonderful architecture of the Barbican itself and to celebrate the building’s materiality by exposing the original concrete ceilings, de-cladding the hammered aggregrate walls in the Barbican Lounge space and using Cradley brick pavers for the Foodhall flooring, which not only brought the flooring back in line with the original treatment, but linked it to all the existing external Barbican walkways.
Our second major direction was to create visual connections between the two offers, particularly via the outdoor terraces, which extend from each space. This was achieved partly through planting, but mostly by the design of huge, eye-catching and bespoke-designed umbrellas or ‘urban trees’, made of two off-centre perforated aluminium disks, with the bottom disk measuring 3m in width, set into wooden bases, which house both planting and integrated seating.
Finally, we sought to animate the spaces with striking feature areas, details and materials, including a peacock-green resin floor in the Lounge, especially colour-matched to a photo taken in the Summer of the green water of the Barbican outdoor lake, plus great lighting and an unusual mix of furniture including new, bespoke, vintage and specially-reissued items.”
“We’re really excited about the transformation of our food offering” added Sir Nicholas Kenyon, MD of the Barbican Centre. “The spaces have been stripped right back to the original wall textures and fittings, so it really feels like a natural and organic development of our iconic centre. We’re confident regular visitors to the centre will enjoy the new experience and that this transformation will also help to introduce new people to the area.”
As well as new interiors, the brief to SHH included the design of a new identity for both venues, as well as a range of brand applications, including point of sale, menus, coasters, takeaway cups, bags and a ‘bag for life’.
The new identity for the Foodhall uses black and white photographic building icons and seeks to sit within the current Barbican brand family, although uniquely differentiated by the use of capital rather than traditional lower case lettering. The identity work is cool, crisp and understated and largely in black and white with measured injections of colour.
Point of sale information in the Foodhall features handmade and bespoke steelwork slots, based on the information card slots on the front of Victorian architectural plan chests and a rolling blackboard used as a daily noticeboard.
The New Food Offers
The Barbican Foodhall, located on the waterside at Level G of the Centre, is both a restaurant and a food market, with a range of deli-style products to buy or consume at its counter-top bars and deli tables. Open seven days a week for local residents, performance-goers and passers-by, it offers food to buy and consume, as well as restaurant fare and a book bank / reading space to relax in. Food producers represented in the space include Olives et Al, Severn & Wye Smokery (smoked salmon), Hope & Green (luxury confectionary) and Monmouth Coffee. For those who want to stay longer, the 200-cover restaurant features a new menu every day.
The 150-cover Barbican Lounge on the first floor, directly above the Foodhall offers small plate menus, as well as gourmet bar snacks and a special Dine & Dash menu, where diners can be out of the door in 50 minutes – perfect for those heading for a performance. The Lounge also features London’s first Macaroon Mixologist, where the legendary French delicacies are twinned with a range of new and traditional cocktails.
The Barbican Foodhall is a rectilinear space with three glazed sides and an outdoor terrace, now linked more strongly to the indoor space by the use of the same flooring – Cradley red brick pavers –and which looks out onto a row of fountains and the Barbican lake beyond. SHH’s overall design treatment for the space features an ‘honest and pure’ materials palette of mild steel, ceramic, glass and brick. The outdoor terrace features planting by Kate Gould, along with six of SHH’s ’urban tree’ steel umbrella units with inbuilt planters and seating ledges.
Lighting design is a major part of the design mix and the lighting company brought on board by SHH, .PSLAB, has created a spectacular site-specific treatment for the project. The result is a testament to a relationship created at a distance between the two companies, with the treatment developed without a single site visit until completion. Light fixtures were conceived to suit the ‘rough’ style of the building fabric and also to abide by the restrictions encountered within a listed building.
The ground floor is spatially divided into multiple seating areas by means of low ceiling levels, due to the duct system and various seating layouts. .PSLAB accentuated this division by breaking the space using vertical elements throughout, whilst maintaining the idea of transparency and light. Floor-to -ceiling shelving structures were developed, holding multiple glass jars housing energy-saving light bulbs. The lacquered steel metal structure complements the roughness of the space, using the glass olive jars as a humble reference to food.
The jar-shelving structures were then adapted into ceiling suspended modules to provide functional light. This was concentrated over the cashier and food display counters, as well as the long dining tables. Smaller modules of these shelves were repeated into wall-mounted fixtures over the seating booths. The ceiling fixtures were suspended at a level where the jars aligned with the vertical jar structures, keeping a strong visual link throughout the space.
In the two remaining sections, the layout of the tables is consistent with that of the ceiling coffers. Here .PSLAB developed black steel tubes fixed on the coffer edges, extending downwards to shed light over the tables using low-energy bulbs at the end of each tube. As the electrical points are situated inside the coffers, the tubes had to be connected with visible black cables. “The overall effect is quite magical”, commented Helen Hughes, “and also highly visible as you approach the Foodhall.”
The public space is L-shaped, with the remaining space allocated to back-of-house and the kitchen, which is white-tiled and has an open ‘hot pass’ for customers to see and enjoy the preparing and plating-up of the restaurant food. To the left on entry are chilled cabinets and a huge open table to display the deli food offer plus a monolithic curved concrete pay counter, designed by SHH, with a back-painted glass top. Behind the counter, SHH sourced vintage Belgian army storage boxes to use as display shelving, along with a rolling blackboard for an ‘old school’ feel. The display table in front of the pay area also features unique vintage items, such as early 20th century weighing scales, whilst miniature wooden trucks from Thorsten van Elten are used to house sugar for coffee or herbs in mini planters.
In the main space, diners can sit at the huge curved and white-tiled deli counter to eat their purchases, or at high counters by the windows, or else at a variety of tables, including a number of 5.2m-long solid oak tables, created especially for the project by SHH’s Helen Hughes and sourced and manufactured by Dinesen Flooring, with four triangular, custom-made black steel legs.
Furniture here and in the first floor lounge includes three new chairs bespoke-designed for the project in partnership between Helen Hughes and furniture designer Stefan Bench. For the Foodhall these include BH01 Low and BH01 High – a low and high bar stool – and, in the Lounge, a seat with a red back (BH01 Chair) to fit with the Lounge’s daring colour scheme.
Additional reclaimed vintage seating represents classic mid-century Scandinavian modernism (sourced by Nina Hertig of Sigmar). These include stools by designer Nanna Ditzel, some of which had been discontinued since the 1960s and were specially reissued for this project, along with other standard Nanna Ditzel designs, including oiled oak stools. Small tables by Nanna Ditzel have been used both here and in the Lounge (white downstairs and black upstairs), in standard ‘coffee table’ size, as well as in a special larger ‘café table’ size – again, specially made for this project.
To the rear of the space are three semi-enclosed tiled booth areas featuring banquette seating in sage green with a solid oak trim and tables in back-painted pyro glass (once again for that ‘old school’ feel) with black steel legs. This glass treatment is used several times in the Foodhall, including for the reading benches in the ‘book bank’ area to the rear, where customers can linger and leaf through books (including a great selection of vintage cook books) or bring books in from the Barbican’s library space. The area is ‘announced’ via a feature panel, acting as 3D signage, made up of coverless book spines set in a shelf space above a reading table.
The first floor Lounge has material links to its ground floor sister space, but also boasts a very individual and bold design treatment in striking colours, including peacock blue/green banquette seating with red upholstered buttons (using materials from Bute); vintage 60s tables with murano glass tops and a variety of freestanding furniture in blue with splashes of green and red, including a Hans Wegner sofa. The touches of red, which also include the lacquered back panel of the new Stefan Bench/Helen Hughes chairs and a number of vinyl applications to glass panels, all reference Chinese lacquer red, historically used as a reference colour throughout the Barbican Centre.
The Barbican’s original hammered aggregate walls have been exposed in this space, which opens up to an outdoor terrace on one side and features two striking indoor walls to the right hand side on entry (the kitchen) and straight ahead (the bar). The kitchen is clad, floor-to-ceiling, in solid timber, with an open hot pass, whilst the striking 14m bar, which continues through the glazing onto the outside terrace, is in black glass with a black mosaic bar front.
Perhaps the most stunning feature of the space, however, is the poured resin floor, also in peacock-green, created as an exact colour match of a Summer photo taken of the outdoor Barbican lake.
Lighting in the space is once again by .PSLAB. For the bar area, the lighting designers inserted black steel hoops, each carrying a clear halogen bulb topped with a brass circular reflector, so that the brass reflector serves in reflecting and directing the light. The longitudinal perception of the bar is highlighted by the repetition of the hoop-like insertions and their reflection in the glass façade of the terrace, acting as a mirror.
Over the dining area, .PSLAB developed a series of hoop chandeliers equipped with directional projectors within the fitting, making it functional for the dining space. .PSLAB felt it was important to keep an element of transparency through to the coffers, as the ceiling is such a prominent part of the space. The material of the fixture is hard, in keeping with the spirit of the bar fixtures. The manipulation of the material, however, renders it light in comparison to the ceiling. The finishes are a play between black steel and yellow brass in order to add life to the hoops and provide a contrast to the concrete coffers. SHH’s Helen Hughes commented “The design is made up of a collection of fixtures, which create one overall feature per bay, allowing the coffers to pass by overhead uninterrupted”.
The Lounge’s outdoor terrace is linked to the terrace below by four of SHH’s ‘urban tree’ umbrellas (with a further version used as a waiter station at the far end). Planting (again by Kate Gould) includes plants that trail over the terrace to mimic the residents’ window boxes (which have always featured trailing plants), and seven large concrete pots featuring olive trees, with lavender at their base, to continue the exotic and strongly coloured dynamic design treatment for this space.
On the terrace, object fixation and mounting was only permitted onto the long planter running along the side of the terrace perpendicular to the bar. The position of the exterior lighting elements therefore along the planter reflected the axis of the mullion on the glass façade. The lighting elements consist of conical heads made from brown folded metal sheets, fixed to stainless steel rods. The detail connecting the head to the rod is a short neck articulation, allowing a multitude of lighting orientations.
Outdoor seating on the terrace includes white lounge wire chairs, white wire tables (bespoke-designed by Helen Hughes of SHH) timber benches and also Robin Day’s black polo chairs. “This is a light reference to Robin Day, the original art director of the Barbican back in 1972’, explained Helen Hughes. ‘We wanted to pay our respects, without being in danger of taking the project down memory lane. Here and throughout, it was important to respect the Barbican’s structure and history, but also to create a fresh and unified scheme, which makes its own truly contemporary statement for now and for the years to come.”
Location: London, UK
Furniture design: Stefan Bench
Lighting design: .PSLAB
Garden design: Kate Gould
Client: Barbican Centre / Compass Group
Photographers: Gareth Gardner – Interior photography | Caroline Collett – Addtional branding and detail photography
‘Best Independent Restaurant’, Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2011
‘Best Bar/Club/Lounge Award’ at the International Hotel & Property Awards 2011 in Monte Carlo