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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Scaffolding for dinner



Studio East Dining, the temporary restaurant designed by Carmody Groarke, came to earth on the roof of a multi-storey car park overlooking the site of the London Olympics. Edwin Heathcote reports on what he found there
Edited by Fabrizio Gallanti
Text by Edwin Heathcote
Photos by Luke Hayes
To digest a place
It can be easy to fetishise the aesthetic of the building process. The materials which, like some great cocoon woven by the caterpillar of construction, suspend an interior in transformation until it is able to emerge as a butterfly. From theatre production and fashion catwalk to art installation and shop windows, the ad hoc elements - scaffolding, rough-sawn boards, tapes and pipes - have become a ubiquitous shorthand for work, for the idea of construction yet without aesthetic imposing judgement. It allows a designer to bypass style and create the most elemental of structures, a skeleton.
Carmody Groarke’s Studio East restaurant for London pop-up specialists Bistrotheque however had a sting in its tail. When the cocoon was removed, the restaurant was gone, it left nothing of itself except the ghost, the memory of a captivating, luminous space.
Carmody Groarke are a young London practice who have rapidly made a considerable name for themselves with projects which engage the public realm and pose serious questions about how people move through and use the urban structures of memory. Their 7/7 Memorial in London’s Hyde Park (commemorating the 2005 bombings) is a poetic, serene monument which manages to capture something of the crucible of heat, the moment of making in its form, a stark, raw reminder of the tragedy in a classically modernist intervention.

Their Osnaburgh Street Pavilion makes a left-over urban space into a piece of real London streetscape using a forest of impossibly attenuated columns which attract you in to wander and wonder. Studio East could hardly be a more radically different proposition, temporary, crowded, deliberately coarse and unfinished; it is instead a magical conjuring trick, a beguiling building produced seemingly from nothing.
On plan the restaurant resembles nothing more than a bunch of planks dropped randomly to the ground, but the image is misleading. In fact the extruded boxes from which it was formed are carefully aligned for both views and function, facilitating a blend of efficient service and a degree of intimacy. The arms flared out toward their ends so that the windows appeared huge yet the ceilings above the tables were kept low enough.
Those windows framed a series of remarkable views of the 2012 Olympics site. Each tentacle ended in the hanging strips of a plastic curtain, of the sort found in industrial food processing plants, the too-cool London air occasionally trickled, occasionally gushed through into the equally cool space.
The restaurant sat atop a multi-storey car park 35 m above the ground, its extended arms seemingly able to grab moments of the cityscape. The language of construction found its echo in the muddy site, the cheap framing of the stadium and the dried-noodle mass of scaffolding enveloping Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre. And there is a reason for the correspondence: Everything here, every length of board and light fitting, every pole and pipe returned to the morass of a site below.
This is about as sustainable a building as it is possible to imagine.
The interior was a complex web of scaffolding, timber planks form walls in a rough and ready approximation of a panelled dining space and they appeared again cobbled into the long refectory tables which radiated out from the complex centre. The plan is like some mad blend of prison and cathedral, nearly a panopticon but not quite - the arms remained surprisingly intimate and private, nearly aisles and transepts - but there was no altar except a cocktail bar.
Chandeliers were made by bunching together yellow construction lamps - there was a nod here to Rody Graumans’ wonderful Droog fitting, but this was so cheaply achieved it feels genuine. The complex structure was sheathed in polyethylene, which created a translucent skin so that during the last few hours of sunlight the interior was bathed in a gentle light, but as twilight falls the building itself became a construction lamp, glowing above the city.

In this and in every other way, this was a hugely theatrical project, a moment of short-lived drama intended to kick-start or spark into life a placeless, peripheral site which has somehow yet to work itself into the London psyche. For the moment this remains a site and not a place - a car-park servicing a giant mall for Australian developers Westfield, the perfect illustration of the dangers which await Stratford in not becoming like everywhere else, but instead retaining something of the strange, post-industrial landscape that this so short a time ago still was. In its brevity, its intensity and its moment of brilliance, this little restaurant has already begun to make this site a real place.
The restaurant from space
Since 2006 the Bistrotheque restaurant has been organising ghostly if short-lived apparitions to light up London’s night-life, in the form of temporary restaurants in places not usually associated with eating-out. Studio East Dining, the third of its forays, was designed by the up-andcoming Carmody Groarke practice.
The increasing importance of food and dining-out in British culture materialised on the roof of a multi-storey car park on the edge of the huge site that will soon host the London Olympics. For just three weeks in June this year, guests sat at long refectory tables to savour recipes devised by chef Tom Collins. Though based on seasonal vegetables, they offered diners a modern take on traditional British cooking. The layout and orientation of the multi-space restaurant suite struck a happy balance between intimacy and conviviality reminiscent of such London restaurant chains as Waga Mama.
Nothing is thrown away
The pavilion was made entirely from building materials borrowed from construction sites in the area. At the end of the restaurant’s brief life, the 2000 caisson planks and 3500 scaffolding tubes used for the frame and inside panelling were returned to the sites. The outer skin was made of a 100% recyclable industrial polyethylene membrane. The key to the design was its layout. Around the perimeter of the central hall (complete with piano!) were seven prisms, each with a dining-table, and three rooms for the kitchen and bathrooms.
The happy-go-luck morphology of the spaces, each with different roof, made for greater intimacy and individuality, while panoramic views and lavish use of (almost) blinding white set the restaurant clearly apart from the surrounding area, especially at night, when the translucent skin glowed beacon-like in the dark.

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