New York City
Tadao Ando Architects and Associates
Tadao Ando serves up rich visual fare with silky concrete and glowing water bottles at New York’s Morimoto restaurant
Flaps of persimmon-red cloth over the entrance of Manhattan’s Morimoto restaurant flicker wildly in the breeze, animating the industrial brick-and-blackened-steel facade. A curiosity to passersby, the flame-bright scrims turn out to be a playful twist on a traditional noren, the curtain that hangs outside shops in Japan, signifying “open for business.” Unlike a typical noren, this one is not of cotton, but of woven PVC weighted at the bottom, and it spans not a modest commercial doorway, but an almost theatrical 50-foot-wide arch. This supersize gesture offers a first taste of the space’s inventive and, in many cases, oblique allusions to Japanese culture. Just as chef Masaharu Morimoto—a star of TV’s Iron Chef—fuses Japanese sushi with such flourishes as fois gras and crème fraîche, the restaurant design borrows seasonings from eclectic sources.
Right behind the noren, automatic doors glide open, revealing that this is not your classically sober, ultraserene Tadao Ando project. Certainly, concrete, his signature material, is present—notably in the stair descending from the 160-seat dining area, at grade, to the bar and lounge below. But beyond that cool, quiet gray, the 13,000-square-foot interior conveys a sense of spectacle in its dynamic convergence of angles, multiple contrasting surfaces, and overhead ripples coursing across a luminous, tentlike ceiling.
A nearly two-story-high water wall, angled off of the plan’s orthogonal lines, plunges down the center of the space alongside the stair. Not the gently trickling waterfall of Japanese gardens nor the country’s almost glacially still fountains, this freestanding wall is composed of 17,400 half-liter plastic bottles, filled with mineral water and screwed into electric-socketlike couplers. While vertical stainless-steel rods hold the couplers, horizontal bracing carries LED point lighting, producing a backlit shimmery effect.
But is this whimsical (though literally splashless) exuberance really the work of the typically rather subdued Ando? “Restaurants are different from more ‘serious,’ architecture,” he explains. “I recognize them as places for entertainment.” His client, Stephen Starr, a self-described “longtime fan of Ando’s” and “design-driven restaurateur,” who had commissioned Karim Rashid for his Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia [record, November 2002, page 164], convinced the Japanese architect to take on this $6.5 million project in what was once the Nabisco Baking Company’s gritty loading dock and basement. The space now borders Manhattan’s Chelsea Market, a hip, quasi-industrial food arcade. Starr was initially concerned, he confesses, that the project might turn out “museumlike and all concrete,” so he “respectfully let Ando know early on that the restaurant would need warmth.” And, it seems, a lively spark.
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