Snøhetta designs experimental culinary space in Tokyo

Snøhetta designs experimental culinary space in Tokyo

Snøhetta co-founder Craig Dykers discusses the architecture of Burnside – a Tokyo event space for art and design outfit En One and the Bronx chef collective Ghetto Gastro

When Snøhetta co-founder Craig Dykers met Jon Gray of chef collective Ghetto Gastro in Cuba on New Year’s Eve through artist José Parlá, little did they know that three years later they would be working together on a project on the other side of the world. Now, Burnside, an experimental culinary and event space created by Snøhetta for art and design collective En One Tokyo, is ready to open its doors in the Japanese capital. Bronx-founded Ghetto Gastro is set to kick off a residency there, and the architects are excited. 

The project was assigned to Snøhetta in the run up to the Tokyo Olympics, after Gray recommended the practice to En One Tokyo. ‘We’ve been in deep partnership with Snøhetta, defining how the ethos of Ghetto Gastro transmutes into the built environment, so its only right we keep it in the family,’ says Gray. ‘From day one, the En One Tokyo team wanted us to bring the Ghetto Gastro energy to Tokyo through this collaboration.’ He fell in love with the site, a former shop, as soon as he saw it. ‘The convenience store in Tokyo is the equivalent to the bodega in the Bronx, so there was an immediate resonance.’

This is not the first time Snøhetta has designed a high-standard professional kitchen. The French Laundry, redesigned and extended in 2018 for Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller in California, had given the architects lots of insight into the precision and expertise required in such an environment. Burnside’s space may be small, but it packs a punch in style and efficiency. ‘It is very intimate, as many spaces are in Tokyo,’ says Dykers. ‘The design is about versatility, doing a few things very well – as opposed to flexibility, doing many things in an ordinary way.’

Burnside Tokyo Snohetta artwork

In order to maximise the use of space, the architects ‘masterplanned’ it, defining areas and enhancing the potential of every inch. Out of the boutique interior, the team created three dining areas (a bar, a long, farmhouse table and a lounge) and a highly finessed professional kitchen in a U-shaped layout, which is placed a couple of steps up from the main dining floor. ‘The kitchen sits behind a proscenium arch, like those found at a theatre stage,’ says Dykers. ‘The kitchen becomes a spectacle.’

‘Working with Ghetto Gastro and En One Tokyo was highly collaborative from the beginning. We shaped the space to find its greatest potential, but the overarching ideas on its intended use and vision came from them,’ says Snøhetta’s interior architecture director Anne-Rachel Schiffmann. Dykers adds: ‘Much of the inspiration came from the Ghetto Gastro, including its approach to creating environment and community, and how it shares the culture of the Bronx through art – in particular, culinary art – with the rest of the world.’

Ghetto Gastro is well known for its ‘Black Power Kitchen’ culinary style, and Snøhetta wanted to reflect that in the interior. ‘The colour black created a cultural standpoint, referencing the use of Shou Sugi Ban charred wood and the dark atmosphere of Tokyo’s izakaya bars,’ says Dykers. ‘At the same time, we’re referencing Ghetto Gastro’s notion of power in the colour black and the sense of Blackness.’

Ash wood, bespoke joinery and clever lighting define the interior. A Makoto Azuma artwork was created specifically for the space, and hangs behind the bar, titled Block Flowers. The space can be set up in different ‘modes’ for night and day, depending on the event. The long table can even become a catwalk. Amber accents nod to the heat of the traditional Japanese grill. The food served will be Caribbean-inspired, but with Japanese influences. 

The pandemic delayed the launch of this project a bit, but it now marks the start of a new, busy year for Snøhetta. Following hot on the heels of Burnside in the hospitality sector is the practice’s new design for Bar Agricole in San Francisco, which is expected to complete in the summer. Cultural projects such as the El Paso Children’s Museum, and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin are also underway. Watch this space. §

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