30 aprile 2020 | BLOG

COVID, Food, restaurants and architecture

Pandemic reflections and wishes for the future

“Food and how we eat it reflect, in a more immediate way, how values and lifestyle change” (Il nuovo consumatore: verso il postmoderno,Fabris, 2003).

This quote perfectly represents our current situation, when a pandemic drastically changed our habits and lifestyle. Food delivery, which was still in a growing phase, has already evolved: in fact  today it’s not just an easy solution when you’re too tired or lazy to cook, exhausted after an endless working day; today, together with the increasing number of online grocery shops, it’s a necessity, the perfect solution to the logistic issues every family is facing due to lockdown.

Solution and comfort: how many of us, during this crisis, have turned to comfort food?

Home delivery was, and still is, a crucial component of the restaurant business, and it will not slow down once restaurants reopen, instead it will complement the traditional indoor service. This will make the market even more competitive, bringing out the need to differentiate: restaurateurs, especially the key players, will have to enhance their delivery service through upgrades and experiential aspects, such as better packaging, customer service both pre and after-sale, different kind of offers and personalisation, essential details in order to offer their customers a unique experience inside their home, almost the same as eating at a restaurant. In fact, many star chefs reinvented themselves, adapting to the new needs and consumption patterns caused by the current emergency: boxes containing lunches or semi-prepared dishes can be home delivered to their clients, who will then be able to experience cuisine in a totally new way, using their own skills to complete the dish, and therefore getting closer, both physically and spiritually, to the ideal of cooking they chose to experience. This trend applies to the best Italian cocktail bars as well, with the delivery of “ready to drink” cocktails, creatively and ingeniously packaged or vacuum-sealed.

As always, there will be a before and after Covid-19; and this applies to the restaurant and food business as well. We will experience, or at least we hope so, a turnabout, and this lockdown, characterised by the slow passing of time, will have taught us to slow down, contemplate and enjoy all the small things we usually ignore. The traditional desire towards fast and practical consumption, forced by a constant lack of time, will maybe be substituted by a more dedicated and careful experience. Eating will not revolve only around palate anymore. And if we consider the new high scale restaurants, the new trend will be what we can call “luxury eating”.

From a design perspective, a restaurant represents the ultimate multifunctional space, hosting many groups of people with many different roles: from the chefs in the kitchen, to the service staff on the floor, to the customers. It also needs to significantly fit in on the territory urbanistically, socially,  environmentally and in relation to the surrounding space. From and aesthetic perspective, instead, food and cooking cannot be translated through architecture and location. There must be a strong dialogue between form and content, in order to offer to the guest sensorial consistency, beauty and flavour. Location and food will connect with each other, resulting in a cultural multi-sensory experience. A forerunner of this philosophy is, for instance, the new Noma in Copenaghen, one of the most famous and avant-garde restaurants in the world, which was shut down in 2017 and reopened in a new location in 2018. Chef René Redzepi meets architect Bjarke Ingels: a new project comes to life in an old Royal Danish Navy shipyard, located on the strip of land that runs between two salt water lakes, a precious landscape and environment of great value. A small Scandinavian village is therefore created, a gastronomic hub, a creative community of people, living inside eleven different buildings; in addition to the former storage unit, there are other structures, each one with a different purpose. Every unit, built with a unique design and using different natural materials according to its purpose, is linked to the others through covered glass walkways, to ensure that chefs and guests have the chance to follow every change in terms of weather, light and season: the natural environment is an integral part of the culinary experience. Three greenhouses, placed on old concrete foundation, host a winter garden, a test kitchen and a bakery. Noma 2.0 disrupts the traditional idea of a restaurant, reassembling its component parts and placing kitchen and chefs at the center; every single aspect of the restaurant experience (the arrival, the dining room, the barbecue, the wine selection, the private business) revolve around the chefs, who, from their central position, have the perfect overview of every corner of the restaurant, allowing every guest to witness what would usually happen behind closed doors. The atmosphere is welcoming and cosy, giving the customer total relax and wellbeing, warmed up by typically nordic natural materials. 

This restaurant is the perfect example of how to blend the values of cuisine and catering with the values of the study who designed it, both characterised by creativity and “hedonistic sustainability”; in other words, a more sustainable city is also more enjoyable, with more self-consciousness, awareness of others,  the cultural heritage, nature and its resources. And I hope we’ll be able to achieve this kind of “luxury eating”, and not in the classic sense of luxury: the real challenge is to consider sustainability not just an option, a surplus akin to a moral dilemma, but an element that could improve the quality of our life, a true challenge in terms of design.

architetto Nina Russo