architect: External Reference Architects

location: Barcelona

year: 2017

Architecture can create the right setting for the enjoyment of an extraordinary meal, contributing to the expression of the restaurant’s values and culture, inspiring sensations and memories in the customer.
The restoration industry is gradually embracing the relevance of architecture and design in delivering remarkable experiences to their customers: in this cultural evolution, dining at a Michelin-star restaurant isn’t merely related to the satisfaction of a need, but it becomes an experience in itself, involving the customer on a much deeper level.
During the past few years, the food and restoration industry has met a remarkable increase in popularity, gaining significant relevance on social media platforms, on TV and in real life, with the surge of internationally acclaimed chefs offering refined meals to a growing number of food enthusiasts.

photo by Carmelo Zappulla

Alkimia is located in the city center of Barcelona, on the main floor of a modernist building (dating back to 1864) left unoccupied for 40 years.
The project design has been carried out taking into consideration two elements: the pre-existing architectural context (including its old patina and typology) and the specific gastronomic offer of the Michelin-starred restaurant Alkimia (which is 80% based on fish).
Today, brands don’t aim at being identified merely with the products they sell, but more and more attention is being paid to the overall retail experience.
The presence of physical stores represents a new opportunity for brands to communicate their values, to generate memories, to involve customers and allow them to take part in something that is much bigger than simply purchasing an item online.
The project has essentially aimed at establishing a meaningful relationship between the architectural context and the new design, safeguarding the existing architectural context, generating a sensory path where customers are wrapped by flavours, fragrances, and all sorts of perceptions which are an essential part of the ‘Alkimia experience’, and matching the project requests with the quality of the existing context: for instance, designing 2 dining spaces (Alkimia and Alkimia Un-plugged) separated by a flexible partition.
The restaurant Alkimia has been conceived of as a continuous scenography fostering a seamless sensory experience.
The different parts of this scenography feature sea life-inspired skins, art installations and custom-made furniture which establish a unique relationship with the surrounding space. Nothing is forever, everything is custom-made.
In order to preserve the existing architecture, neither structural interventions nor permanent transformation of the context have been proposed. Even the old patina on the walls has been kept. Overall, the project is based on a dialogue between digital fabrication and craftsmanship.
The Alkimia apparatus consists of a reception, center, matrix of 'cooking ideas' symbolizing the entire neural system, with the installation of glass vials that embodies the alchemy name; and of a laboratory of experimentation create, as an inventory of Jordi Vilà Chef's inspirations.
The 'fish spine', flowing through the hallway to the unplugged bar and the dining room, is a large wooden spine that forms the restaurant's backbone, directing, separating and leading.
The Alkimia dining experience is like standing in the middle of a school of fish, frozen in time wrapped around the dining room. Three-dimensional plywood milled panels clad the walls, displaying the imprint of schools of fish. The floor is similar, perforations offering a glimpse of the pre-existing floor and encapsulated by cm of transparent resin.
The morphology comes from the study of fish vertebrae; the serialisation of flat vertebrae, realised in valchromat produces gaps for storing clothing.
Moreover, designed as an aluminum skeletal structure on which to sit, the unplugged chairs are covered with a black micro-perforated skin.
Every single part of the interiors is curated in details and nothing is left alone.

title Alkimia
project External Reference Architects (Carmelo Zappulla, Nacho Toribio)
concept designer Chu Uroz
lighting designer Josep Maria Civit
AV content Onion Lab
collaborators Stuart Mags, Elena Mitrofanova, Chiara Caselli, Pierfrancesco Nicotra, Daniela De Luca
photographer Adrià Goula, Carmelo Zappulla