Studio: Camarim
Authors: Vasco Matias Correia e Patrícia Ferreira de Sousa; Sebastien Alfaiate e Joana Ramos (collaborators)
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Video: Camarim

General aspects: Our client commissioned us to design a modern Mexican restaurant in Cais do Sodré, formerly a rough harbour district, now turned vibrant nightlife hub. The restaurant occupies a ground floor space of a former post service building which was converted for serviced apartments. The space was beautiful in its emptiness, its light and rawness. There were intriguing remnants of lioz stone cladding around a column and a window, portions of white ceramic tile cladding, plaster here and there. It was beautiful in its silent wait.
We knew that whatever we were to do, we didn’t want to lose nor weaken this quality. So we thought we should avoid conventional notions of walls, floors and ceilings, and explore instead the idea of light, modular elements – furniture – that could create a spatial structure in a “non-architectural” fashion. The exercise became one of extreme freedom: we could suddenly create different areas, with different degrees of publicity and intimacy, and they would stretch or bend freely around the space, in the silent company of the sturdy concrete columns that pierce through the space, under a continuous concrete ceiling.
Our action was thus limited to an almost archaeological treatment of the existing space – meant to reveal its weight and rawness – and the design of a shelving-system of sorts, consisting solely of galvanized steel tubes and large red terracotta tiles. The same terracotta tiles are used as floor cladding and shelves.
Why did you choose this category?: This shelving-system recesses from the street, creating the idea of an open archway, as though the street would expand toward the bar area. It then opens onto the main dining area – a rectangular, repetitive, symmetrical space, from which different sights and atmospheres become visible: the open kitchen, a surrealistic view of the storage room, diner niches…
Another reason for designing shelves had to do with the notion of identity. We see identity as an organic construction and in that sense we needn’t be coy about exploring it. We wanted to create a Mexican atmosphere, and yet we struggled with the Disneylandesque references that we found all around. A shelving system would allow the walls of the restaurant to be used as storage, we thought. All sorts of imported cans, preserves, beers, soft drinks, limes, and so on, that are actually used in the kitchen and in the bar, form a lively, “useful” decoration, that changes constantly. And ultimately, this is no less architecture than the terracotta tiles, and the old load-bearing columns. The latter are still and silent, and the former are light and agitated, and yet they now wonderfully, and evidently, belong to one another. We thought of Schinkel and Venturi, not fighting, but rather delighted at each other. When the restaurant opened and the first clients came shyly through, looking around and above, we were sure that they got it.