Berta is located just a block east of Elizabeth Street, on the fringe of the city. The site is within a slightly strange area, a triangular island bounded by Elizabeth, Liverpool and Wentworth Streets. Although incredibly dense with worker and increasingly residents, the foot traffic past the restaurant is virtually non-existent. The scale of the surroundings however is far greater than that of their other restaurant, Vini.
The rear lane was not engaged with on nay level by this building or its neighbours. This laneway was identified by the City of Sydney in its laneway study.
Our client was shown the site prior to the development of the site which enabled us to have more of a say in the design of the entrance to our tenancy and rear elevation, and of course the interiors/. It did also mean however that the construction was far more complicated as we had direct dealing with the base builders.
The concept for Berta is a continuation of the themes explored at the client’s other restaurant, but with different site conditions, and an altered brief from the client resulted in a significantly different outcome. Again, the “working wall” is central to the experience of the space.
A number of complications came up throughout the construction, which, when resolved, added to the richness of the space. Building alongside the base builders who had different priorities was a challenge. Firstly we had to conceal a grease trap at the back of the space. The builders were unable to get it flush with the concrete floor so we were forced to raise the back section of the restaurant. This had a number of positive outcomes, allowing us to clearly define the dining area from the bar area and reducing the difference in height between patrons on in the bar area and those in the dining area. It also meant that the bench seat running across the back of the restaurant was raised to the sill height of the rear windows. The impact of this 200mm increase in height, caused by the grease trap, had an enormously positive impact on the final result.
This dividing shelf unit which divides up the entry corridor, is accessed from the kitchen and contains food and wine, but not in a contrived manner – it is much more than display. These shelves are screened off from the public with a woven brass mesh. This again provides a bit of theatre for the entrance while serving a very real function for the kitchen and bar. This working wall then wraps across the front of the kitchen clearly defining the space. Based on the experience at Vini, the client wanted an open kitchen which the space was able to provide. The shelving allowed us to create a level of separation, a clearly defined cooking area which the public would get glimpses of as they moved through the space. The openness of the kitchen is carefully controlled so any views are filtered through the wine and the food. The bar again floats out of the front of the working wall just as it did at Vini.
The shelving system used here provides far more transparency than at Vini as we used Brass rods to suspend the shelving from the ceiling. This meant that we could eliminate the verticals and have a far more open system dominated by the product. We did not want the shelves to feel like a joinery item- unlike Vini – it was to be more refined. We chose to use formply again, but from experience chose to protect the edges with brass edging.
Another important aspect of the design is the relationships to the rear lane. Although not able to open up onto the laneway, due to noise issues, we wanted a strong connection. It’s a very unassuming and possibly ‘un-Sydney’ view – gritty, dilapidated laneway. We made a big effort to capture this with two large picture windows so the frames were not visible form inside the restaurant. We believe this attempt to make this glass disappear is quite successful.
All final project photographs by Peter Bennetts
Vini is located in Surry Hills, down towards central station, and a block east of Elizabeth Street.The area is a mixture of commercial and residential. The scale of the building varies significantly from the multi storey on Elizabeth and Holt Streets, and also to the terrace housing along Devonshire.
Vini currently takes up the Northern half of the ground floor of a 3 storey brick Warehouse. This warehouse was developed in 2003 and the ground floor was divided into 4 retail tenancies. Vini originally occupied only one of these tenancies, a 32sqm site which when complete only seated about 20 patrons. The tenancy was provided to us as a shell, quite typical of these sorts of retail sub-divisions, with a shopfront and awning, inter-tenancy walls, services and access to a rear corridor leading to a toilet at one end and the loading dock at the other.
The concept for Vini was derived fundamentally from the product, wine. We were determined to let the wine dominate the space but not in a contrived way. We did not want it to be about the display of wine, to remain untouched and perfect throughout service. We wanted something much more interactive and functional, a “working wall” of wine that was accessed constantly by the bar staff and kitchen throughout. The size of the restaurant made this “working wall” a necessity, a functional element that solved the issue of storage.
A block of full height joinery, predominantly shelves, was designed for the rear of the tenancy, and the kitchen was to be accessed through this block. This core concealed an incredibly tight kitchen (6sqm) and we floated a bar in front at a low level.The material selected for Vini was formply, a plywood product with low-grade black laminate on each side used for concrete formwork. This product is inexpensive and had the right properties – that it was black, which sucked a lot of the light out of the space, but with its ply edge offered a bit of warmth back into the space. I tend to try to use as few types of materials as possible.
The bar is also made from formply but we have stacked strips of the formply to get a continuous plywood edge that steps out at the top to allow people to sit. The blackboard was also fundamental to the client’s concept – a constantly changing menu and wine lists add to the theatre of a restaurant like this, with staff up on a chair frantically writing just prior to service.
The success of Vini has meant the client was considering ways of expanding. Without re-locating, the only space available within the building was the loading dock, at approx 25sqm.The loading dock had services running through the space, exhausts, air conditioning motors, remote motors for refrigeration, plumbing and electrical. The only option seemed to be to create a room within a room, a box that when accessed through the restaurant concealed the fact that you were in a loading dock surrounded by services. We investigated a number of options before deciding on a used shipping container.The container was the right height and width for the space, and once fitted out offered the restaurant another 10-12 seats, a small service bar and some badly needed storage in the corridor linking the two spaces. We lined the container internally in birch plywood attempting to link back to the ply edge in the main restaurant.
Eventually the neighbouring tenancy came up for lease and Vini expanded again. This was another 20sqm and took the total floor area up to 77sqm.Our main concern here was how to maintain the feel of the original Vini. We planned to simply follow the original concept extending the shelving across the rear of the new tenancy and sliding the existing bar across. This allowed us to pull the kitchen out in front of the shelving adding a valuable 3sqm to it. The restaurant now seats about 34 patrons.These images show Vini as it is now, the working wall of wine and food still dominant and luckily the restaurant has maintained its original character.
I was asked to particpate in a recent Pecha Kucha talk at Carriage Works.I presented a few architect ‘heros’ whose projects interest me, plus a few of my own projects.
1. Alvaro Siza has the ability to create undeniably modern buildings that belong naturally to the site. Almost capturing the atmosphere of the land itself, and even suggest that perhaps the site was somehow incomplete prior to his building being in place.
2. Siza’s buildings are poetic and pwerful, but restrained and patient, even difficult to date, This idea of timelessness coupled with the sense of inevitability; the sense that it couldn’t be improved or bettered in anyway is at the core of his appeal.
3. This is Tony Fretton’s Lisson Gallery in London. It is a carefully considered contextual building that responds thoughtfully to its surroundings, being gentle, yet modern. Fretton talks about the facade being made up of the activities within and importantly the reflections of the street, neighbourhood and the city.
4. This is the upper lawn pavillion by Peter and Alison Smithson, a beautiful little weekend house they designed for themselves. The modesty of such a project appeals to me. The scale and proportions, carefully considered details, make it feel as though it has been reduced right down to the essentials.
5. This is a project by Maarten Van Severen, who is perhaps better known for his furniture or work for OMA. This project is the reworking of a family home in Belgium. I simply love this image – perhaps it is a little severe but I think it is perfectly balanced and beautifully executed. It cuts open and exposes the innerworkings of the house, connecting it with the landscape.
6. This is a house in Tokyo by Ryue Nishizawa. I am easily seduced by the images of Nishizawa’s houses and intrigued by his ideas about living. He challenges the traditional notions of privacy and the organisation of space to reflect new values which promote vibrancy and a richness of life in the streets and the city.
7. Vini, a little restaurant in Surry Hills was our first project. Constrained by a budget and tight site we reduced the scope right down to what was necessary. A functional block of joinery at the rear of the tenancy that concealed the kitchen and stored the supplies of food and wine. It was never meant to be about display – this storage wall is active throughout service and is integral to the working of the restaurant.
8. We expanded into the only space available which was the loading dock filled with services, ducting etc. We needed to create a room within a room and eventually settled on a shipping container- not to make any particular statement, but simply because it was cheap and it fit into the small space.
9. This is another restaurant called Berta we finished last year. The project’s scope was considerably more than at Vini but we continued with the theme of the working wall of food and wine. The site looked onto a city laneway, a gritty and neglected part of the city, that we wanted to connect strongly with but were not allowed to open up onto.
10. The detailing of windows is crucial to the attempt at reducing this separation between inside and out to the bare minimum. The window frames are externally mounted and so not visible from within the restaurant, allowing the brick columns to turn the corner, the profile of their unevenness is uninterrrupted by a frame and hopefully blurs this boundary.
11. This project involved the re-design of a 38sqm, one bedroom apartment in a Harry Seidler Building in Potts Point. We designed and this for ourselves to accommodate a growing family. The brief was to create a separate sleeping space for our younger daughter, provide more living space and solve our issue with storage. The idea was to reduce it down to the essentials of living.
12. This shows the bed platform for my daughter which is separated from the main space by the wardrobe. Our bed slides in and out from underneath. The design relies on the reorganisation of spaces to serve more than one purpose but does so simply and without fuss.
13. This shows the kitchen, the main shelves dissolve at this end into the bench and pantry. Perhaps it was lessons learnt at Vini but we wanted to be surrounded by our things – books, food, toys, booze etc – all things essential to living, but again it was never contrived or purely about display.
14. This project is the renovation of a Surry Hills house, the only house on the street of terraces that sits back from the front boundary. This blank front facade conceals the entry court and main outdoor space for the house. the composition of this wall attempts to pick up on the proportions and rhythms of the neighbouring terraces, and the sliding door becomes one of those panels.
15. This is the entry court and the front room contains the kitchen. Designed for a chef and his family, this is the most used room in the house. Again there is a modesty to the project, we added no floor space, simply reconfiguring and improving the existing condition.
16. This is our biggest project to date and involved the joining of these two terraces in Paddington to create a single home. The brief was to create a comfortable and modern home for a big, busy family and to make it seamless – they did not want to feel like they were living between two houses.
17. We wanted to design a modern house that was heavy and grounded, not foreign in the context. We wanted the new house to be a natural extension of the existing. In terms of materials, the new brickwork is a continuation of the existing brickwork. We hoped to produce a house that would be difficult to date and one that would get better with age.
18. Internally, it is difficult to determine which walls are existing and which are new. The spaces are warm but calm, only a few materials are used. The lower level living areas open up onto the garden while the upper levels containing the bedrooms are private and quiet.
19. The same organizing element both formally and experientially is the void above the dining room. It allows easy communication between levels, important for the family, as well as uniting the generous sized house. The natural light and views from these upper levels are carefully controlled.
20. We approached this project in the same way as our smaller projects and interiors. The idea is to only what we need to do and try not to to get carried away with endless opportunities that a project presents, being careful and showing restraint. The ideas of modesty and appropriateness combined with a sense of living well is at the core of what we are trying to do.