Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
L’ATMOSPHERE DES CAFES PARISIENS in Paris, France by Nicolas Dorval-Bory, Raphaël Bétillon Architects
March 9th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Since the seventeenth century, time of the emergence of literary cafes, the cultural history of Paris has been linked to the alcoves and the counters of its taverns. Places of intense life and intellectual dynamism, the Parisian cafes vibrated with hushed or noisy ambiance, stimulating and often smoky atmospheres generated by their users and also perhaps by an intangible part, more inherent to the place.
Today, Parisian bistros are often disappointing, stuck up in ornaments of another century, mimicking with decors for tourists times when the lively creative atmosphere filled the place alone.
When we were approached by a famous owner of bars and restaurants for a project in Bastille (Paris), our idea was to explore this special and evanescent atmosphere.
To this end, we needed to ward off the yoke of draperies and gilded woodwork (usually praised by café owners and décorateurs) to develop a reflection about invisible and yet tangible elements of such a place, discrete and chemical elements that make up this environment, à la manière de Philippe Rahm who asks: “Might not climate be a new architectural language, a language for architecture rethought with meteorology in mind? Might it be possible to imagine climatic phenomena such as convection, conduction or evaporation for example as new tools for architectural composition? Could vapor, heat or light become the new bricks of contemporary construction?”
Our intervention would then be about the control and expression of these atmospheric bodies, a contemporary way to celebrate climate as the primary user’s envelope. Architecture would split into two : on one hand, a built layout designed as a structuring machine, a back frame controlling, on the other hand, flows, phenomenons and invisible particles.
Thus, the place is designed like, literally, a real atmosphere whose balance is governed by variations in pressure, flows, chemical properties of a particular area in tension with the presence of users. The space of the café is then divided into five distinct programmatic parts, five situations each with unique atmospheric features.
The whole place fits between two horizontal metal grids, defining a continuous plenum allowing a complete air circulation guided by convective motions. Initiating its journey in a “dynamic chamber”, which polarized hot and cold springs create a barometric imbalance, air volume gradually spreads in every room of the place, where its properties will be modified.
1. Dynamic flows chamber
In this confined space, air is simply moved by the thermal contrast of two bubbles of light, one radiating in the infrared, the other completely cold. This strange place shows the gap between wavelengths of radiation, creating a visual and spatial instability challenging the users. Although separated from the specific atmosphere of this piece, the volume of air in the upper and lower plenums is also irradiated by the adjacent lamps. These temperature variations give the start of the shifting of air, like a heart giving impetus to the vital lifeblood.
2. Thermal exchange bar
The bar is the second area flooded by the previously blast air. This place for exchanging, chatting, dancing or drinking is singularly marked by the presence of a strong element that defines its use: the counter. A purely functional furniture, the bar counter is mostly an interface that allows the acquisition of (especially fresh) beverage, in that we define it as a heat exchange device. Its shape is then dictated by its pure function : a thermal interface capable of gathering the radiated consumers bodily heat. Channeled, this calorific energy is then recycled into cold through an absorption chiller to make ice that will refrigerate forthcoming cocktails.
More than a clever distribution of various equipments, the sound system here is designed as a uniform network, a visible yet changing swarm. The air vibration is here the central feature, far more than the standard design of the system.
3. Air filtration restaurant
A meal is never an insignificant matter. Also a chef likes to create a healthy environment to enjoy his dishes. If decorum can be overdone, the immediate environment of the food must be perfect and neutral : in analogy to the White Cube by Brian O’Doherty in visual art, one might try to create a white and neutral sensitive environment for every meal : white tablecloths and plates, neutral light, neutral sound, neutral air. This is especially on this last point that we will work in this space, neutralization and purification of the incoming air, through a filtering gap device.
Through large propellers, the street facade inhales outdoor polluted air from the Place de la Bastille. In a dilated glass area between the inside and the outside, some kind of narrow temperate greenhouse, is growing a whole ecosystem consisting of plants selected for their decontaminating and purifying properties. Through this absorbent garden, air is purified from odors and toxins and then is injected into the restaurant, providing a neutral and healthy atmospheric base to the whole place.
4. Anechoic boudoir
Away from the bustle of a bar, there must be a quiet, more intimate space where secret conversations are held by architecture. Here, the sound is the main atmospheric component, the one that dictates shape to space. Despite the principle of air circulation and visual fluidity in the café, the boudoir must be completely insulated from noise. For this purpose, a design inspired by anechoic chambers is created in this small room. Thus trapped in the convolutions of the acoustic foam surrounding the space, sound emitted by the users and the music device does not leave the confidential perimeter of the table…
5. Hormonal smoking chamber
With the recent restrictions on smoking, having a cigarette inside a bar is often prohibited. Yet, if they are designed as isolated rooms, smoking chambers (or fumoirs) now fit between the lines of regulations on these places. For the fumoir of our café, we wanted to think about the isolation caused by these regulations and to find an invisible link between this isolated chamber and the rest of the place.
It is well known that smoking cuts the hunger, yet our program is a café/restaurant. Thus, isolated smokers in the fumoir are hormonally predisposed to ignore the dining function of the place.
Recent studies on the production of CCK (cholecystokinin, a hormone of hunger) indicate that a short exposure to low temperatures can strongly stimulate hunger. Thus, the smoking chamber will be chilled by the ground, with a powerful fume extraction, evacuating through a glass double skin. The architecture of the fumoir is then entirely dedicated to rebalancing effects of smoking on the body, to reconnect users with the basic function of the place.
Contact Nicolas Dorval-Bory, Raphaël Bétillon Architects