by Devanshi ShahJan 19, 2022
One of the most inconspicuous qualities of a designed space is restraint, which comes from hitting a soft balance between elements, colours, surfaces and motifs, their chorus not attempting to overpower the overall composition. Consider the case of this massive ceiling relief suspended above the diners of the Veneno restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico, that depicts a maze of ancient adobe ruins evocative of those belonging to a pre-Colombian settlement. Deliberate sandy hues and textures wash over the interiors of this restaurant conceived by Monteon Arquitectos Asociados, who sought inspiration from traditional Mexican cuisine and mixology, specific to the Northern part of the country. Resembling an archaeological site, the restaurant design is perhaps successful in quietly dislodging the quotidian setting of a bar and restaurant, with an aesthetic that comes alive with the colour gradient of a semi-desert Mexican climate, and the distinctive, vernacular character of haciendas.
“We desired to create a space that transports one into a way different setting from their usual living and dining enclosures, to make them feel as though they are somewhere else entirely, to take a break from the routine of the city,” shares the local Mexican studio. The clients, local entrepreneurs who own several restaurants, including Hueso restaurant (Guadalajara) and Carbon Cabrón (Cabo San Lucas), briefed the MAA team with a series of images that encompassed rich Mexican textures, colours of the soil and, above all, the type of food they intended to serve here.
The design team sought inspiration for the disparate yet unique ceiling from Casas Grandes, or Paquimé, a prehistoric archaeological site in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua with archaeological ruins of puddled adobe structures, multi-storey homes and earth mounds made of sun-dried blocks, mud, gravel and unfired clay. The heavy desert influence can be witnessed in the granular and wheatish, near monochromatic tones of the interior design, brought together with accents and furnishings of warm timber, and golden paint.
Bespoke low walls of various heights begin, slide and culminate imperceptibly within the restaurant to act as partitions that generate distinct sections, making room for the table and seating clusters, the wooden bar top, the niche counter bar, and the open kitchen. These textured walls with their smooth edges recall the earthen homes of the historic site and give an impression of having naturally risen from the ground to slowly erode away. The ceiling presides sentient over all these elements, providing scale and drama to the cosy space. An opening between the walls leads to the bathroom and service areas which have been fitted with fair wooden cubical washbasins and organically shaped mirrors.
“We stuck to a very precise, warm and earth-coloured palette for the interiors, where all the materials and elements adhered to it. Different types of clay were mixed to make the smooth plastered walls and to give it an earthy tone, as is the case with the type of wood employed for the bar and the complexion of the painted ceiling,” reiterates the practice.
The ceiling reliefs, also heavily drawing from the Casas Grandes site, was replicated using thermoforming on nine unique panels of recycled polystyrene with lines and traces, to mix “desert hues with earthen plaster”, making a random array of patterns comprising 1,200 pieces. “Mechanical forms were added to conceal necessary installations, which resembled some textures from Star Wars’ Death Star,” the designers say. All pieces were then painted with water-based enamel, echoing the tones of the restaurant, and arranged on the ceiling. “Within all these planes, a contemplative parenthesis is formed,” they add. These panels, like an artefact or machinery board, were also adapted as a false ceiling to incorporate spotlights and hide service ducts and other paraphernalia, and can also be seen looming over the washroom.
For the panels, performance tests were carried out with different ratios of aggregates to achieve a balance for the anticipated colour, texture, and hardness, and to develop a resistance to cracking. Once the desired tone was achieved, continuity with the monochromatic palette was sought, by replicating the hues with wooden table surfaces and light furniture, and chairs of woven wicker backrests. The added texture on decks and furniture pieces still kept the clean lines and carvings characteristic of the Mexican northwestern craftsmanship. This main hue continues onto the floor, where a unique, rustic pattern pairs up with the textured wall surface.
The bar, the kitchen, and the cooking area essay the heart of restaurant Veneno, as an ever active, sensorial backdrop with chefs cooking, flames flaring and bartenders mixing on display for the customers. This also pays homage to the traditional Mexican firewood cooking methods carried out in stone or pit ovens. The area is kept intentionally open for all guests to see, and provides an out-of-the-ordinary setting, according to Monteon Arquitectos Asociados - “a unique opportunity to spend time together, as cave settlers and dessert dwellers did, albeit in a modern setting”. The cocktail bar at the rear of the room has a backsplash dressed in multiple, randomly shaped alcoves seemingly hand-carved out of soil, to hold liquor bottles, glasses and other tableware items. The wooden countertop in front is illuminated with lighting held in suspended orb lamps.
“Veneno becomes a place where the smells, colours and textures of the fires, food and drinks make everyone involved - patrons and personnel - become part of a scene in a period play, as a unique space carved from the ground, which honours the flavours that emanate from it,” concludes Monteon Arquitectos Asociados.