Barcelona’s Enigma is living proof of Catalan chef Albert Adrià’s vision to create an ‘out of this world and enigmatic’ restaurant project that reflects his cuisine as well as his career. His vision took shape when 2017 Pritzker Prize winners RCR Arquitectes drew their design idea in watercolour and decided to bring it to life with the help of Neolith; the sintered stone manfactured by TheSize. Through close creative collaboration, as well as Neolith’s technical expertise, an enchanting, out of this world, interior was created.
Having worked on the design proposal for three years, Adrià wanted to ensure the perfect outcome for his project; creating an immersive environment to captivate his guests. The award-winning chef’s style of cooking and menu is heavily influenced by the surroundings, hence, the interior had to reflect that.
The pivotal design moment came when RCR, in collaboration with architect Pau Llimona, drew a watercolour painting the size of two sheets of A3 paper, defining a finish that was to be applied to the floors, walls, bathrooms, kitchen worktops, cabinetry and air extraction systems. However, this watercolour design had not been realised in sintered stone before, posing an unprecedented challenge. Carlos Garcia, Product Designer at TheSize, explains: “We had to expand the original design, all the while trying not to lose the quality of definition offered by the original drawing. Each pixel was equal to two metres of the final floor.” Undaunted, Neolith developed the technology to re-create the design onto slabs, producing a perfect replica of the drawing.
Once this was achieved, an exact colour match had to be sourced, as the required green and blue tones are unusual hues for sintered surfaces. The intensity of the colours had to fit in with the decorations and materials used in the restaurant, in order to achieve a unified, submersive, look. Using Neolith’s proprietary digital printing decoration technology, the architect’s design brief was fully met.
The architects also wanted every slab to have an irregular texture like Neolith’s Riverwashed, but with a subtle shine to provide a surface that is multi-sensory; both visually enticing and tactile.
The floor presented the biggest installation challenge because of its sheer size. Each slab is unique and had to be perfectly aligned in order to deliver a continuous design. However, the only way to get a full picture of the puzzle required some creative problem-solving and a change of perspective. Neolith initially installed the entire floor off-site and used a drone to take images from above, thus ensuring that there were no inconsistencies.
RCR Arquitectes and Pau Llimona designed an organic space full of curves and narrow aisles. This required the slabs to be cut down into six smaller pieces, the smallest being only 30mm wide. Absolute precision was essential to guarantee the uniformity of the watercolour design. Taking inspiration from a map, a co-ordinate system was put into place, with every slab labelled to show its exact position in the project. This way, the installers were able to piece the interior together on site like a puzzle.
The final element in a project that is truly spectacular in terms of design, material quality and food is the Engima’s staff. They now boast uniforms designed by RCR/Pau Llimona.
“We like the idea that it is an Enigma, which is difficult to explain. It is an enveloping space that melts, disappears, almost a labyrinth. Between materiality and conformation, a whole series of organic movements are created. Shadows, transparencies, and a watery presence, nebular.”
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, July 2017.