2 February 2017

The dark red, the midnight blue and the green all originate from the old palette of Copenhagen. 108 is in a 400 year old part of Copenhagen, with these small houses that are sort of falling apart and doors in red or green or blue.

Peter Bundgaard Rützou and Signe Bindslev Henriksen are the partners behind prestigious architecture and design practice Space Copenhagen, known for their diverse, intuitive approach to design, which invariably results in a direct, purposeful elegance. 15 years ago they created the interior for René Redzepi’s NOMA. Last year they worked with him and Kristian Baumann on their new project, Restaurant 108, which opened in the summer in Christianshaven, not far from its predecessor. I was curious to know what transforming the 160 year old warehouse entailed, and to learn more about their philosophies as designers. 

CEREAL: NOMA’s world class reputation begs the question, how did you begin to approach this new project? Were Rene and Kristian closely involved?

SBH: Very early on we decided we didn’t want to impose a style which was our style. We wanted to develop ourselves, to stay open to inspiration. We’ve been extremely fortunate that many of the people we work with are very inspiring, and have amazing ideas. It’s up to us to interpret and reshuffle them so they can become a spatial experience. So we engaged deeply with both Rene and Kristian in this project and in general with all our clients, to find out who they are. The area around the restaurant has also been a big player for us in terms of how to develop this project. But we definitely went with the building and what was there, trying to keep as much as possible from the structure and the space itself. The proportions of the space are extremely beautiful.

CEREAL: What do you think is the appeal of industrial spaces?

SBH: Well, it’s probably because everybody is constantly looking for the new feel of authenticity, a word that’s become a little bit worn out. But there’s something very beautiful about sincerely authentic spaces which keep some traces of the past as the décor, because then you don’t actually need much more than that.

PBR: It’s a motif we understand as human beings, because we always evolve. If something doesn’t have a purpose anymore it needs to transform and rediscover itself.

CEREAL: Did you want to create any sort of continuity from NOMA to 108?

PBR: It’s completely different. The location and the building are fundamentally different. The ambition was clearly not to become a fine dining place like NOMA, with an endless array of smaller dishes. The smaller menu, the shorter meal, are things that we took into consideration.

SBH: We wanted it to be something else, much more casual, a much younger scene. But I think in our own DNA, there are bound to be some values that the two projects share. We kept the palette of organic materials and tried to keep some honesty towards function and flow, and not to have too much of a filter between the experience and the actual food, which was also our goal for NOMA. So our approach and some of the values are definitely shared.

CEREAL: As well as NOMA you have also worked on projects for high profile restaurants like Geranium, Restaurant Kul and Geist. Do you think there is anything about your shared philosophy that lends itself particularly well to creating restaurants?

PBR: One thing is a fascination with the heritage that we come from. The practices of well known Dutch and Scandinavian masters included both architecture and a fascination with objects, crafts. Being in control of the spatial dimension and everything within it was always very attractive to us. And we were drawn to that sense of scale belonging to the human body. Not many people at [the time they were working on NOMA] had that as a primary focus.

SBH: We were really lucky that the two waves of architecture and gastronomy met each other at that time. And we went on that journey with a lot of really interesting, extremely inspiring and very creative people.

CEREAL: Could you tell me about the bespoke colours you created for the interior of 108?

SBH: The dark red, the midnight blue and the green all originate from the old palette of Copenhagen. 108 is in a 400 year old part of Copenhagen, with these small houses that are sort of falling apart and doors in red or green or blue. It has canals with boats in summer, some are old and dirty and some are neatly painted with small flowers, so it has a very personal feel, this part of the city. We tried to integrate this by applying these fragments of colour inside so that, hopefully, they remind you of something without knowing exactly what.

PBR: They only appear as painted surfaces in few places in the restaurant. In a lot of places, they are pigmentations: a technique that’s reminiscent of an outdoor treatment, brought inside. It’s taking certain readings of the city and confusing the material belonging, whether it’s outside or inside – a shift in texture and how you experience it.

CEREAL: You created a lot of the furniture for 108. Can you describe that process?

SBH: – It’s extremely stressful, painful! Actually, we love to make furniture for a project because when you’re in that process, developing an ambience, there’s something very logical about creating something that belongs to that story and that space. We wanted more types of seating to make it feel open, curated and casual. One chair is a classic which was recently put back into production, so we made a more organic, leather cushioned chair and the benches, stools and the tables. Of course always it’s a little bit stressful because we never have enough time! But many of our furniture pieces actually originate from projects.

PBR: Not all types of furniture pose the same degree of difficulty. The chair is really difficult, because it becomes a project of its own, which you do within the timeframe related to the restaurant. You’re forced to take a lot of chances, meaning the restaurant becomes the guinea pig for a prototype process. It’s nerve wracking but it’s also quite enriching, remembering this project being the birth place of a design, which ultimately will have its own life. The chair for 108 will be launched as its own entity in Milan next year.

CEREAL: You have said that you choose furniture which will last and become more beautiful over time. Is there any way that you can characterise what makes a design itself enduring?

PBR: We talk about this very often because everybody is looking for what defines now. Our approach is being less concerned with that, and rather looking into the inherent qualities of materials, how you choose them in relation to each other and understanding the story they are a part of. They pick up the wear and tear, the confrontation with whatever drama the guests themselves put into a space. That builds up a layer of credibility that we think people intuitively relate to. And if you do that well, then people begin to trust the place.

SBH: When we have made something, it should be able to stand on its own. You can see that in a piece of design, without knowing all the things you should know about it. You should feel it somewhere in your intuition. When we sit down and draw, it’s something we need to feel. And hopefully that can also bring some kind of longevity to the product.

PBR: Another aspect is whoever we work for. Because the design doesn’t truly belong to us. If the people who are there every day think this is great, we love it, they will enrich the whole ambience with their presence, their enjoyment and their pride in being part of it. We look quite deeply into how to ensure everybody feels involved in the design.

CEREAL: Are there any essentially Danish qualities to the way that you work? It seems that people often look to Danish design as a template for good design. Is this just a label?

PBR: One thing we share is this love of natural materials, letting their qualities come to the fore, that and the craft they require. I think another aspect is not being afraid of being playful, but for a reason; and the reason is intuitively connected with the purpose and the context.

SBH: We sometimes feel that Danish design has been perceived in a slightly narrow manner. And when we look back at the masters of Danish design and architecture it’s interesting to see how much inspiration they took from all over the world, and how different they are. That is probably also part of being Danish. We come from a very small country and we love to travel. We try not to be too scared of our heritage because it’s much more diverse than its reputation.

PBR: The legacy of the 40s, 50s and 60s was so enormous that it took 20 years for manufacturers and designers to gain the confidence to articulate being Nordic in a different way. The world is now moving into this global state, in which it’s normal to have hybrid sources of inspiration, and to go back in time, picking out things that belong to a different age, finding something that’s still relevant.

CEREAL: And finally, have you eaten at 108 since it opened?

PBR: Yes, several times. It’s really great. You can clearly see the link to NOMA. It is more approachable and rustic but the ambition level is still sky rocket high. They do about the best bread I’ve ever tasted. I went with some guests and I’ve never seen anyone eat so much bread. Even something as simple and humble as that, they give all their focus.

SBH: It’s a beautiful kitchen. It’s beautiful in terms of the aesthetic and in that they, the chefs, are so good at what they do.

PBR: Last time I was there there were flowers in all the dishes.

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