Noma TulumArchitect Alejandro Gutiérrez of La Metropolitana
"The aim was to create a unique, magical, almost surreal setting, where guests, walking over the sand and amid the foliage, would, through the materials, lighting, and all the sensory elements, become deeply immersed in the Noma Tulum experience."
Danish chef and Noma co-owner René Redzepi’s tour of Noma’s restaurant pop-ups landed in Tulum, Mexico, for seven weeks on 12 April 2017, in the form of an open air restaurant flanked by jungle and sea. Interdisciplinary design firm La Metropolitana created the collection of furniture for the restaurant, and collaborated with Studio Arq, Cecilia Leon de la Barra, Raina Weberbi and Marco Villa Mateos, as well as the Noma team, on the architectural project as a whole. Architect Alejandro Gutiérrez, who founded the Mexican firm alongside industrial designers Rodrigo Escobedo and Mauricio Guerrero almost 10 years ago, explains what the project meant to them as a young Mexican firm with a keen regard for the social context of their work.
Cereal: What brief were you given by René and his team?
Alejandro Gutiérrez (AG): René was very clear. He wanted this to be a unique, unexpected experience. The principle of the restaurant is powerful in itself: ‘the best restaurant in the world under the starry sky of one of the most heavenly of beaches, Tulum’. From this principle, the aim was to create a unique, magical, almost surreal setting, where guests, walking over the sand and amid the foliage, would, through the materials, lighting, and all the sensory elements, become deeply immersed in the Noma Tulum experience.
Cereal: How did you respond to the ‘hot, steaming and unpredictable’ location of Tulum?
AG: René and the Noma team were very candid about the environment being wild and challenging – by no means did they want to make you forget you were in the heart of the jungle. But to make the space comfortable for guests, we installed retractable covers, to be used in the event of rain, and to keep the insects away we used copal, a tree resin which is a natural repellent. The only action taken against the heat was the delicious, refreshing drinks on the menu.
Cereal: What were the key concepts and influences for the project?
AG: Mexican culture was a central concept. For us, Noma Tulum is the most exciting gastronomical project in the past 10 years, and it gave us the opportunity to explore the customs and practices of Mexican cuisine beyond the usual literary references and clichés. The challenge was to realise a concept that would speak about Mexico and respect its essence in a contemporary way, while staying true to Noma’s search for the formal and conceptual.
The architectural dimension was inspired by ideas revolving around the Mexican marketplace. Components such tarpaulins and tension cables were used to create an open space, free from visual barriers, so that all the drama of the open kitchen could be appreciated, just as in a traditional market. René wanted guests to witness the rituals of Mexican cooking for themselves, and how the corn dough, the comales, and the fire were handled.
Cereal: Your most significant contribution to the project was the furniture you created. What can you tell us about it?
AG: We felt that as a cultural and intellectual exchange, Noma Tulum presented a perfect opportunity to design a new collection, driven by the relevance of the project.
The collection consists of eight pieces manufactured in solid, regional Tzalam wood, from sustainable forests in the Yucatán Peninsula. It was built in our plant in Mexico City by our Mexican carpenters. The design of the furniture considers the functionality the project demanded, but it also represents our vision of contemporary Mexican design. Furniture is our great passion, by which we bring all our research and formal investigations to life.
Cereal: What about the other materials you used?
AG: We used materials and shapes that refer to traditional Mexican cooking utensils, such as the comal, the molcajete, the metate, and pots and jars. We also drew inspiration from clay and carved volcanic stone. Most of the materials were provided by local suppliers.
Cereal: What was it like working with such an unusual site?
AG: It was a great location. Everything which at first seemed unfortunate, or seemed to be working against us, turned out to be part of the final aesthetic – and the aesthetic is a crucial element in the experience of the food. Our creative process was linked closely to our commitment to René to preserve and include all the existing vegetation, which we used to define the layout and support the wooden surfaces, lamps and rain covers. The lighting filled the restaurant with drama as night fell, allowing each new dish to become the centrepiece as it appeared. Noma is much more than just food, it is a highly sensory experience, and it was essential that the design supported that in a dynamic way.