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Culinary Dreaming

Art and design converge to create ENIGMA, one of Barcelona’s most anticipated and stunning new restaurants from celebrated chef Albert Adrià.

10.02.2017 by Robert Nieminen
An aerial view of the floor was required to ensure color matching on the massive sintered stone slabs

In the culinary industry, molecular gastronomy has elevated cooking to an art form. And there’s perhaps no better place to taste this inspired cuisine than Spain, home to world-renowned Catalan chefs, visionaries, and brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià—the pair responsible for the legendary restaurant El Bulli. With a vision to create
“a frozen and enigmatic” restaurant to reflect his inventive menus and trailblazing career, as well as to captivate his guests, Albert Adrià recently partnered with 2017 Pritzker Prize winners RCR Arquitectes and P.Llimona to help create ENIGMA, the most anticipated restaurant opening from elBarri group since it was announced two years ago.

“The design concept was about creating a space that would take the spectator to a world without references or limits, as well as transform the reticulated harshness into an organic space,” RCR Arquitectes said in a written statement to i+s. “This is why the abstract cloud was chosen as the concept to bring people into a culinary and sensorial dreamy state. The culinary dream progresses through the space.” 

Having worked on the design proposal for three years, Adrià wanted to ensure the perfect outcome for his passion project. The pivotal moment in terms of design came when RCR and P.Llimona created a watercolor painting in the size of two A3 papers that formed the pattern for the floors, walls, bathrooms, kitchen worktops, cabinetry, and air extraction systems. However, a watercolor design had never been superimposed onto Sintered Stone before, posing an unprecedented challenge for the design team. To bring the artistic concept to life, RCR and P.Llimona enlisted the help of Neolith by TheSize Surfaces, S.L., manufacturer and designers of Sintered Stone, to create the enchanting interior. 

Through research and development, Neolith developed the technology to recreate the design onto massive slabs, producing a perfect replica of the drawing. Once this was achieved, an exact color match had to be sourced, as the required green and blue tones are unusual hues for sintered surfaces. Using Neolith’s proprietary digital printing decoration technology, Neolith Digital Design (NDD), the architect’s design brief was fully met.

The floor presented the biggest challenge because of its sheer size. Each slab is unique and had to be perfectly assembled 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 to confirm there were no inconsistencies. Taking inspiration from a map, a coordinate system was put into place, uniquely labelling each slab to mark its exact position in the project to ensure proper installation.

“The space becomes the unifying thread of the gastronomic menu: each space and each dish is an enigma,” RCR Arquitectes noted. “The space is open to visual perception yet the enigma concept is found in each step taken forward: diners discover new spaces, new foods, and new textures.” 

In an interview with i+s, Mar Esteve, marketing director of Neolith by TheSize Surfaces, offered more insight into this elaborate project, and how art and technology merged to realize Adrià’s pioneering vision. 

interiors+sources: What challenges did you encounter in trying to translate the architect’s vision onto the stone?

Mar Esteve: It was the first time that we were going to do a project this technically difficult. We did not have the technology in our factory—no one in our region has a scanner powerful enough to create a file with good enough resolution to have every pixel measure more than three or four meters. We had to find a company in Spain—it’s the only company that has this type of scanner with enough power to be able to deliver from such small watercolor painting tiles with enough resolution so that we could put it in our production printer.

The second challenge would be quality control. How do you expect the employee that’s [ensuring] quality control at the end of the production line knows if the slab is right or wrong when every slab depends on the other, and even within the same slab you have different color tones? When we do a [typical] production batch, the quality control people take care that all the tiles have the same color tone, or there are not imperfections on the slab, or that the design looks right, or it has the [correct] brightness within certain parameters. This is easily done when you have [a point of] reference for what you perceive as right, and everything that is outside that reference is not good quality. But when every slab—and we’re talking about 150 slabs for the floor—is five square meters and are different from each other, for the quality control team, it becomes very challenging. 

The third challenge would be logistics. Every piece was unique; every slab needed to be cut into six pieces. So the fabrication itself that we have within the factory became very crucial. Every piece had to be properly signalized, not only in [relation to its] position within the map, but also which direction the tile needed to be placed once it arrived at the job site so that the installers wouldn’t go crazy receiving a lot of different tiles and [wondering], “Where do I place that?” 

i+s: What did it mean for TheSize Surfaces to be involved in an iconic project like ENIGMA?

ME: This project really placed us out of our comfort zone. We were looking at something that we’d never done before. It’s a project that came at a moment in time where we had more demand than supply. It’s a great story internally to allow our team to know that our technology has no limits and that projects like this really make us grow as a company and professionally. 

Photography by Dámaso Pérez, Fototec; portrait photography by Jordi Adrià