In addition to museums, squares and tourist sites, there are places that, more than others, represent the essence and embody the spirit of the time in which they were conceived: among these places are bars, historic cafes and restaurants. Between 1907 and 1909, the Austrian architect Adolf Loos designed and built the Kärntner Bar (better known as the American Bar of Vienna).
This small cafe of some twenty square metres entered the history of architecture; a jewel that experimented with innovative materials and which continues as a business with the same unique design. Despite its tiny setting, the project combines many elements that are different from each other: precious marbles, wood, brass, mirrors and leather. Loos, author of the famous text "Ornament and crime,"used the materials to infuse wealth into the space, and each fragment contributes to giving voice to the whole. Indeed, the decoration is offered by the material itself, through its colours and shades, its veining and the opacity or shine of a finish.
Another more recent project, that was unfortunately demolished, is the Splügen Bräu Bar, designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in the early 1960s in Milan. In this case, too, the elegant restaurant-brewery combined two very different materials - wood and aluminium. The contrast allows both to stand out. The massive presence of wood provided a warm and welcoming environment, bringing to mind those sparsely furnished places where beer is consumed the most. The illuminating polished aluminium sheets infused modernity and could be modulated in height. Despite the bar having shut down, its style of chandeliers has remained in production since then.
The great journalist Giorgio Bocca wrote of the restaurant-brewery, which remained open until 1981, for the Milanese publication Milano Dove.
"It opened in 1961 with a reception attended by rich and elegant Milanese ladies. The highly particular and quite sophisticated neoliberty decor was put together by the Castiglioni brothers. The tables are placed on various levels and you sit on sofas that are very reminiscent of those in railway carriages; above are large exposed tubes painted black. It is the least American of Milanese snack bars; Milanese-international cuisine is good, salads are remarkable. Prices are high, the environment is bourgeois with some intellectuals."
The quality of the project was undoubtedly a success factor for the restaurant: its strong and precise identity was obtained partly through the materials used - primarily wood.
Race against time
Both cases met the requirements for the successful realization of Ho.re.ca spaces: clear identity, 360° design, integration between space and furnishings and quality of materials. The Ho.re.ca sector certainly requires visitors in order to succeed. However, guests cause much wear and tear over time.
If Splügen Bräu still existed, the wood flooring and furniture would be well-worn by now (in addition to having been the subject of much maintenance). Similarly, the marble of the American Bar in Vienna will eventually display the signs of passing time. However, if wear and tear in prestigious places is appreciated as part of history, in ordinary coffee bars it represents neglect. Porcelain stoneware is a material that manages to guarantee extreme durability, allowing the creation of a variety of environments. Porcelain stoneware also has many types of finishes and material motifs, thus enhancing the variation available.
Another important feature is its ease of maintenance and cleaning. In environments with a high number of people passing through, this may give rise to considerable cost savings. For example, in the catalogues of companies producing porcelain stoneware, there are slabs that resemble wood; the best products on the market have different wood effects and nuances are available in matte, glossy and semi-gloss finishes. Maintaining stoneware that resembles wood is far easier than caring for natural wood, the latter requiring very frequent attention.
Hotel Ambassador - Levico Terme
View the project
Stoneware and material innovation
Hotels are among the most complex Ho.re.ca. environments to design: in addition to hosting guests in private rooms, they provide spaces that are open to everyone, such as the bar, restaurant and wellness centre. In historical and contemporary projects, a very important role is therefore entrusted to innovative materials. If well-chosen and coordinated, these are an optimal means by which to create an environment.
Two significant examples of this are the Park Marine of Incheon in South Korea and the Star Hotel Rosa Grand of Milan: their character is defined largely by the colours and finishes of the materials chosen for the interior and exterior floors and walls. The rooms of the Korean hotel are set along classic and neutral lines and colours inspired by marble and wood. The hotel in Milan is based upon the wonder of golden colours, almost echoing the brightness of the nearby Madonnina. In both cases, porcelain stoneware was used in different sizes, finishes and lines but with the same thickness and laying techniques.
Star Rosa Grand Hotel, Milano
View the project
Park Marine Hotel, Incheon
View the project
In this sense, porcelain stoneware allows the transversal use of different aesthetics within the same project, while maintaining unaltered technical performance. Drawing inspiration from classical and tropical marbles and from stone, metals and wood, and offering surfaces ranging from matte to structured and from simple to 3D, stoneware allows the designer/transformer to create without limits of any kind.