The owner of Sav's Restaurant and Gourmet Ice Cream, Mamadou “Sav” Savané approached PLUS-SUM Studio a few months into the Covid-19 pandemic to consider how the restaurant might be expanded to better address public health and safety. Restaurants were particularly affected by the pandemic through public policy measures created to stop the spread of the disease. These measures required the indoor dining spaces to close to the public and forced many restauranteurs to innovate to survive. Carryout and delivery became the only options to continue their business while barely making enough to keep the doors open and retain their employees. Government loans and grants were effective in some cases, but it became clear that within the chaos changes had to be made for the future.
Sav saw an opportunity to take advantage of the slowdown and do something new by expanding the small restaurant and doubling the space for dining in normal times while allowing for a new safe dining experience under the new restrictions. An idea was initially formed to build an arbor-like space next to a small, planted area between the sidewalk and the side street, making a “garden side” pavilion. The conceptual emphasis on the garden was to honor his friend who had recently passed, Jake Gibbs, who served as the city council member for the district that Sav lives in and in which the restaurant is located. Jake was a close friend and supporter of Sav and supported the conservation and restoration of the landscape in and around the city. The idea of the garden was a way to honor his memory and legacy while producing a community gathering space befitting his name.
After an initial design, it was discovered that the city Right-of-Way came within feet of the existing building, forcing a change that was serendipitous. The project would now move the Main Street Façade and replace the existing small, tandem parking lot and porch addition with a new site design that reimagined the entire property as a garden. The concept remained the same in the new location; to abstract the pattern of the building’s existing custom-painted “hat” into a dynamic spatial experience of light and shadow. The painting on the “hat” mimics a thatch roof with several banners and masks that are symbols of West Africa and the focus of the restaurant’s cuisine. PLUS-SUM Studio translated and abstracted the thatch lines into a pattern of cedar, shading the new dining space below while simultaneously producing a dappled light pattern. The pattern is physical and projected, thickening the space of dining in an ever-changing play of light and shadow. This pattern is reinforced in the evening by a constellation of lights in the ceiling plane that provide a soft glow to space while producing their own, visually interesting pattern. The result expresses PLUS-SUM Studio’s research interests in camouflage and glitch aesthetics while also blurring the relationships between interior and exterior, site and structure, landscape and architecture. This blurring produces spatial conditions of ambiguity, simultaneously clearly defined while also open enough to allow for alternative readings. The play of light and shadow enhance these conditions producing a space that feels as if you are under a canopy of trees. In this way, the initial garden side concept was translated into the physical shelter to make clear that the entire site and structure produced a garden experience that is spatially complex, visually distinct, and uniquely authentic like the cuisine itself.
The cedar envelope was then translated into the dining surfaces where the two main tables fold out from and through the main façade. Conceptually the cedar envelope is a contrast between an interior folded liner, and an exterior shell that sets limits on the “interior” of the shelter while other moments intentionally transgress this threshold. The two open ends of the space were given definition by steel and polycarbonate vertical walls, that help to mark the “interior” while not defining the literal end of the structure or site. The polycarbonate blurs the adjacent context while allowing for interesting lighting and visual effects through the materials refraction of the light and image. Particular attention was paid to the experience of the patrons who when they enter the space, can feel the enclosure and the warmth of the materials. Once seated, the experience transforms through vertical and horizontal slots that pierce the enclosure – connecting the dining experience to the landscape of the site and the adjacent sites.
The design’s ambiguity and simultaneity are at the core of PLUS-SUM Studio’s work. We are always trying to maximize the potential connections of spaces so that one’s experience within the design requires a lengthier and more engaged contemplation, ideally through multiple engagements at various times of the year where the nuances can be discovered and appreciated. If the structure is initially understood as a single “interior” the various spatial edges and the lowered ceiling area tell another story. The cedar ceiling folds down in one zone to imply a stage for the various musical performances that take place at the venue. The cedar ceiling peels away from the main structure to form a new horizontal plane that makes a relationship with the existing garage doors that link the main restaurants interior to the new outdoor space. This formal move provides a continuity between “inside” to inside and inside to outside while also opening a gap between the structure’s envelope and the structure itself. This separation reveals the clarity, simplicity, and beauty of the structures tectonic logic while also highlighting the transitional spaces or spaces between that are everywhere in the design. The project is as much about the continuity of the site and the folding of the cedar as it is about the parts that make up the cedar and the spaces between objects at various scales. The clearest example of this is the gap between the new garden structure and the existing building that simultaneously links the two while highlighting their distinct qualities. Another of these moments of interstitial space occurs at the Southeast edge where an existing low brick wall separates the site from an adjacent restaurants landscape. The new structure produces a gap between the vertical polycarbonate end wall and the brick site wall allowing for landscaping to slip across these thresholds to amplify the ambiguity of where the design ends.
This same care in the physical structure extended into the landscape design and site. Corten steel planters that will rust over time provide an additional spatial pattern that slips across and through these various interstitial spaces, blurring the notion of edges. The transgression of the edges by the planters reinforces the reading of the overall site as a garden and begin to produce smaller subdivisions within the site. This new site pattern works with the specific tree species and location to define smaller rooms within the garden that will only be enhanced as the landscape matures. Ultimately, patrons will be able to choose the room they prefer and dine under the cedar structure or dine under the canopy of trees. This variety of spatial experience attempts to provide the patrons with choices that are unique and that enhance their experience while dining at Sav’s. While they are somewhat defined spatial conditions, the edges are always left open and blurred, focusing one’s experience on the garden to make clear that the entire site is “Jake’s Garden.”