Mind & Matter


New World Handcraft

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Farina Restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Studio Terpeluk.


On a recent trip to San Francisco, I visited the widely acclaimed Mission-district restaurant Farina, designed by up-and-coming firm Studio Terpeluk. Farina celebrates local craft, exhibiting a vibrant collection of steel and glass fabrication details. The restaurant design also includes cleverly reused components of the cookie factory originally housed in the building. Principal Brett Terpeluk, a former project architect for Renzo Piano Building Workshop, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the material considerations in the project.

What inspired you to celebrate exposed steel framing and detailing in Farina?
Steel allows you to achieve the greatest with the least, but more importantly, steel has personality. Aluminum products are relatively inexpensive and are consistent in texture and dimension. Steel, on the other hand, has a full spectrum of finish deficiencies that make the material beautiful. From mill scale to blemishes to dents and imprints, the surface of hot-rolled steel is an ecosystem of texture. For glazing systems, the structural capacity of steel permits the use of narrow profiles and hence a greater degree of transparency due to the glass to structure ratio. Steel is also an extraordinarily malleable material which can be deformed, melted, bent, drilled, welded, and cut, allowing for an elaborate plasticity of form.

I appreciate the character of steel which is simultaneously raw and refined, stripped of superfluous layering and finishes. If used heavily, the blackening agent begins to erode, leaving the bare steel as a kind of map of usage patterns. If used lightly, the steel receives repeated applications of wax that impart an incredible depth and luster over time. At Farina, steel was used in a broad range of applications as a unifying element: from structural framing to storefront systems, shelving, furniture, and handrails.

How did you collaborate with metal fabricator Peter Jeal?
I chose Peter for his exceptional ability in working with and finishing steel. Peter and I share an appreciation for the raw nature and surface qualities of the material. As Peter has a small artisanal shop and does not typically produce shop drawings, the onus was on me to produce a set of detailed documents and 3D models, sometimes full-scale, while testing ideas in sketch form and mock-ups using Peter’s extensive knowledge and experience. Having worked for Renzo Piano for many years, this process seemed quite natural and allowed for tighter controls over the final product—at least in most cases. The most challenging part of the project was the curving storefront with casement windows that rested below a large cantilevered roof. We developed a spring-loaded piston detail to stabilize the storefront system laterally yet allow for independent roof deflections.

Custom work of this kind is often difficult to achieve. Did any particular surprises or interesting stories arise during construction?

Even with full-scale documents of fairly complex elements, the final product emerged differently. Sometimes it is more efficient for the fabricator to have a 75 percent understanding of the details and then close the drawing set. While working directly with the steel profiles, a great temptation arises to diverge from the straightjacket of designer-created shop drawings. In other cases, specified profile dimensions were unavailable on the market at that moment and were substituted for something similar, or complex shapes scheduled to be water-jet cut were hand-cut with less precision for expediency. In the case of the credenza, each end was built with a completely different profile because an outdated rendering was used instead of the shop drawings. In cases like this, you just have to laugh it off and move forward.



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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.