For many American tourists in Australia, the “flat white” is a curious staple of Sydney’s coffee culture. In the flagship restaurant and café of coffee roaster Primo, the latte-like drink that combines espresso and milk served as the inspiration for its interior design, by local firm Enter Projects.
Lot.1 occupies two levels of a former warehouse space in a late Victorian building on York Street, in the city’s central business district. The existing brick and sandstone walls and timber beams were exposed and left largely in their existing condition, almost as “a ruin,” says Enter Projects director Patrick Keane. To juxtapose the industrial shell, the firm inserted a multistory 3D ribbon of wood that swoops and spirals from the café to the restaurant, as if it was poured into space and given a stir. The wood assumes multiple dimensions and functions, including a partition, shelving, seating, and the main bar top.
The idea came during a meeting with the client, says Keane, an Australian who studied architecture at Princeton University. “I looked at my [freshly poured] latte and said, ‘Why don’t we do that? … It’s a 3D billboard for what you guys do.’ ”
To test how this idea would work physically in space, Keane drew a single circle in Maya and began duplicating it, overlaying the resulting shapes onto a plan of the space. He found that, in addition to being a centerpiece, the ribbon created “elastic geometries”—non-uniform, curvilinear spaces—that made circulation more natural.
Wood was chosen for its caramel color, which matches the tone of espresso’s rich crema, and its natural grain, which adds visual interest. Sydney also has a bounty of boatbuilders, whose techniques and technologies would be vital to realizing the structure—and who would know when “the right angle is the wrong angle,” Keane says.
One unexpected finding was that the piece could be almost self-supported, though at its highest points, the wood is tied into the building with threaded steel rods, finished in black, for additional support.
The resulting form comprises a thin, workable skin of plywood, totaling 1,500 linear feet, with a veneer made of native Australian blackbutt (a type of eucalyptus) around a skeleton of structural plywood ribs. Spaced every 10 or 20 inches, the abstract and curved ribs were reverse-engineered from the firm’s 3D model using Grasshopper.
To fabricate the curving and twisted elements, the curving geometries had to be “unwrapped,” Keane says, flattened, and sent to Lasermade, a local CNC-milling company that specializes in boat manufacturing. Lasermade cut the individual components, including the 9-millimeter-thick ribs and the 3-millimeter-thick plywood and veneer puzzle pieces, from roughly 4x8 panels. The final shapes range from 3 feet to just 9 inches in width.
Starting with a single plywood layer, the ribs were secured with the traditional boatbuilding method Keane facetiously describes as “glue and screw.” Some elements, such as a suspended waffle ceiling above the bar, were prefabricated on site. Nylon zip ties held the curved panels together while the glue dried, and then were removed after 48 hours.
Ensuring individual elements of the complex sculpture didn’t “clash or intersect” was a challenge, Keane says. “You’ve got pieces twisting and flying around all over the place. We were on site a lot.” Using laser dimensioning, the team turned the site into a giant 3D grid in order to cross-reference the location of individual pieces. “It was a bit like Tron,” Keane says, referring to the 1982 sci-fi film in which characters battle inside a video game–like grid.
The final product is mystifying, which pleases Keane. “There’s a sense of the infinite or the impossible to it, and I think architecture needs to possess those qualities a bit more,” he says. When something appears to contain intrigue or magic, he adds, “that brings a lot of visual entertainment to the public."