With a practice named Studio Luz, Boston-based principals Hansy Better Barraza and Anthony Piermarini are obviously interested in developing light in their work. But the cultural references they introduce in the long, narrow townhouse space they renovated for Fin's Japanese Sushi + Grill include such diverse interests as a temple outside Kyoto, origami paper foldings, the architecture of Louis Kahn, and the tectonic nature of men's shirt collars and cuffs.
Several large structural columns bisected the long, narrow 2,700-square-foot space, suggesting two parallel zones—a larger one for the dining room along the north wall and a narrower one for the bar to the south. Visitors enter on the western end. Studio Luz chose to accentuate the length of the space and separate the programmatic zones by inserting a series of steel column-and-beam fabrications that give Fin's its most memorable feature.
The fabrications are based on tori gates—an architectural element the Studio Luz partners knew from a shrine outside Kyoto. "It creates this tunnel of space," Piermarini says. Better Barraza stresses the tori gates' transformation from a traditional exterior element to the restaurant's interior. "Outside, they play with light," she notes, but "we needed to find how to introduce artificial light into the space." By reinterpreting a series of the gates as a light source, the partners found a rich meeting of East and West, traditional and contemporary.
Each gate is made from folded sheets of 12- and 16-gauge cold-rolled steel with a gun-blue finish and water-based polyurethane coating. There are four types of "columns." Two variations—one a bit more vertical, the other a bit more canted—are on the south side of the room and dance through the space in a staccato rhythm under a soffit and around the bar. On the opposite side, along the wall, are more baroque versions—which unfold to become either a shelf and bracket or a supporting element for individual tables. Spanning each pair of columns is a 6-inch-deep, V-shaped "beam" that is the featured light source. These beams vary in length.
A simple linear LED strip and a custom-designed, polished-aluminum reflector are concealed within each beam. Cutouts on both sides of the beam allow the light to glow from within. The pattern of these slotted apertures varies from beam to beam, and the effect was carefully modeled by Studio Luz to create an optical illusion: The slotted apertures run parallel, as do the beams, but the reflected light from within each beam gives an illusion of movement as one walks through the space.
Simple recessed can fixtures provide additional lighting at each table. While all the lighting is white—Better Barraza cites the firm's preference for a single lighting color in each project—they contrast a warmer hue in the downlights with the cooler cast of the LEDs. "We constantly work with light as an idea," says Better Barraza. Piermarini notes that lighting can be an effective way to bring character to architecture. At Fin's, the pair has accomplished these goals with just a little bit of sparkle.