Renowned Toronto chef Grant van Gameren and his partners envisioned their pintxos and tapas bar styled in a modern
interpretation of Spanish Art Nouveau. Local firm Partisans responded with a design that covered the 1,500-square-foot restaurant's bar, walls, and
ceiling with sinuous, voluptuous wood panels. The “desire [was] to create a full experience, like a work
of art, and to bring the experience of socializing, eating, drinking, and
architecture all into one ... composition,” says Partisans co-founder Alexander
CNC milling was the obvious choice for fabrication, but the technology is rarely applied to projects of this scale and complexity, juror Marc Fornes said. “This is an exquisite application of the technology, and certainly a precise one,” he said. “Sometimes technology is the proof of concept, but the proof of concept can be dirty or not sorted out.”
Beyond the organic forms of Art Nouveau, Partisans wanted to carve sinewy ribbing across the panels for a sculpted effect. “We started to look at these things as being informed by tendons and muscle fibers because our clients are so muscular and tattooed,” Josephson says.
But creating the complicated and continuous geometry was unchartered territory. Taking cues from Antoni Gaudí, Partisans hand-sketched drawings and hand-carved foam and clay models to refine the panels’ appearance. Then came the challenge of converting 3D lines into a format that a five-axis CNC router could understand.
After 3D scanning their foam and clay models, the designers worked with local fabricator Millworks Custom Manufacturing (MCM) to CNC-mill 1-square-foot samples to determine which wood type and which bit size would provide the desired effect. Ultimately, they selected mahogany and a 1-inch bit. Their prototypes, however, revealed a problem: warping and shrinking due to wood’s hydroscopic and anisotropic properties. The defects were most palpable at panel joints, where the carved ribbing no longer aligned. To minimize visual disruptions, reduce deflections, and increase the panels’ durability during fabrication, Partisans designed an “S”-seam that allows the panels’ edges to be perpendicular to the carvings.
The designers also used a Grasshopper script to detect intersecting toolpaths and move them to prevent overlap and maintain the fluid sinewy pattern. “We had to create lines that defined the actual, specific position of the drill-bit head,” Josephson says.
Partisans shared its digital models with MCM to ensure
workability, but translating the panels’ complex geometry and scrolling toolpaths
into machine code resulted in errors. MCM worked with Tolland, Conn.–based computer-aided manufacturing software firm CNC Software to write 19 software
patches to resolve the issues. Simulations ensured the errors were resolved
before the 60-plus panels were fabricated.
Still, some of the panels’ extreme curvature made the ribbing impossible to achieve. As a result, Partisans had to revise the geometries in real-time while MCM cut the panels. On three occasions, these adjustments caused misalignments across panels—the trailing lines at one panel edge failed to match those on the adjacent panel. “So we’d have to go back [and] change the entire line in a whole section of the bar,” Partisans co-founder Pooya Baktash says.
Juror Steven Rainville applauded Partisans’ commitment to its design concept. “This project makes the bridge from technology to craft,” he said. “That quality is elusive sometimes. They’ve been able to find it, and that makes it so beautiful.”
Watch this episode of our visit to Partisans.
Project: Bar Raval, Toronto
Size: 1,500 square feet