Chris Bosse is the Founding Director of Laboratory for Visionary Architecture and Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. Educated in Germany and Switzerland, he worked with several high-profile European architects before moving to Sydney.
Since working at LAVA, Bosse and his team has delivered many award-winning projects, all which follow LAVA’s signature style which sees technology and the environment drive honest and human-centric built outcomes. His latest project, Olio Restaurant in Sydney was a rare hospitality venture for Bosse, so we caught up with him to discuss how it went down.
Nathan Johnson: Please explain LAVA’s design philosophy and how technology complements your team's commitment to sustainable design.
Chris Bosse: We believe that nature holds all the answers. Think of a tree that filters the air, filters water, produces oxygen, and is self-generating. It carries leaves and fruit, a multiple of its own structural weight. Think of a coral reef where thousands of species thrive in coexistence of each other and the elements, air, water and sun.
Computation allows us to simulate natural behaviour such as growth and adaptation of species. It is often misunderstood as superficial mimicry, but the potential is in understanding the principles behind nature, not only the appearance. Naturally evolving systems, such as bubbles, spider webs and corals, create new building typologies and structures. The geometries in nature create both efficiency and beauty.
We strive to build sustainable structures using the very same energy that is abundant in nature. Our work combines digital workflow, nature’s principles and the latest digital fabrication technologies to achieve more with less: more (architecture) with less (material/ energy/time/cost).
Technology has transformed the way we think about space, and the way we create it. It is the vehicle that allows architects and designers to redefine, or re-negotiate, the way we live our day-to-day lives – the spaces we inhabit, and more precisely, how we experience them.
NJ: In some ways, hospitality design could be considered the least conservative of the fields. Do you agree?
CB: Every project is different and we think differently about every project according to its size, purpose, location, history and context. Generally, we try to understand what the project needs from a functional perspective and try to merge that with a vision of what this project could become. This could be a metaphor, an image, or a text, that describes the quality that we wish to capture in the project.
Restaurants are not built for eternity. They, more than anything else, capture the times, the fashion, the zeitgeist. A restaurant may only be there for a number of years or it may become a classic and become an institution.
This fact gives you a certain degree of freedom as an architect to experiment. More than anything clients want to stand out rather than blend in. And the investment is considerably less than a building or a city block. Interestingly some of the greatest careers in architecture and design started in hospitality design.
We recently designed Olio Restaurant, located in the 19th c Old Rum Store in the revitalised Kensington Street Chippendale precinct in inner Sydney. The brief was to create a dining space for Sicilian-born award-winning chef Lino Sauro to bring his cuisine, based on traditional recipes from his family, newly interpreted, to Sydney. The design needed to reflect his cuisine, which has very few ingredients with each ingredient visible and detectable.
Photography by Brett Boardman
The concept was to use Sicily’s passeggiata and extra virgin green olive oil as the two connecting elements that bring the space inside the space together. A mix of tradition and innovation.
Spatial planning included a passeggiata, created using Sicilian tiles, that flows through the restaurant and connects the kitchen, bar, dining and rooftop areas. This circulation system subdivides the space, separating serving spaces and served spaces. This is also expressed in the ceiling where a layered green ribbon reflects the floor layout.
These new elements were overlaid onto the fantastic bones of the old rum store – exposed brick walls, timber rafters, steel structure, rustic timber doors, steel windows. The original elements were cleaned up and showcased as existing.
Photography by Brett Boardman
Two pieces of ‘furniture’ were introduced: free flowing joinery elements for kitchen and bar. Soft, dripping, LED-lit lines on the joinery interpret the idea of flowing oil. Lighting design includes bendable LED strips that line the joinery and ceiling, and dimmable spotlights that create atmospheric lighting above the tables.
The organic curves and fluid geometry capture the beauty of Sicily and brings Sicily’s signature elements to the restaurant experience, reflecting the unique cuisine of the chef.
"Restaurants aren’t built for eternity… They, more than anything else, capture the times, the fashion, the zeitgeist." Chris Bosse.
My favourite restaurant in Berlin is Sale e Tabacchi by Max Dudler. It was designed just before my internship in his office. Max treated the interior like a city, the circulation space like a street and the different areas like buildings and plazas. Max also designed all the furniture the tables and chairs and they all became classic. It is a great achievement if people enjoy a space and like to gather.
Olio does the same although the language is completely different.
Image: Max Dudler
NJ: What about material procurement? When are materials considered in the design process for LAVA and how do you stay on top of what’s available and capable?
CB: Often restaurant designs have a very quick turnaround and limited budget. I am extremely proud that we could source original materials and furniture for Olio Restaurant. When the project manager considered buying cheap plastic chairs, I responded, ‘why not sell cheap plastic food then’?
Olio is all about a few ingredients that are legible powerful raw and pure. We designed the space in the same way. The space and the material are for real. The chairs are original bent plywood chairs, comfortable design icons.
NJ: Do you feel constrained or liberated by the current crop of building materials?
CB: We have been using a lot of recyclable, ecofriendly plywood, in our recent projects – Olio restaurant, ‘Out of Hand’ Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, Russ the Bus and Tivoli Terrace.
Our nature-inspired concepts also mean curved lines, but innovative, integrated design and construction methods facilitate an efficient timeframe from concept to completion within a lean budget.
For example for the Sydney Airport duty free section for Heinemann (pictured below) our concept was Sydney harbour. The rich and varied hues of the variegated layers of sandstone are reflected in the colours of the birch veneer we used for the ten retail stands. The wide range of colours meant that multiple birch species in varying colours could be picked while still retaining the same distinct grain of wood. The clever layering of different types and finishes of timber veneer to achieve the aesthetic of sandstone layers is innovative, cost effective and was locally sourced and manufactured.
We love new materials, with new properties and new characteristic and endless possibilities. On the other hand there’s something amazing about restarting the material palette and condensing it to a minimum.
NJ: What are some building materials that have caught your eye lately? Are there that LAVA has been experimenting with?
CB: We love natural materials such as stone and timber and bamboo, but we also like when they are touched and modified by humankind, think of engineered bamboo, carbon fibres, and all sorts of composites.
We also love concrete and its versatility. If you mix concrete with add ons and if you use alternative formworks such as timber, bamboo or fabric you get surprising results. I am a big fan of membranes and am awaiting the launch of solar membranes that can be more reactive to light temperature and sun.