Finalist 2022

Society Vs Yakimono

Russell & George / LUCAS Restaurants

Suspending disbelief with immersive hospitality - from a decadent Melbourne institution to a retro-futuristic Tokyo streetscape. Society vs Yakimono

Good restaurants are places that take you somewhere. Places where you go on a journey to somewhere you haven’t been; places where you suspend disbelief. They also speak about the fundamental culture of a city. This Project is a tale of two cities. One project, two venues, multiple dining experiences. Spanning over 2000m2, the project is complex, consisting of 12 different dining experiences, 7 kitchens and 6 levels. There are 5 bars and 3 external terraces. It also includes an entirely new building constructed over the podium and designed by the architects. An ambitious project even for pre-pandemic Melbourne.

Design Brief:

The emotional brief for these two restaurants was very simple, the technical brief not so. Society was to define what dining is and means to Melbourne - like restaurants that defined an epoch of a city, such as the Four Seasons in New York City. Yakimono on the other hand, was to be edgy and cool, capturing the energy of the Japanese capital. Where Society was to be quietly elegant and uniquely Melbourne, Yakimono was to be loud, brash and bold. Technically, the project had to combine 12 different dining experiences, and 7 kitchens over 6 levels, with a complicated building services model, seamlessly integrating high end hospitality service with a desire for a very diverse range of hospitality experiences. The added complication was the building was not designed for this level of operation and did not have the vertical space or building services capacity to handle all briefing requirements.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The different approach of each venue is best shown by the respective entrance experiences, adjacent to each other in Benson Lane. Society is subtle, with a low travertine clad entrance portal directing patrons to one of the two lifts whisking you up to the lobby. Yakimono on the other hand is bold and graphic, with loud neon, a giant flashing screen and a comb of colour changing LED ceiling strip lighting directing patrons up into the restaurant via their own instagram moment.

Yakimono is unashamedly bold and non binary in oversized high tops, while Society is more elegant LBD, with or without the years salary worth of jewellery. Solving the technical issues presented by the brief with the consultant team was particularly challenging and required some lateral thinking in coordination. Many of the design features within the venues are actually clever ways to conceal mechanical services which otherwise would not fit in the allocated spaces if regulation ceiling heights or desired interior proportion was to be maintained. Nutting out staff flow, customer journey, delivery movements, waste management, and most importantly, designing spaces that expertly manipulate an emotional response from patrons were all things that had equal importance throughout the design process. Prototyping was also key throughout, to ensure that the levels of comfort, ergonomics and usability were as high as they could be.

Design Excellence

This project is a rare example of a seamless union of interior, urban, architecture and industrial design, all used to create and reinforce the respective personality of each venue. Both restaurants are carefully crafted from the diner’s point of view. Ergonomics, lighting and scale for seated patrons was carefully considered with an emphasis on comfort. In the case of Society, the architects designed tables, chairs, and most light fittings in order to create a completely cohesive environment.

The chandeliers in the main dining room, light fittings over the bar and in the Lilian Terrace, armchairs in the lounge, tables in the main dining, and all fixed items were designed by the architects. Some of these have become products in their own right. The chandelier design in particular works on a number of levels - the wow moment of a 3m diameter fitting draws your eye up into the cavernous room as you enter, giving the feeling of being somewhere special, but also act to reduce the scale when seated, offering a more intimate dining experience. The curved banquettes in the main dining room are carefully scaled in both height and proximity, to offer both the sense of luxury of space, and to encourage interaction with other adjoining tables.

In Yakimono, traditional Japanese bar seating has been given a twist, with tables meeting the bar at 90 degrees, allowing patrons to feel like they are part of the energy of the open kitchen but not seated at a bar. The simple treatment of reflection and dichroic film have created a kaleidoscopic landscape that defies the size of the venue and changes depending on where you are. Acoustics are often overlooked in restaurants - each space here was designed with a slightly different acoustic profile - to enhance the experience in each dining space.

Design Innovation

This project is not style based. You won’t see elements here in other projects, because the approach here is not so much about style, but about creating environments that have a positive impact on the human psyche. It is in this, and in perhaps its more traditional aspect which this project is truly innovative. In the days of the early to mid 20th Century, architects used to do a lot more of a project than they do in our age of specialisation. On this particular site, the architect’s hand is seen in a much broader context, and extends to design disciplines of interior, furniture, urban and architecture.

Each element is carefully considered on how it impacts and affects the people interacting with it. It is perhaps the emotional impact that is most important, where the environment has been crafted with lighting, acoustic treatment, careful selection of materials, and proportion to create a particular atmosphere and mood. The current style trends were not a factor here - it was solely about the experience. Perhaps the most innovative thing here was how this is all effortlessly woven into an incredibly complicated collection of service spaces, circulation and building services.

Design Impact

In the post-pandemic age, creating connection through experience and the reinvigoration of our cities has never been more important. It’s projects like this that are crucial building blocks of that reinvigoration. This project is an excellent example of how a complicated and difficult technical brief can be expertly woven into the urban fabric of Melbourne, and contribute to the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of the city.

The design is not influenced by style or trends, but honed and nuanced to respond directly to the both the urban context, and the difficult technical aspects of the brief. Most importantly, its greatest strength is in how it effortlessly resolves the dialectic challenge of two very different venues, and the more human aspects of the emotional brief.

Great restaurants are experiential. They are places where we go to escape, where even for just one night we can be in a completely different world. In the case of this project, we can be in two different worlds: Old school big city glamour, or new world energy; both sitting side by side and effortlessly existing together. In terms of design disciplines, it is a seamless composition of industrial, interior, urban and architectural design, with the bulk of elements within each restaurant of each discipline completed by the architects, to create seamless, meticulously detailed, and cohesive immersive environments.

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