To answer the enigma above – you’ve gone to a restaurant. Freshly opened this year in January, Enigma in Barcelona, Spain, is the fifth restaurant Albert Adrià has opened in the last five years. True to its puzzling name, it serves a lot of “mysterious” food presented as 40-course meals (yes 40), with a lot of it served frozen, and with each dining experience lasting over three hours, maybe more! It’s all very hush-hush. No one ever gets to see the menu – it is never published to preserve its secrecy – you just book your reservation, punch in your given code at the door and leave it all to faith to discover the cryptic feast before you.
And what a surprise you will get! You don’t sit at one table, you are led from room to room to taste each covert course. There are seven rooms in all, and each one bears a theme where the food is inspired by the theme. But of course the dishes are served in silence – staff don’t speak, gastronomy transcends speech – so you just have to anticipate, discover, imagine, and revel in the fun of being surprised at every mouthful. These are enigmatic dishes, my dears. They are never revealed until the Big Reveal, in front of you. That’s the fun in the deliciously devilish concept of Enigma.
Back to talking about the man behind this baffling brainchild – Albert Adrià, he is of course the famous Catalan chef and younger brother of Ferran Adria who started the now-closed El Bulli (another controversial and experimental restaurant that gained Ferran and his restaurant worldwide fame as one of the best chefs and restaurants ever to emerge from Spain. (Ferran created “molecular gastronomy” by the way, which El Bulli was quizzically famous for). When Albert came of age and out of the pastry kitchen of his brother’s El Bulli, he started opening his own memorable restaurants as well. Enigma is the latest.
But enough about food and chefs. This story is about the riddle of Enigma in its Design Concept. And it all started with Albert Adrià’s vision to create an “out of this world and enigmatic” restaurant project that was to reflect his cuisine as well as his career.
“Between materiality and conformation, a whole series of organic movements are created. Shadows, transparencies, and a watery presence, nebular.” – RCR Arquitectes
His vision took shape when 2017 Pritzker Prize winners RCR Arquitectes drew their design idea in watercolours and decided to bring it to life with the help of Neolith® – a lightweight high tech building material – developed by TheSize, the manufacturer and designer of Sintered Stone (another building material using natural minerals that’s been kiln-fired and pressured to produce non-porosity).
Through an incredibly creative and close collaboration, between the chef, the architect, as well as Neolith’s expertise and technical know-how, the enchanting, out of this world interior of Enigma was created.
A Perfect Outcome for a Passion Project
Having worked on the design proposal for three years, Adrià wanted to ensure the perfect outcome for his passion project. The chef wanted to create and immersive environment to captivate his guests. The chef’s style of cooking and menu is heavily influenced by the surroundings, hence, the interior had to reflect that.
From Watercolour Painting to Real Thing
The pivotal moment in terms of design came when RCR in collaboration with architect Pau Llimona drew a watercolour painting in the size of two A3 papers, which was to be applied to the floors, walls, bathrooms, kitchen worktops, cabinetry and air extraction systems. However, a watercolour design has not been done on Sintered Stone before, thus posing an unprecedented challenge.
Carlos Garcia, Product Designer at TheSize explains: “We had to expand the original design, all the while trying not to lose the quality of definition offered by the original drawing. Each pixel was equal to two meters of final floor.” Through R&D, Neolith developed the technology to re-create the design onto slabs, producing a perfect replica of the drawing.
Once this was achieved, an exact colour match had to be sourced, as the required green and blue tones are unusual hues for sintered surfaces. The intensity of the colours had to fit in with the other materials and decorations throughout the restaurant as to achieve a unified environment, fully submerging diners. Using Neolith’s proprietary digital printing decoration technology NDD (Neolith Digital Design), the architect’s design brief was fully met.
The architects wanted every slab to be of irregular texture like Neolith’s Riverwashed, but with a subtle shine to provide a surface that is multisensory – interesting to the eye and inviting to touch. “Neolith is a contemporary material with many properties. We have been so surprised by its possibilities that we are now using it for other projects”, RCR explained.
From Ceiling to Floor
The floor presented the biggest challenge because of its sheer size. Each slab is unique and had to be perfectly put together in order to deliver a continuous design. However, the only way to get a full picture of the puzzle required some creative problem-solving and a change of perspective. Neolith initially installed the entire floor off-site and used a drone to take images from above, thus ensuring that there were no inconsistencies.
RCR Arquitectes/P. Llimona designed an organic space full of curves and narrow aisles and required the slabs to be cut down into six smaller pieces, the smallest being only 3 cm wide. Absolute precision was key to guarantee the uniformity of the watercolour design.
“We like the idea that it is an Enigma, which is difficult to explain. It is an enveloping space that melts, disappears, almost a labyrinth.” – RCR Arquitectes
Taking inspiration from a map, a coordinate system was put into place, uniquely labelling every single slab to know its exact position in the project. This way, the installers on location were able to piece the interior together like a puzzle.
And at the End of it all: Enigma
In the final analysis, the creation that Albert Adrià, RCR Arquitectes and Neolith is a project that is truly spectacular in terms of design, material quality, food, and surprisingly, fashion too.
No details were left to the wind. Completing the scene is the Enigma staff, whose uniforms have also been designed by RCR/P. Llimona.
Enigma truly is full of surprises the architects say: “We like the idea that it is an Enigma, which is difficult to explain. It is an enveloping space that melts, disappears, almost a labyrinth. Between materiality and conformation, a whole series of organic movements are created. Shadows, transparencies, and a watery presence, nebular.”