Neolith has helped turn an architect’s watercolour drawing into an impressive reality

The story of ENIGMA started with renowned Catalan Chef Albert Adrià’s vision to create a ‘frozen and enigmatic’ restaurant project that was to reflect his cuisine as well as his career. His vision took shape when 2017 Pritzker Prize winner, RCR Arquitectes, drew its design idea in watercolours and decided to bring it to life with the help of Neolith by TheSize, manufacturer and designer of sintered stone.

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hrough an incredibly creative and close collaboration, as well as Neolith’s expertise and technical know-how, the enchanting, out-of-this-world interior of ENIGMA was created.

Having worked on the design proposal for three years, Adrià wanted to ensure the perfect outcome for his passionate project. Well-known for his experimental cuisine and surprising menus, the chef wanted to create an 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. “The type of cuisine we make is determined by space. If we were, for example, surrounded by nature, we would cook entirely different dishes,” he explains.

From paper to slab

The pivotal moment in terms of design came when RCR in collaboration with Architect, Pau Llimona, drew a watercolour painting 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 2m 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 architect wanted every slab to be of an 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,” a spokesperson for RCR explains.

Installation

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 and 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 3cm wide. Absolute precision was key to guarantee the uniformity of the watercolour design.

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.

This is ENIGMA

Albert Adrià, RCR Arquitectes and Neolith are all award winners within their respective industries. Together they created a project that is truly spectacular in terms of design, material quality, food and, surprisingly, fashion. Completing the scene is the ENIGMA staff, whose uniforms have also been designed by RCR and 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 and disappears; almost a labyrinth. Between materiality and conformation, a whole series of organic movements is created. Shadows, transparencies and a watery presence; nebular.”

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