Cheese in the Big Apple - Design Bureau

Cheese in the Big Apple

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

by Jorge Arias
photos courtesy Arias Architecture & Martin Badie

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a Seattle-based company, opened its first location in Manhattan this summer. This cheese fabrication factory / restaurant is located on the corner of Broadway and East 20th Street in the Flatiron District, and occupies the first floor, mezzanine, and cellar of a Landmark Building originally designed by McKim, Mead and White.

The design and construction of this space and its complex functions constituted a collective and cross-disciplinary effort involving several professionals from across the country. The architectural design and construction administration were coordinated by two offices: Arias Architecture from New York and Chin-Ley/Reche Associates from Seattle.  

The first floor contains the cheese fabrication area, which is visible through a large storefront along East 20th Street. Inside, this space is closed off by glass partitions designed to control the air quality, humidity content, and temperature for optimal cheese fabrication conditions. Also on the first floor is the retail space, which houses a 500-gallon stainless steel milk tank. On a daily basis all this milk is processed into cheese in front of the customer’s eyes so they can learn about the whole science of cheese making and also taste free samples of fresh curds as they are fabricated. Similarly, in the cellar, one of the cheese aging rooms is displayed for restaurant customers. 

The cellar space also houses state-of-the-art mechanical installations, including a cheese waste and drainage treatment plant, a steam generation plant, and several refrigerated rooms. 

In terms of materials and finishes, the space was conceived using raw, aged, and industrial materials to emphasize the cheese making process versus the finished product. Salvaged woods, concrete surfaces allowed to crack, exposed steel structural members, and exposed brick surfaces define this character throughout the store. This character is especially accentuated at the cellar, a space directly associated with cheese aging and fabrication. The selection of furniture and light fixtures also followed this concept.

The exercise of emphasizing and displaying the production process versus the final product has provided not only an effective strategy to assure the highest quality and freshness of the cheese fabrication, but also a great opportunity to explore and develop a very distinctive sense of aesthetics for the architectural space.

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