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From Field To Table

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Photos courtesy of Thomas Winz and Matthew Millman, Renderings courtesy of Aidlin Darling Design

Everything but the seed: That’s one way to describe Aidlin Darling Design scope of work in the food and beverage industry. Since teaming up in 1998, partners Joshua Aidlin and David Darling have designed structures for wineries, farms, and even an organic “schoolyard” garden and market for children, as well as bars and restaurants that serve the resulting fare. 

The duo’s dedication to designing site-specific spaces that incorporate sustainable materials and handcrafted, locally sourced products has earned them recognition from an industry that prizes those same qualities, including a James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant design. Here, Aidlin and Darling share their recipe for design that is as nutritious as it is delicious. 

DB: Northern California has long been associated with great wine and more recently with farm-fresh, locally sourced cuisine. How has your location impacted your work?

Joshua Aidlin: We are located within a virtual cornucopia of culinary resources, creativity, and cultural diversity. With some background in hospitality and restaurant design, and with a genuine passion for the notion that food and wine can connect people to place and community, our practice has evolved literally from field to table. 

David Darling: One of our earliest commissions involved the redesign and master planning of the last dry-farmed vineyard in Sonoma County. A few years later, a residential loft project for a chef/ restaurateur led to a wine bar/restaurant. Since those early years, we have always had at least one or more food or wine-related projects in the office and remain active in those communities. 

DB: The designs of your restaurants often reflect the type of cuisine that each restaurant serves. Why is that?

DD: Enjoying a great meal in a restaurant has the potential to be a holistically sensual experience that starts with the food but also includes acoustics, light, space, materiality, and smell. To realize the full potential of any restaurant experience, we feel that the cuisine and the restaurant design should cohesively speak to each other and to the diner. It is about tapping into the ethos of the chef’s or bartender’s creations and creatively complementing their concept.

JA: Before we start designing a restaurant, we sit down with the chef or owner and talk at length about the ideas behind the cuisine, everything springs from the food. From there, we typically are asked to respond to an existing carcass of a building where the new restaurant will eventually reside. ‘Location, location, location’: It’s the second most important entity that catalyzes the design concept, following the food. The successful marriage of cuisine and site makes for a great restaurant. 

DB: Does location also play a role in your winery designs?

JA: It is through a very rigorous immersive process that we begin to uncover the latent spirit of each project. To cite some of the more tangible influences, our design for the Paso Robles Winery exploits the quality of material and light that penetrates some of the old barn structures in the area. At the Scribe Vineyards, the history of the site and the notion of storytelling led to the name on the label. We are treating the site as a palimpsest that reveals and celebrates old and new layers. 

DB: Paso Robles involves the adaptive reuse of a 19th-century winery. What’s your approach to restoration? Does architecture, like wine, get better with age?

DD: Assuming our presence here on earth is expanding, the most responsible thing we can do is to adaptively reuse the buildings we already have, or if we are creating new ones, to design them to last.

I would argue that it’s often the relationship between two epochs or histories that are meaningful. The Guggenheim Museum in New York is a great example. I think a building—old or new, foreground or background—is worth salvaging when it contributes to a sense of place.

DB: All this talk of food has made us hungry. Do you have any good recommendations from your clients?

JA: I would say if you are looking for a good dish or drink, you can’t go wrong with any of our clients. 

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