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Raw materials and unique geometry shine in this Brutalist restaurant

Conceived as a ‘vestige of the past’, Zooco Estudio’s latest project contrasts the stark beauty of concrete paraboloids with soft, nautical accents.


2 min read

Photography: David Zarzoso

On the second floor of the Cantabrian Maritime Museum in Santander sits a pared-back yet visually arresting restaurant, the work of Madrid-based designers Zooco Estudio. Built between 1975 and 1978 as part of an architectural complex with the Oceanographic Center, the original museum building was comprised of two square bodies connected by a concrete canopy, which once supported the museum’s outdoor terrace.

However, renovations unearthed the true extent of these concrete paraboloids, exposing an impactful, brutalist aesthetic. Opting to celebrate these structural features rather than conceal them, the studio stripped away any remaining paints or coatings and introduced four more identical concrete pyramids, creating better symmetry within the now square dimensions of the space.

Alongside serene sea views provided by floor-to-ceiling windows – which overlook the terrace and surrounding bay – slatted wooden panels break up the exposed ceiling, offering a nod to the region’s rich nautical history. A further homage to Santander’s seafaring past is the curved wooden booths and shelving, evocative of a ship’s bow, complete with cross-shaped, inbuilt light fittings reminiscent of traditional sailing masts. These oak elements not only soften the clean lines and bold geometry of the space, warming up an otherwise cool palette, but they also act as a false ceiling that houses practical elements like air conditioning, lighting and heating units.

By placing the site’s unique geometry at the centre of the design concept, the raw structural foundations of the building are treated as their own artistic element, reflected by grey porcelain tiled floors and furniture with industrial steel components. Considering the practical limitations of such a space, the studio accommodates the low arched ceilings with features like bench seating wrapped around the entire contour of each arch. Alongside a warm glow provided by orb-like bulbs on the mast-inspired light fittings, Zooco also made sure to brighten the space – which has the potential to feel somewhat dark and cellar-like – with plenty of natural light. Filtering sunlight through sheer curtains across full-length windows, the space fosters the quiet sensation of being at sea.

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