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The London practice has created interiors and furniture with a distinct personality for the latest Max & Benito in Vienna.
The casual dining group latest Max & Benito occupies a piece of Vienna’s newly developed Austria Campus – a financial and tech hub comparable to Canary Wharf or Wall Street – that sits beside the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Studio Alt Shift were tasked with taking an empty shell of a space and filling it with stories – turning it into an inviting and idiosyncratic space to hang out for the area’s office workers and students, and creating a space which felt like ‘a slice of weekend squeezed into the middle of the working day.’
To connect the free-and-easy ethos of Max & Benito with the Californian-style Mexican cuisine it celebrates, Studio Alt Shift developed a narrative built on the concept of a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, and the memories and souvenirs picked up along the way: surfing and tacos, sunshine and greenery, beaches and diners, and the freedom of the open road.
Using a combination of found and designed elements, the studio has created a space that appears to have been put together by a person, rather than a design team with a set of brand guidelines. Unexpected and fun items appear throughout the space, including two hand crafted wooden fished named (naturally) Max and Benito.
‘The found objects work very hard in the space – they reinforce the idea that a person chose and selected them,’ says Shai Akram, co-founder of Studio Alt Shift. ‘Most are one-offs or samples from the making of the space. We collected a lot of the items on a recent trip we took to Morocco – we really wanted to evoke the feeling of travel where you collect curiosities and memories along the way – a lot of the imagery on the walls come from our own journeys.’
As is typical with Studio Alt Shift Projects, a significant amount of the furniture and decorative features were crafted specifically for the project. Shai and Andrew carved a series of sculptural fish by hand in their London workshop, constructed a huge and colourful abstract mobile for the restaurant ceiling, and developed a highly textural terrazzo-style flooring pattern using offcuts of natural stone.
For the tables, Studio Alt Shift wanted to evoke the surf culture of California without the impracticality of ‘eating off a surfboard’, so they turned to master board shaper Bill Attlee. Working with the studio’s colour ways, Attlee took foam (the same material used to make surfboards), shaped it into the dimensions specified by Studio Alt Shift, and then employed the process of ‘glassing’ – a board-finishing technique in which multiple layers of resin are applied to create a beautifully deep and intense shade, while ensuring the surface will be robust and hard-wearing.
Studio Alt Shift’s design incorporates a range of other sensory realms, notably sound and touch. Varied textures are created by a material palette of warm woods, wicker, cane, rattan and soft-touch Forbo laminate – a tactile alternative to the gloss of Formica. This material palette has partly been selected to optimise the acoustics of the space, muting the clank of cutlery without deadening the hum and buzz of sociable conversation.
The designed/found duality is echoed in the layout of the space itself, which combines a fixed interior landscape with flexible elements that allow the restaurant to accommodate groups of different sizes and adapt to host different functions. Although the design was developed before the coronavirus pandemic, this adaptability also facilitates the application of social-distancing measures in the wake of Covid-19.
“The challenge of the layout was to get the space to feel connected, inviting and personal but still optimised to the needs of the business, says Andrew. ‘We worked for a long time on finding a way to make the space feel like a beachside diner in the middle of a Californian highway adventure, somewhere that had organically grown over time. We knew it couldn’t feel like a copy-paste canteen – it had to feel like you were entering a person’s memories.’
Studio Alt Shift has also carefully considered every stage of the diner’s journey, and ensured that flow within the space operates effortlessly, from entry, ordering and food collection to clearing tables and departure. The studio’s attention to detail extends even to the smallest elements of the experience – right down to the folded- aluminium condiment trays on the tables.
Studio Alt Shift is a London-based practice founded in 2006 by Shai Akram and Andrew Haythornthwaite.
Photography by Lucas Hardonk
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