• Richard Davignon


Updated: Aug 23, 2019

In a recent blog post “The Parti and the Bicycle” I shared one of my favorite things about being the principal of an architecture firm – namely figuring out how we work as a studio to create designs with lasting power. I’ve always believed that if your work is done well, that it serves a greater purpose – to show you something that you weren’t aware of. In that blog, I introduced the concept of “le parti;” in this post I will share how “le parti” influenced the design of one of our most recent hospitality projects where the challenge of designing in a small space created an inspiring opportunity.

Block Kitchen + Bar is a restaurant in Banff. It’s a small space, 650 sq. ft., which in a previous life was a juice-bar. The space was essentially a square box, with the entrance in the middle that opened directly off of Caribou Street. Initially, the discussion revolved around how to accommodate a traditional restaurant-bar layout with the bar itself as the central divisive element often seen in small food retail spaces. A standard concept for a confectionary type outlet but this would not allow the necessary seating capacity for the restaurant needs.

(The Before Photos – courtesy Davignon Martin Architecture + Interior Design)

We asked ourselves how we might create an inspiring and functional space that served both the business and design goals. What ended up happening was really interesting and important to our design.

When doing our research we found the best small interior spaces had furnishings and design elements with more than one personality, more than one function. Traditional Japanese homes are a good example of this. Many contain Tansu stairs, or step chests. There’s the staircase, and then there are the drawers built into the staircase. So you can use it as a stair but also as a wardrobe. These dual purpose elements, or things that have more than one function, became the parti to this project.

In the spirit of the Tansu stair we designed a shell armature (a framework of sorts – as in the supports used by a sculptor when creating a model) that could be used to do multiple things. This armature is a wood structure that wraps around the space from one side to the other: it goes up one wall, goes across, and down the other wall. On the ceiling the armature becomes a place to organize ducts and lighting. On the wall between the armature spaces span shelves that are used to mount TVs. You can mount speakers. Behind the bar, the spanned shelves hold bottles and provide a resting support for the bar. Behind the seat it makes a place to put purses and your stuff. Then when it goes down to the floor the armature folds and it holds the seat. What’s additionally interesting is the armature spacing is not the same but varies as it echoes along the wall. It depends on where in the space it is. So at the front the spacing is proportionally wide but as it moves towards the bar it gets narrower, increasing its ability to become a shelf and pick up more loads. Again, it’s like the Tansu staircase with the drawers. At the bottom of the staircase, the drawer is really small. The drawers get taller and narrower as you go up. The form follows the function. How it’s used and its purpose all depends where the armature is, and what’s going on in that area.

So the room’s entire parti is this architectural element that does multiple things. Once we had that, we pushed all the programmable stuff to the edges of the space, leaving the middle available. The bar was put in the corner, and around the bar we put the seating. Behind the bar the armature becomes a liquor cabinet and supports the countertop at a certain height. When there’s seating it becomes storage, it becomes benches, on the ceiling it holds lighting. That’s it. That’s the parti.

This design worked well for Block. And in a 650 sq. foot space we managed to design a restaurant that has a bar plus 25 seats, a kitchen, and 2 washrooms. When you’re doing something in Banff you’re looking for a more layered construction, you’re looking to expose things – that’s the structure. It’s important to note that this was the appropriate thing to do with the scale of the interior. If the space was twice the size you would lose the idea. The parti would suffer, it just wouldn’t work as the armature would be too large to relate back to itself. In design there is always the point where the tension that exists between things doesn’t work anymore. They don’t work because the scale isn’t enough or the scale is too big. You have to be able to gauge intuitively when it starts working and when it stops working. Everything creates a reaction. In summary, a very rewarding and successful project for all stakeholders where-in the challenge of designing in a small space created an inspiring opportunity.

(The After Photos – courtesy Ric Kokotovich and Dael Wasylenka)

– Richard Davignon – Senior Architect & Principal

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