This article is part of a series that that tells the story of how Source — Architizer’s new marketplace for building products — helps architects create brilliant buildings. HEAD THIS WAY For more information on the platform.
Very occasionally, a unique program can drive the design of every architectural element in a building, from the form of an entire facade to the shape of a single door handle. One such project is taking shape in the heart of Manhattan courtesy of local firm VAMOS Architects, and has involved a particularly rigorous approach not only to design at every scale, but also to material specifications for key elements throughout the space.
Located on Lafayette Street within New York City’s stylish NoHo district, Honeybrains Café is a new type of dining space dedicated to “brain food,” nutritional cuisine that is scientifically formulated to benefit both mind and body. This culinary niche made for an unusually specific design brief, developed through a wide variety of consultations with specialists and consumer-based research. As a result, VAMOS was tasked with designing a bespoke café with an exceptional attention to detail.
For VAMOS, this challenge was aided by utilizing Source — Architizer’s new marketplace for building products — throughout the specifying process. Architizer sat down with architect Karen Marx to talk about the evolution of VAMOS Architects, the realization of Honeybrains and how Source is helping them to bring bespoke projects to fruition in New York City.
Paul Keskeys: How did it all start for VAMOS? What’s your studio like, and how does the team work together?
Karen Marx: VAMOS Architects is a small design-driven architectural practice led by Silvia Fuster and Evan Bennett. The firm was founded in 2007 and is currently working on a range of cultural, mixed-use, residential and community planning projects in New York City, Detroit and Barcelona. VAMOS offers an international perspective to its diverse clients and provides broad practical experience for complex teams and projects.
The firm’s work has been predicated upon a thoughtful and inclusive view of culture and community life. In addition to more traditional commercial and residential design work, the VAMOS portfolio also includes complex projects focused on community building, health-driven master-planning, urban activation projects and development of a range of retail and small-business prototype concepts.
The VAMOS studio is in a commercial storefront and the open space fosters a collaborative and open work environment. A unique feature of the VAMOS working process involves the use of physical models to describe design concepts. Through the tactile use of materials and the iterative process of model-making, the VAMOS team tests ideas and shapes the designs for our clients.
VAMOS Architects built exploratory scale models to test ideas for Honeybrains …
… which were developed into high-quality visuals for presentation to clients; images courtesy of VAMOS Architects.
I understand that Honeybrains is a new café selling “brain food”! How did you approach a project for such a unique client?
The Honeybrains project is a “brain-health” café concept we've developed with a client over the past 18 months. We began by designing a prototype rollout concept for the cafe, and have subsequently been working to adapt the concept to build the first space.
The Honeybrains team has assembled a multidisciplinary team of neurologists and health professionals, retail and food experts and financial backers to create this fast-casual café concept focused on brain health and healthy lifestyles. They describe the concept as a kind of public health initiative “disguised” as a café — they see the space as a platform to communicate the importance of brain health to a wide audience in a simple, familiar environment.
Our design team welcomes assignments with complex design briefs and was eager to address the specific program and environmental needs of this client and project. The design considers the broad multisensory needs of the space — not simply the “look” of the visual design. We consulted with acoustic and lighting specialists to “tune” the environment toward beneficial sound and light levels throughout the day, and we designed the space to maximize daylighting and accessibility for all.
The café will prepare and serve fresh healthy food, host brain-health events and information, sell technology products and software and will feature a honey bar that will showcase innovative uses for honey as an alternate to sugar. The design of the space includes an open kitchen, a backlit honey wall, a VAMOS-designed custom acoustical ceiling installation and health-driven circadian lighting system.
Material samples for Honeybrains; image courtesy of VAMOS Architects …
… And a mockup of the honeycomb-shaped illuminated ceiling panels, a key design element; images courtesy of VAMOS Architects
In your view, what are the greatest challenges of the specifying process for small firms?
The greatest specifying challenge for our firm is to ensure that the products specified meet our client’s timeline and budget expectations. A second challenge is that the construction team and client adhere to the specified products and the procurement process with the vendors.
Finally, we expect that products that we specify will be warranted and backed by the vendor and that they can provide good installation guidance and maintenance advice to the client. When we specify a good product that performs well and satisfies the project goals and client, it reflects well on our firm.
How did you use Source, and in what ways did it help you bring the project to fruition?
We worked with Architizer’s Source team to broaden our material palette for the project and to connect us to specialty and local vendors we might otherwise not be able to readily identify. The Source team was especially helpful in providing material research, tile and glass options and shared broad access to their searchable digital material database. Through the Source website, we discovered vendors who, beyond Honeybrains, have provided materials and products for other current VAMOS projects.
What has the reaction to the project been like?
So far, the reaction to the proposed design has been overwhelmingly positive both from the client and others, though people are often curious how a café can promote brain health. In itself, we feel this is a great response. It stimulates people’s curiosity and we hope will bring them to discover more about the project and the Honeybrains brand.
Image courtesy of VAMOS Architects
What potential do you think Source has in helping you specifying larger, more complex projects in the future?
Source has helped VAMOS expand our materials library, allowing us to reach out to a wider range of contacts and vendors. With its curated selection of materials and resources, we expect that Source will be helpful in connecting our design team with new material solutions for both large and small projects. For smaller projects, Source allows for a broader creative exploration of materials within the design process while targeting specific budgets and timelines.
For larger projects, we hope that Source can continue to provide our team access to small, nimble companies and vendors who can benefit from access to the increased scale of material orders and contracts. While smaller projects may provide more opportunity for material experimentation, larger VAMOS projects will benefit from Source’s ability to provide strong trust relationships with vendors who are capable of filling larger material orders on time and on budget.
Construction on the first part of Honeybrains will be complete and the space will open for business in early November 2016. Want to get your firm using Source? Sign up for free.