Bar Raval

Site Plan with surrounding context.
Front of the bar
UV scan
UV close-up
Side view of bar
Floor plan drawing
Elevation drawing
Seating area in daylight
Fruit alcove
Wood detail
Wood detail
Held beer tap

Primary Author

  • PARTISANS

Contributing Author

  • Nick Savage (Project Manager at MCM Inc)

Author

  • Grant van Gameren

Photographers

  • Jonathan Friedman, OAA, MRAIC, AIA Intl. Assoc., LEED GA, M.Arch, BES

Objectives

PARTISANS interpreted van Gameren’s directive—"create an art piece” of lasting significance for the city—through two aesthetic lenses: Spanish design and the corporeality of the owners; the three lithe, inked men became our muses. Thus, carefully hewn from what look like unbroken Mobius strips of sinuous mahogany, Raval’s sculptural sentience pays direct homage to tattooed musculature in the context of Art Nouveau tropes reinterpreted for contemporary Toronto. The fluid smoothness of the final product belies the rigorous R&D and interdisciplinary collaborations that were required to achieve the vision. Engravings of this geometrical nature—grooves that diverge and converge without intersecting—had hitherto never been executed on a large scale. PARTISANS pursued formal and material explorations, toggling between hand sketches, digital translations, and prototypes to arrive at the desired pattern. Yet, the biggest challenge was identifying a fabrication technique that would not only permit the development of intricate 3D geometries, but also allow for a rich layer of detail to emerge from the fabrication process itself, revealing those inherently textured qualities of wood that are akin to muscle tissue. Working directly with fabricators and software engineers, we synchronized efforts to rewrite 19 software patches that would override the CNC machinery presets and enable the customization of toolpaths, allowing us to execute sculptural engravings on complex 3D surfaces. In fact, this co-creative partnership unleashed an altogether new milling technique, which earned our studio the 2015 R+D Award. The result: 9km of serpentine engravings on 75 panels of seamlessly aligned wood.

Context

After spending months in northern Spain researching its culinary and cultural traditions, Canadian Chef Grant van Gameren returned primed to introduce Toronto to the pintxo bar, a cornerstone of social and gastronomic culture in Basque Country. He handpicked PARTISANS to execute an ambitious vision: “create an art piece” that would become an enduring culinary and civic institution. We worked closely with van Gameren, propelled by an earnest and unwavering question: How could we reimagine Spanish Art Nouveau for the 21st-century North American city? Charged with a formidable task, the team set to work on transforming the rundown commercial space in a beloved neighbourhood into a sentient architectural sculpture. The bar would be a stand-up-only ecology in which bodies, gazes, food, and drink would circulate and collide in intimate and unpredictable ways. Inspired by Gaudi, PARTISANS sought to invent an architectural language that drew inspiration from nature, human form, and organic geometries; however, our chief goal was to create the conditions for enhanced interpersonal connection and delight in an increasingly alienated urban landscape. Importantly, Raval was an opportunity to mobilize our studio’s appetite for R&D in the service of reinterpreting Art Nouveau tropes and craftsmanship. We used advanced digital methods to bring an old-world sensibility to a new-world metropolis that values community, art, and authenticity. A detailed digital model of the space enabled the team to design complexly milled prefabricated wood panels that could be inserted directly into the building’s existing 80-year-old fabric with minimal disruption and maximal precision.

Performance

Bar Raval’s soft curves foster intimacy, fluidity, and community. A series of 3D “tattooed limbs” enfold patrons in a warm mahogany embrace, and their rippling surfaces encourage patrons to lean into and become part of the woodwork. If the objective was to bring Spanish pintxo culture to Toronto, Raval not only honours that promise, but also demonstrates how even a small and unusual space can become a rallying point for—and offer reprieve from—a big and lumbering city. Cited by Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic as one of the seven best city-building projects of 2015, Raval testifies to how sophisticated yet playful design by architects familiar with their city’s neighbourhoods can play a legitimate role in enhancing civic experience. While Raval introduces a new cuisine to Toronto, its other objective was to elevate mixology to the heights of a culinary art. PARTISANS was challenged to re-evaluate the functional aspects of the classic bar and reimagine it as a stage for performance, interaction, and awe. Each workstation and vantage point was optimized for efficiency, and every back-of-bar detail was personalized, down to the custom-made drip trays and brass beer pulls, which we enlisted the owners to mould in clay with their own hands. Like any flourishing ecology, Raval thrives on diversity, drawing patrons from different corners of the city and the world. Local and international visitors continue to brave daily line-ups to experience a space they say makes them feel as though they’ve exited the everyday and entered the otherworldly.

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Site Plan with surrounding context.