Knightsbridge, London

The design of Isola is a search to define a new form of ‘classical’ space through the mixing of aesthetics, but without unleashing visual complexity. The aim was to create a timeless classic impression that it had been there for some time, but without seeming connected with any particular style or era.

Side stepping the customary styles of Italian restaurants, it makes its own genre. On both floors there is a strong sense of grand scale and plain detailing associated with urban American corporate office receptions, with power dining in places like the four seasons restaurant in New York. The use of hard agglomerate terrazzo floors, grounds the theme stylistically through some low-key Italian references. Spatially, Isola is literally defined by an island. We retained the original form of the building, but inserted an L-shaped form, which creates the restaurant’s upper level. The upper level appears to float above the street level and over the basement brassiere and bar. This configuration is covered in a piece of parquet laid in a graphic Escher pattern. This powerful feature is an obvious form in itself; it creates the ceiling of the brassiere, wrapping itself around the island and up forming the floor and back wall of the upper level. The effect of the lifted form creates a high ceiling to the lower level and creates a swimming pool effect that is highly visible from the street through the full height 25m long glass frontage. We created the same effect at a smaller scale by setting leather-clad furniture on the upper level over the floor and on a grid.

The design strategy asserts the encounter between a chosen number of strong, plain textures and materials rather than giving prominence to stylistic forms. This works because the basic container is simple and strong in its own right. Everything is based on a 1m grid, sliced up to layout all the furniture and circulation, and to reinforce the sense that the rectangular space is connected as a whole.

The main concern for us was to find the essence of architecture – the way things feel, touch and smell and how one perceives material reality. The architecture of isola is seen as a timeless capsule, a sensitive container for enjoying a perfect meal.