Tower of Power
A restaurant in one of the world's most famous landmarks for one of the world's most famous chefs—Patrick Jouin pulls off the ultimate.
-- Interior Design, 3/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
As Patrick Jouin is the first to admit, designing a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower is a challenge. First, there's that view. Exactly how do you create decor to rival those sweeping panoramas of Paris? Second, there's the structure's iconic status. “It symbolizes France,” Jouin says. “You immediately feel that your project has to be up to its reputation.” Fortunately, the principal of Agence Patrick Jouin is not easily intimidated.
Perched 380 feet above the city, the tower's center platform has been home to an upscale restaurant, the Jules Verne, since 1983. Previously, the interior was basic matte black, not the happiest of choices for lunchtime dining. Then the Michelin-starred super-chef Alain Ducasse took over the concession and hired Jouin's firm to completely revamp the interior—in a mere 120 days.
Time was not the sole difficulty. There were weight restrictions, too. Once Jouin removed the existing furnishings, he had to place them all on scales. “We couldn't have anything heavier that what had been there,” he explains. Unfortunately, the scheme he had drawn up was overweight. To stay within the limit, he had to resort to demolishing the floor and recasting it in lightweight concrete.
The 5,100-square-foot layout was just as tricky. At the heart of the tower are elevator shafts and old telegraph cables, which can't be touched. “You have a kind of doughnut hole in the middle,” Jouin says. “Not very practical for a restaurant.” The three dining rooms, roughly triangular, occupy perimeter spaces between the tower's legs, leaving one similar area for the kitchen—a minuscule 970 square feet. (Food preparation now takes place in an underground kitchen. The uncooked dishes are then hoisted to the restaurant to be completed.)
Jouin acknowledges without hesitation that re-working the layout was “hell.” His biggest modification involved the space ringing the core. This circulation zone was wide—but otherwise without purpose. “You couldn't seat anybody there, because there's no view,” he says. Staff simply used the area to park cheese trolleys and sundry objects.
Instead, Jouin incorporated one side of the ring into the kitchen. Around the remaining sides, he built a partition that divides the wide U shape into two narrower ones: a service corridor inside a public corridor. The partition is frosted glass sandwiching honeycomb aluminum, so diners can sense the comings and goings of waitstaff behind or, depending on the angle of the sun, enjoy a reflection of the view. In the evening, internal LEDs change the color of the partition from a pale indigo to a deep purple over the course of several hours—and several courses.
Such technological wizardry lies at the very heart of the project. For Jouin, the structure that Gustave Eiffel built for the Exposition Universelle of 1889 remains asymbol of the belief in industrial progress. “Back then, people thought that engineers and scientists could make us happier,” he asserts. That utopian bubble may have burst, but Jouin was keen to honor a national engineering tradition that stretches all the way up to the TGV. Another homage takes the shape of a carbon-fiber chair with a carefully cantilevered form anchored by a sled base that resembles a pair of skis. Devised to slide effortlessly under tables, the design has a deliberately science-fiction aesthetic—a nodding wink to the novels of Jules Verne.
Other design elements reference the Eiffel Tower specifically and Paris as awhole. The predominant color is the samebrown as the paint on the tower's girders, reducing the “contrast between inside and outside,” Jouin explains. Meanwhile, a starry sky is mirrored in the carpet's constellation motif. Parisian boulevards, lit up at night as they pass between darkened buildings, provided his inspiration for the dichroic bulbs installed to shine through the channels between the dining rooms' ceiling panels.
Fine-tuning the lighting proved essential. As Jouin explains, “If it's too bright in the evening, then everything reflects in the windows, so you can't see out.” And of course that famous view, unfolding as far as the eye can see, is one of the main reasons why people go to the Jules Verne in the first place.
The vast majority of them get there by taking a specially reserved elevator. (Only a bold few would walk.) For Jouin, the experience is truly unique. “You embark as if you were going on a voyage,” he says. It may not take you around the world in 80 days like Phileas Fogg, but you'll certainly be whisked to your table in a matter of seconds.