Giving a São Paulo sushi bar a whole new look, Arthur de Mattos Casas proves he's got what it takes
Kimberly Goad -- Interior Design, 2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
The hottest sushi bar in São Paulo, Kosushi started out as anything but. It opened 15 years ago, serving authentic Japanese fare in a traditional if uninspired setting in the Liberdade quarter, aka Little Tokyo. The restaurant became a sentimental favorite among the city's many Japanese expats before moving to the fashionable Itaim district. Then, a victim of its own success, Kosushi outgrew this second location, too. When Arthur de Mattos Casas first met with its owners, they'd secured an undeveloped lot and were looking for more than just a change of address. They wanted a transformation.
In accepting the commission for building and interiors, Casas appeared to have signed on for the impossible. How could he realize his idea of a 21st-century sushi bar without alienating Kosushi's regulars? The answer: very carefully. "Designing a restaurant is the complete opposite of designing a residence," says the Brazilian architect, best known for creating clean, modern spaces with a Zen simplicity. "People want to be entertained when they go to a restaurant. Especially in a city like São Paulo." In other words, a restaurant is cheating its patrons if it fails to provide an exciting backdrop against which to dine.
Kosushi's new site also posed challenges. The building had to be slotted between two residential high-rises that block the light on either side and initially threatened to obstruct one of the owners' primary goals, to increase seating from 65 to 120. Given the lateral limitations, Casas went vertical, creating a double-height atrium for a 2,100-square-foot ground-floor dining room and sushi bar and a 300-square-foot mezzanine. To maintain the coziness expected from an evening at Kosushi, Casas warmed the visually expansive main floor with bamboo plants and a neutral palette subtly punctuated by the orange of Eames-inspired acrylic chairs and the sushi bar itself.
A glazed ceiling over the bar and part of the dining area lets in natural light, and Casas juxtaposed Japanese elements with progressive notions of design. Lorenz Ackermann, a Studio Arthur de Mattos Casas architect who worked on the project, notes the result's "strong personality." Japanese-inspired woodwork contrasts with an inventive concretelike finish on the walls; Japanese tatami mats cover the seats of Western-style banquettes; 16-foot Noguchi-esque paper lanterns are updated by stretch fabric. "Kosushi is very forward in spatial language and conception," Ackermann says. "It's one of the most progressive spaces we've done."