Historic Military Arsenal Transforms into Kyiv Food Market by Balbek Bureau

The market’s Level 3 space overlooks Level 2, which includes a silver show kitchen where chef’s often teach master classes or host cooking presentations. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.

Across Kiev, hundred-year-old military arsenals have been sitting empty. These buildings are prime examples of industrial architecture with an authentic character that comes from their storied histories. One such building, has been transformed by a local architecture firm to give its interiors a new, social meaning. Slava Balbek—founder and lead architect at Balbek Bureau—formed a collaborative vision with his team that came together in the Kyiv Food Market.

The 2,000-square-meter space brings together some of Kiev’s finest restaurants under one roof to showcase a variety of dishes with only one rule: Menu options cannot cross to reduce competition and satisfy visitors’ taste buds. Inspired by the work of Ukrainian restauranteur Alex Cooper’s Odessa City Food Market, Cooper himself helped Balbek with the development of the Kyiv Food Market.

The exterior of the Kyiv Food Market in building No. 5, once a military arsenal.Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.

A starting point in the spatial planning involved arranging the food stands in a circle along the perimeter, guided by public perception and behavioral psychology. This layout allows for 300 seating places to fit in the center of Level 1, giving diners an opportunity to enjoy the openness of the space in an intimate setting. “High-bar or half-bar counters dominate here, while the tables are mostly of the communal type, with a minimum of 4 seating places,” Balbek says. “There is less distance between [the tables], which encourages communication and creates a greater people flow.”

Each food stand has the same modern and refined design. Counters measure 27 meters long ­– three meters per restaurant – and are tiled in various dark textures that create a distinctive, uniform style. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.

On Level 2, the seating is organized to create a quiet atmosphere around the wine bar, accented with brass shelf frames. A lightweight and airy chandelier compliments the laconic and functional design theme throughout the Kyiv Food Market. Made up of two-sided thin acrylic tubes, light streams towards the tables below. To pay further homage to its history, the original brickwork is left bare “as reminders of the building’s rich past,” according to Balbek.

The communal seating area on Level 2 features lush greenery, offsetting the building’s industrial style. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.

While honoring the building’s original structure has given the Kyiv Food Market a completely unique foundation for its interior design, its antiquated construction provided a few challenges for Balbek. “Based on historical references, decisions were made as to which architectural elements had to be retained, thus preserving as much of original fabric as possible,” he says. For example, the geometry of the façade windows remains in its original appearance, yet challenges arose when modern technological infrastructure ­had to be installed, such as telecommunications and WiFi. The problem was solved by “concealing various engineering solutions from the public view underground,” Balbek says, noting this was one of the project’s biggest obstacles.

One of the two modern, geometric chandeliers illuminating the original brick walls and reinforced windows. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.

The design team also was tasked with enhancing the durability of existing structural elements. On Level 3—the space dedicated to observation with unrivaled views of Arsenalna subway station and the surrounding areas—sunlight streams in through skylights in the roof. Balbek calls this feature a “peculiarity of the building,” having had to dismantle the roof’s lath then restore, repaint, and reinforce it, before completing the reinstallation. “The main bearing structuring of the roof and trusses was preserved in their authentic form,” he says, which is why all the extra work had to be done. And in the end, the work definitely paid off.

The wine bar extends two stories high, serving as a focal point in the space. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.
These wooden banquet tables were made by a contractor from Odessa, with solid ash used in the manufacturing process, while the chairs are from Poland. Half of the chairs and stools are made of wood and the other half are made of metal to emphasize the industrial motif throughout the market. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.
The bathrooms feature modern fixtures and a painted white brick wall. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.
A look inside the market from a window seat. The brickwork was covered with a special finishing developed in collaboration with a conservation expert to accurately reproduce its original shade. Photography courtesy of Balbek Bureau.
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