H &pizza: New Kids on the Block

There were numerous reports in the press about the opening of H &pizza. But we failed to recognize them. Shame on us.  But we were destined to discover this place by reviewing the portfolio of our good friend Thaddeus Briner. He is the lead architect at Architecture Outfit which has supplied the designs for Chipotle’s newer restaurants and ShopHouse Asian Kitchen. You can check our extensive interview with him. What we noticed in his portfolio – to our surprise – was his firm oversaw the design of H &pizza. That alone got our attention that this place must be special. And it was! We caught up with Thaddeus who was gracious enough to our questions below.

  1. How did the design process begin? We had worked on a hypothetical space for [the owners] Steve and Michael prior to them finding an actual spot to build. We started out like this so they’d have some imagery to show prospective investors and landlords, so we actually tried to push forward with some design ideas without a space, which was both good and bad. We also tried to get a hold on how much area we thought we’d need going forward. Its good in that it makes you try to get to the spirit of the clients vision, even if it was still a little bit of a moving target – you try to put their business model in the context of others in a conceptual way, rather than a physical way. They were doing a Pizza place, what about Pizza places is fertile ground to dig into architecturally, what are the parts of this kind of, (often abused), iconography that are usable, and more importantly, what can we borrow, distill and twist to make it our own. That said, there is only so much you can ignore about the existing qualities, or shortcomings of a space once you get one. And its interesting how these, perhaps eccentric, particulars will lend to the final look of the first store, (irregardless of the homework we thought we did). Although you thought you’d overlay those more hypothetical ideas you did early on, you end up having to mesh them with whats handed to you to – and this can become the ‘brand’ from here on out that you plan on overlaying on other spaces, that are perhaps completely different. I don’t think its a secret that Steve and Michael want to do more of these, and see H &pizza as a brand.

  1. What look were you aiming for? We try to think how to let the best part(s) of the Room plays a central role to the experience of the space, (whether an unusual scale, found material, special light, etc..or whatever is we find that is free!), and how best to show off what it is the place is all about – food in this case. Generally, its seems our tendency is to minimize the amount of parts and ‘moves’ it takes to do this in a space, which really gets back to a distillation of the big idea. We also try to give another grain or texture to what are usually singular types of spaces, (so a variety of seating types for instance that can offer a different vibe, different lighting level, different amount of activity, etc…). I think what happened here on the first one, and what happened with the first Chipotle and Shophouse, is that you bundle up the ‘stuff’ you need but doesn’t really contribute too much to the Room spatially, (toilets rooms, stair bulkheads, etc…) . then spend a bunch of time in the space to figure out how the ‘design’ you have on paper sympathizes with what you have to build within. In all three of these ‘new’ trade dress exercises, we responded to what was given us, and we changed things as we went along. (This isn’t the most efficient, (or cost-effective way – for us – at least), way to do this, but in the scale of what the clients plan to do, its worth it. For instance, the materials that we ended up with at &pizza were a result of many different circumstances surrounding the decision-making – from how it fit into the iconography of a pizza joint, to cost, to what could be made on site, to delivery time, etc..

  1. How did you go about selecting the materials? So the big black and white hex tiles harken back to the old harlequin floors you used to see, and still do but were from dal-tile and quick and cheap. The black cantilevered lights were made up here in New York, but were an idea to get the light low and intimate. At one point they were going to be adjustable, so, like you can ‘design your own pizza’, you could also manipulate the lights to a degree to change the lighting above you if,  for instance, you wanted to combine tables, etc. It became obvious this was an idea better left on paper, but the reaching lights themselves lend a certain amount of whimsy to an otherwise pretty static space.  We went back-and-forth a lot on whether or not to paint the brick and the structure. In the end, we painted it as it veered it away from the many places that have that “post-probo retro” thing  going on.  I suppose we did fall victim to this in some respect in the use of the tin ceiling, but I think we used it in a more unusual, contemporary way.  And with the paint, you still get the textural quality of the wood and brick, but the white also just bounces light back into the space better, and generally makes it feel a little more fresh. It was Steve,  i think ,  who had the idea of the giant ampersand in front, which is probably one of the nicer things in the place. We designed a lot of furniture and other lighting fixtures that we didn’t use in the end, and tables and benches were just made out of some old rafters we took out during demo. In the end, we had too many lights anyway. The marble back in the kitchen harkens back to old pastry and cheese shops – since they’re making their own mozzarella there, that seemed appropriate. Because Steve and Michael had an interest in anchoring this place in the neighborhood, they dug up some old photos of the site and neighborhood from the city archive that we hung off the queue side of the space – the steel ‘halo’ that rings the room is the armature for the big lights, becomes the picture rail, helps with the menu board, etc… it also makes a higher datum line for the space that doesn’t compete with the ‘seated’ space you have when you sit down to stuff a pizza in your mouth.

Images:  Courtesy of Doug Rashid/AO

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