In summer 2010, PizzaExpress commissioned London design agency Ab Rogers Design (ARD) to transform its Richmond restaurant into a ‘Living Lab’ combining experiential design, advanced developments in restaurant acoustics, and a reenergised approach to display and service. With an innate love of Italy and its inimitable food – not to mention the fond childhood memories of visiting his local branch of PizzaExpress with his Italian grandmother fresh in his mind – Rogers jumped at the chance.
Essential to ARD’s design for this new generation of restaurants is to make the joy of good food and the theatre of pizza-making the main focus, by placing an open kitchen right at the heart of the restaurant. The vibrant drama of the pizzas being stretched, tossed and pummelled into life is encircled by a red ribbon of activity, with seating booths, a bar and a kids’ area flowing around the open kitchen.
In a radical new development put forward by ARD which was inspired by the traditional open food stalls found in Naples – the home of pizza – a new kiosk punches through the restaurant wall, making the display of beautiful, freshly made food central to the overall theatre of the restaurant. Further references to the culture of Naples permeate every inch of the new restaurant, and can even be heard in the toilets, where atmospheric recordings of Neapolitan life are played. Fresh energy is brought to the restaurant’s graphic scheme following a collaboration between ARD and Graphic Thought Facility, and a dynamic new colour palette, signage, uniforms and table settings enliven the environment yet further.
With the aim of creating a perfectly balanced acoustic space where conversation is not just a possibility but a genuine pleasure, Rogers and his team worked with leading acoustician Sergio Luzzi to create bespoke acoustic domes which hang over booths, creating a series of intimate private spaces within a buzzing public place. The domes are fitted with iPod docks, dimmer switches and call buttons, so diners can customise their environment and set their own tone. In addition to the individual booths and acoustic domes, circular acoustic panels hang dramatically from the ceiling, enlivening the space. The acoustic design has been widely commended for successfully reducing unwanted noise by 50%, as highlighted in BBC TWO’s See Hear programme.
The redesign of the space also includes new activity areas for children, borrowing from the museum world with interactive ‘stealth-learning’ video games and a large communal drawing table at which kids can sit and make their own pizzas, helped by the pizzaiolos. Customers are encouraged to provide feedback via comments cards that are displayed in the restaurant. Feedback so far for ARD’s ground-breaking scheme has been overwhelmingly positive, and the most popular elements will be rolled out at PizzaExpress branches nationwide.
Design team: Ab Rogers Design, in collaboration with DA. Studio
Project partners: Branding and graphic design: Graphic Thought Facility
Acoustic consultant: Sergio Luzzi, Vie En.Ro.Se
Mural artist: Enzo Apicella
AV and interactive consultant: Dominic Robson
Lighting consultant: Liminaires
Project management: The Richard Greenwood Partnership
Principle contractor: Atlas