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Koichi Takada's think piece on plant-based architecture in Indesign Magazine #85.

Many years ago, I was in Los Angeles when I spotted a project that had won an architectural prize. Unlike most of the prize winners, this project stood out to me because it was not a completed building at all, but a ruin. The architect had cast his project 100 or 1000 years into the future and his concept was strong enough that, even as a ruin, it resonated as an undeniably beautiful piece of architecture.

Paperbark, Lexus Pavilion by Koichi Takada Architects. Photograph Sharyn Cairns.
A restaurant is the perfect forum to experiment with a more circular, zerocarbon design process. It presents in a smaller, more relatable scale that can then be applied to a much larger agenda.

As architects and designers, we are not ignorant of this and yet, we remain complicit. The best of us consider the sustainability of our buildings in operation, but that is only part of the equation. More energy is expended during the production of materials than at any other point during a project’s life cycle. It is no longer acceptable for us to be unaware or uncaring about the impact of building our buildings. Nor can we turn a blind eye to what happens to our projects when their lifespans inevitably come to an end.

While researching, I came across Silo, a London restaurant designed by studio Nina+Co and fitted out with sustainable materials that could biodegrade or be disassembled for repurposing in the future. It reminded me of one of my own projects from 2019, a 191-square-metre zero waste pop-up restaurant on the top level of the Lexus Design Pavilion. Dubbed Paperbark, it was one of our smallest projects, both in scale and budget, and featured a ceiling adorned with over a kilometre of repurposed biodegradable fabric that curved and enveloped guests. While simple in geometry, the façade was an example of the sustainable framework that should underpin all hospitality design. After the event, Paperbark was donated to local universities, but it could have just as easily been recycled or composted.

A restaurant is the perfect forum to experiment with a more circular, zerocarbon design process. It presents in a smaller, more relatable scale that can then be applied to a much larger agenda. It’s also the sector that requires the most immediate attention. A 2006 Centre for Design report estimates the lifespan of restaurants and shop interiors to be five to 10 years. Wouldn’t it be nice if all those tables and chairs, those ceiling and wall panels, floorboards and interior finishes were made of plant-based materials? Yes, but wouldn’t it be even nicer if they could be saved from the landfill all together?


Read full article in Indesign vol. 85. On sale here.

Discover more of Koichi Takada’s boundary pushing designs in his monograph. Buy now.