The moody and magical Afro-Asian eatery Burnside, found in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, is the brainchild of Snøhetta and culinary collective Ghetto Gastro, which is based in the Bronx. Even thousands of miles away, the energy of New York’s northernmost borough echoes from the dramatic venue. “Being located above a conbini [or convenience store] in Tokyo feels like being above a bodega in the Bronx,” says Ghetto Gastro CEO Jon Gray, who was introduced to the space in 2019 by art and design group En One Tokyo with the purpose of establishing a food pop-up there. Gray, who met Snøhetta director and senior architect Anne-Rachel Schiffmann during the early planning stages of New York’s Design Week 2020, suggested the firm to craft the dynamic cultural and culinary destination. From there, “we connected the dots, and things started rolling seamlessly,” he says.
Even before the pandemic, the project posed a lofty challenge for its transcontinental team. Measuring roughly 1,000 square feet, Burnside’s original interiors were gutted and reimagined as an exploration of the dualities between day and night, hot and cold, public and private. The team also sought to honor Japanese traditions through its materiality, while simultaneously realizing Ghetto Gastro’s desire to illuminate Caribbean food culture. The rear kitchen was opened up to frame Japanese-style food preparation as a theatrical showcase against a backdrop of flames from the large grill. “That’s what led us to these amber tones,” says Schiffmann, who works out of Snøhetta’s New York office. “The blackness highlights the heat, the hearth, the kitchen.”
Inspired by the Japanese art of shou sugi ban, the palette is expressed through stained ash and mirrored across Burnside’s many custom elements. A sensitive lighting design also illuminates the curvature of the space without shattering the cave-like illusion. Overhead, an exaggerated ring of amber lighting infuses a subtle gold hue into the charred canvas, highlighting an architectural move in the small space. “You see how they curve, kind of like when you draw an accentuated swoop of light,” Schiffmann says.
A narrow void at the front of the house gently filters in a sliver of natural light, blurred by white curtains to establish a focal point inspired by the black and white work of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. Though dark, cavernous spaces feel appropriate for nighttime,“we needed to make it function during the day,” Schiffmann says. Daytime visitors experience Burnside as a Caribbean-style cafeteria, while dinner guests overlook the kitchen as they sit at the main communal table. After hours, the space turns into a lounge with a dance floor.
The collaborative nature of the project reflects the community spirit at the heart of Burnside. “When you add on the global pandemic, it’s insane that it would be able to come out to this level of quality,” Gray says. “It’s a beautiful assemblage of people.” In particular, the partnership between Snøhetta and Ghetto Gastro, which Gray cites as “good trouble,” has yielded a mutually creative bond that he hopes will manifest in many dining rooms to come. “Food is the vehicle for storytelling,” he says. “We’re trying to shake the world completely.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s June/July 2021 issue.
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