INTERIORS CASE STUDY:
Founding Farmers Restaurant
Agrarian Values in the City of Pork: In its design, construction, and even its operation, a Washington, D.C., restaurant provides healthy portions of sustainability along with some attention-getting spaces.
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At a time when bestselling books and widely distributed films are exposing the evils of industrialized food, a restaurant owned by family farmers makes sense to a lot of people. The challenge for Peter Hapstak, III, AIA, and his design firm, CORE, was finding a way to bring the spirit of the farm to an odd location: the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in downtown Washington, D.C. So as he designed Founding Farmers, an 8,500-square-foot restaurant at the base of the IMF’s new Pei Cobb Freed-designed office building on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 20th Street, NW, Hapstak focused on the ethos of the venture—healthy foods grown or raised with sustainable practices—and looked for ways to express this architecturally.
Owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union, a cooperative of 40,000 family businesses, the two-story, LEED-Gold certified restaurant showcases a wide range of green strategies, from its design and construction to the operation of its kitchen. Even the servers taking orders and bringing out food have been trained to talk about the restaurant’s environmental mission.
“We used a deconstructed metaphor of the barn, but did it a little tongue-in-cheek,” says Hapstak. He and his team created much of the interior with salvaged wood, contrasting the material with the building’s glass-and-steel envelope so that the vernacular elements never seem corny. They designed a pair of booths on the second floor to recall corn cribs, inserted a barn ladder in a glass corner, and used the kind of standing-seam metal you would find on a farmhouse. Despite concerns, the country theme comes across as being comfortable, not contrived. For flooring they specified wood reclaimed from a textile mill outside Atlanta and for walls they used wood taken from a barn in West Virginia. Original paint on some of the wood contained lead, but the designers wanted to retain the weathered look of these pieces so they encapsulated the paint with a clear sealer. Walnut tables and chairs came from a manufacturer in North Carolina who used wood harvested from forests in Pennsylvania. Altogether, about 45 percent of the materials in the project came from sources within 500 miles, just as the restaurant tries to buy produce and foods from local farms and enterprises.
When CORE started working on the project, it faced significant challenges, including structural columns and a mezzanine floor slab that made laying out a 263-seat restaurant difficult. “We needed an architect with real spatial vision,” explains Dan Simons, a principal at Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, which served as the owner’s representative for the project.
CORE made the most of the situation by placing a large bar in the center of the ground-floor space to serve customers or wait staff on four sides and then arranging dining tables below the cantilevered mezzanine slab and around the perimeter of the restaurant. The firm created a variety of dining areas on each of the two floors, using recycled-content acrylic screens with embedded natural elements to separate spaces and seating some diners at long communal tables. According to Christian Holmes, the restaurant’s general manager, repeat customers favor the two “corn crib” booths on the second floor and the perimeter tables on the ground floor where they can enjoy the double-height space.
Two-story-high glass on the north and west sides of the restaurant bring abundant daylight into the space, reducing the need for electric lighting. (Shades can be lowered on the west to protect the space from the afternoon sun.) The designers reduced energy use further by specifying LED lighting in many places and using incandescent bulbs only in a few locations to warm up the ambiance.
More than 80 percent of the restaurant’s appliances are Energy Star-rated, including all freezers, refrigerators, fryers, steam cooker, the main dishwasher, the bar dishwasher, and the hot-food holding cabinet. In addition, a high-efficiency HVAC system and heat pump exceed Advanced Buildings Energy Benchmark and ASHRAE standards. The restaurant also purchases green-power credits, accounting for half of its electricity consumption. In the restrooms, waterless urinals and low-flow lavatories save 192,000 gallons of water each year, while countertops are made from 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper and non-petroleum-based phenolic resin.
Sustainability drove decisions affecting the construction and operation of the restaurant, not just its design. As a result, 90 percent of all construction waste and materials were recycled or diverted from landfill. The restaurant has a waste, recycle, and compost area and is certified by the Green Restaurant Association, which reviews its operation each year.
The North Dakota Farmers Union hopes to open more restaurants using the same environmental mentality as its flagship on Pennsylvania Avenue, says Simons. “You can take this sustainable approach and make money,” he explains. “The people eating here really care about these things.”
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