“In a place where dreams and ambitions are limitless, land is not,” says New York’s Department of City Planning. “There is one last frontier available in Manhattan—Hudson Yards.” Property developers, Related Companies, have spent an estimated $25billion turning an under-utilised area in the West Side of Midtown South into a destination. Its 28 acres of retail, residential, office, and green space officially launched in March 2019 and is the biggest private real estate development in US history.
There is no magic recipe for a scheme of this magnitude. The way we shop and live today changes so fast, it’s a creative challenge for a project that takes fifteen years to complete to stay relevant. Root elements that do remain constant are our values and the desire to be entertained, and one of the most effective ways to communicate both is through design.
A meaningful way to connect with people is through food and Hudson Yards has over thirty eateries. The jewel in the crown is Thomas Keller’s TAK Room which serves refined and reimagined Continental cuisine and was designed by David Collins Studio. Keller is acclaimed for his high standards and currently holds seven Michelin stars.
Ros Keet, Associate Director at David Collins Studio and one of the lead designers on the project says, “The brief was to evoke Keller’s childhood memories of spending time in incredible restaurants. We looked at bringing aspects of Mid-century American design into a contemporary setting.” Keller says: “TAK Room pays tribute to a period when dining out was as much a social experience as it was a special event.”
The design has the hallmarks of David Collins Studio design (glamour, texture, drama) but an added depth of soul comes from the inclusion of a 30ft mural by decorative artist Dean Barger. It greets you as you walk in, leads you up the stairs and into the main room. It’s a maître d in artwork form. “Collaboration is incredibly important to us and Dean had been on our radar for a while,” says Keet. “He brought a unique energy and tactility to the project.”
“I was thrilled to be asked,” says Barger, “It was great to work with such highly regarded professionals. My initial brief was to create a metallic surface based on a wallpaper pattern found in the Victoria & Albert Museum, but it had a limited number of repeats. I discovered it was inspired by a British cubist/modernist painter called John Piper. Everybody was in the shadow of Picasso at the time, but he was doing his own landscapes and some were very abstract. The challenge I had was creating 39 panels that never repeat, I didn’t want to do cookie cutter over and over. I wanted an explosion of pattern. I also took inspiration from a painting called Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) by Marcel Duchamp. It was interesting that this project was to work alongside an actual staircase. I call the mural Piper Ascending. I don’t always name my work but this one deserved a title.
The mural was created in my studio in Maine. I designed 156 stencils by hand. I had two assistants because the pieces were quite big. We started with art cambric, canvases were then gessoed three times and gilded. On top of that were many layers of glaze. At no point was it was it ever laid out as one continuous horizontal narrative in my studio because of its size. I pre-mapped everything down to millimeters so that everything would work. It was a triumph of math. Seeing it all come together on site for the first time was incredibly satisfying,” says Barger.
The design was so successful that the pattern was reproduced on metal fretwork elsewhere in the restaurant and on menus. Its greatest success is putting a visibly human touch into a $25billion project created during the digital revolution. It is a work of art and potentially worthy of protection status.
So does Barger think a designer in the future might one day look at this work for inspiration, as he did with Piper and Duchamp? “That would be something,” he says. “It could happen. We used the best quality materials. I built it to last.”
Dean Barger is a fine arts painter specialising in decorative installations.
Adrian Gaut is an interiors photographer based in New York.
Ros Keet is an Associate Director at David Collins Studio.
TAK Room is the newest restaurant by 7 Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller, situated within New York’s Hudson Yards development.