LA.Prime Kitchen

A conversation with the founders of Quarta & Armando Architecture Design Research about their latest project, a restaurant and cocktail bar in Shenyang


Located on the ground floor of the Shenyang Kerry Center — a mixed-use development that includes a shopping mall, hotel and offices in the city’s financial district — newly opened LA.Prime is not your typical mall eatery. While the main access point is through the mall, two of its three sides face the sidewalks, giving a particularly urban quality to the space.

Here the studio’s founders Gianmaria Quarta and Michele Armando talk us through their process and design approach.

Design Anthology: How did the overarching themes of balance and contrast inform your approach to the design?

Gianmaria Quarta & Michele Armando: These two themes are always present in our projects. They’re a direct consequence of our design method, which is on one hand very meticulous, almost scientific, and on the other always playful. First, we define a very precise set of rules, then we start playing with them. We like using complexity and hybridisation as raw materials to be highlighted — it’s more honest than hiding behind a particular style.

Can you talk about some of the key materials in the palette and how they fit into the design language?

The material palette reflects a series of dualisms — natural/artificial, warm/cold, colourful/monochrome — that in turn describe different moods. Overhead, the steel screens with their printed gradients respond to the natural light coming in from outside, and represent the colours of the Northern lights. At eye-level the materials take on a far more tactile quality: striped concrete tiles on the walls, terrazzo flooring, coarse-grained stucco. Most of these familiar materials are used outdoors rather than inside, which also helps to establish a sense of being ‘out-of-place’ in the space.

What factors informed the spatial design, and what kind of experience does the floor plan engender?

Overall, the spatial planning is rather simple: the long bar divides the kitchen and bar from the general seating area, and circulation primarily happens along this central axis. The only elements that disrupt this simplicity are the slightly inclined outline of the bar itself and a more private planted aisle, treated with the same material of coarse-grained stucco. This sequence of elements allowed us to define the space without creating any physical enclosures.

 You designed the project from brand and visual identity through to the interiors. How did being involved from the very beginning influence the interior design?

We worked on the interior design and branding at the same time, and the two were developed in parallel. We’re comfortable working across disciplines to create a project that’s completely different from what one would expect from a simple addition of parts. Everything from the floor plan to the colour scheme, and from the material palette to the typeface, is designed as part of a bigger system.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Peter Dixie, LOTAN