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How the restaurant and wine cellar space changes in the post-COVID-19 world

At WineNews the vision of four great architects: Marco Casamonti, Valentina Moretti, Luca Zaniboni and Stefano Lambardi

The first analyses of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic will have on sales and on the needs of Italians, who have been living in their homes, and therefore their spaces, in a completely new way for weeks, are coming from the real estate world. On the one hand, cohabitation and, on the other, the needs of smart working expose all the limits of decades that have led to a preference for centrality and small spaces, to the detriment of the suburbs of cities and, above all, the countryside. A dynamic that we can also set in the world of catering: as the story of many chefs and entrepreneurs in the sector shows, adapting to the new rules will mean to relate in a new and different way to space and its limits, to ensure social distance and return to enjoy an environment appropriate to the pleasure of the table. Especially in cities, starting from the most affected, Milan, which, with a call from the City Council, has called for a collection of creatives and designers to share ideas and projects that allow bars, restaurants and offices to rethink the spaces.
From an architectural and urbanistic point of view, what does it all involve? Can we imagine a long term change, leading to a decentralization of catering activities, and therefore to the need to redesign and rethink cottages, farms and commercial funds with gardens of small villages, to the point of changing the face itself, between renovations and technological innovations, of villages and countryside? If we reconnect to our world, can we imagine, also from an architectural point of view, a “migration” of the catering in the cellars, which have plenty of spaces, especially with the difficulties that wine tourism will suffer? We talked about this with three architects: Marco Casamonti, from Studio Archea Associati, the signature of the winery of Marchesi Antinori in Chianti Classico, Valentina Moretti, executive vice-president of Moretti Costruzioni and creative director of More, Luca Zaniboni from Studio Dordoni Architetti, who oversaw - among many projects - the renovation of Caffè Cavour in Bergamo of the Cerea family, and Stefano Lambardi, professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Florence, but also the designer of the winery of Case Basse (Gianfranco Soldera), one of the most prestigious brands in Montalcino and the world.
A boundless topic, to be treated with care and contextualized with precision, starting from the beginning, that is, the pandemic, according to Marco Casamonti (here, in full, his point of view told to WineNews: https://winenews.it/it/casamonti-ripensare-gli-spazi-dalla-casa-al-ristorante-alla-cantina-e-rendere-smart-i-borghi_415990/), by Studio Archea Associati, one of the most important architects of the Belpaese, and signature of the futuristic Marchesi Antinori winery in Chianti Classico, the starting point is the center of everyone’s life, the “houses where we live are the beginning of a process of rethinking our way of living that has probably lost in time the meaning, for the domestic space, of shelter, of protected place, while the house must continue to represent the place of first aid. It is quite evident that there is a problem of space connected to the dimensional contraction that has caused the expulsion of many daily activities from the domestic place. Conversely, in the face of the Covid-19 emergency, people were asked not to go to the Emergency Room, to stay at home, unfortunately at the mercy of events and often without assistance. If our homes had been connected with local medicine through remote assistance services with technologies already available today, it would have been possible to support many families and patients who felt completely abandoned, make a diagnosis or talk to their doctor or hospital without leaving home to protect even the doctors who have lost their lives to help the many infected people at home. But home - continues Casamonti - in addition to the theme of technological infrastructure, other critical issues are common to many other types: we have to think that our life is a continuous movement between inside and outside, therefore, every living place needs a space with a filter function. In all the buildings we will have to divide a “dirty zone” from a “clean zone”: we will have to find an entrance where we can take off our coat and shoes, wash our hands, and from there access the “clean zone”. In the house, it is easy to do, just a few square meters, and it is possible to do it in an office and probably also in a restaurant or a place of leisure”.
The main obstacle is the logic of profit, since “to cut any surface considered accessory the market offers apartments with the entrance directly on the kitchen-living room, which is unhygienic regardless of the Covid-19. All this - adds the architect - also applies to many other work activities including catering: in a room of defined dimensions, if there are no shared rules, each operator will tend, to increase profit, to the maximum exploitation of space and seating. Probably it will be necessary to move, for any building, not to the maximum use of available space, but the possibility of the best exploitation of space concerning the quality of life and comfort of people”.
Having overcome the question of surface incomes, the attention of the operators must shift to the concept of health and therefore to the “possibility of sanitizing the living space. We have today, and it is good to remember it, all the technologies to sanitize environments simply, just apply them. In operating theatres, ultraviolet lamps have been used for years to kill bacteria and sanitize environments. Perhaps, with little expense, it could turn out to be the right solution for sanitizing the home, office, and restaurant: once closed, the lamps are turned on and the next morning the environment is sanitized, it is not difficult, nor expensive”.
Another great reflection concerns air conditioning systems and more generally air conditioning systems. “If we continue to heat and cool the rooms by recycling indoor air with centralized systems - points out Casamonti - we are unintentionally contributing to the circulation of any viruses or infectious agents. Why don't we choose, in hospitals as well as in offices, and more generally in all enclosed spaces where there are collective activities, radiant systems, which do not move the air, while for natural air changes we do not rely as much as possible on old windows? All this is largely feasible, but if there are no rules to impose it no one will do it”.
Someone has to take care of it, remembers Marco Casamonti, “starting with us architects. I am not saying that we must stop building, but we must feel very strongly the responsibility that this entails in terms of land use. With the Antinori winery in Chianti Classico, we have built over 50,000 square meters of building, recreating the same amount of vineyards on the roofs. The cellars, in this sense, are a virtuous example of the use of resources because historically they obtained the ripening temperatures of the wine in a natural way through the exploitation of the temperature of the earth, of the subsoil. Wine and its consumption also bring to our attention two fundamental terms for contemporary life: respect and moderation. If wine is drunk with respect and moderation it is good for the body, some say that one glass a day helps prevent cardiovascular disease. However, if we drink too much, we get the opposite effect and, what was good, becomes harmful. Wine from this point of view is an example: it can be a pleasure but it must be drunk wisely”.
Another topic on the table related to the terms of the current discussion concerns de-urbanization, “an opportunity we must strive for,” Casamonti says, “but if we all focus on cities, it is because in the countryside and in the villages there is still a gigantic gap in terms of connectivity. It is difficult to work or study from home living in the Apennines. The theme is the infrastructure of the territory. Until this activity is completed, on a technological level, these wonderful places in Italy, which are our backbone, will become increasingly depopulated. Only in these terms can we think of decentralization, and allow everyone to take advantage of the opportunity of home working, distance health monitoring (telemedicine). We must go back to making smaller centers attractive, starting with mountain territories. Decentralization is desirable, but strong incentive policies are probably needed, such as tax relief on labor costs for companies that allow smart working. This propensity towards smaller centers can also favor the quality catering sector, even if in this phase of extreme suffering for the sector, public use of roads, which are now “privatized” by the bulky and polluting presence of cars, should be encouraged. Streets and squares should not be parking lots, or traffic flow lines, but rather meeting places for people, spaces for catering, and free movement of people. We must try to make this world civil,” concludes the architect of Studio Archea Associati, “so that people use the car as little as possible, less than ever fossil fuels”.
“The first aspect that the chefs are working on,” Valentina Moretti says, “is how to guarantee the safety of what is brought to the table, and then we have to figure out how to manage, and in some cases expand, the spaces, so that customers can be welcomed in the right way. Intelligent use of lights, in this sense, could help us, a bit like in certain museum itineraries, to maintain distances. I expect that it will certainly revolutionize visits to the cellar and tasting tours, as well as the experience of catering, where no one considers separating the tables and dining companion with glass. There is an aspect that concerns the individual, who will somehow have to self-certify, and this has a lot to do with mutual trust, a new and important issue because we can not become too rigid. On the other hand, the environments of restaurants, wine cellars, and hotels will become more and more familiar: to give an example, at Albereta we are thinking of having more apartments for families and multiplying the common areas. And this will also happen in the companies, to continue to meet people, but not too many people at a time”.
A change in sociality, which passes through a different way of living spaces, which according to Valentina Moretti, “is not necessarily negative. We come from a time when we were all very distracted, I think we will return to pay more attention to what surrounds us, to what we say, reactivating the five senses. We will return to observe, to ask questions, to listen, to appreciate silence, and listen to the people we talk to. It is a positive consequence, and the architecture, which aims to accompany the life of the building and make it live – let's focus on the cellars and visit routes - and this is an interesting topic. We have to find a balance, we cannot do everything online, the physical appearance and the need to go to a cellar will not pass. Thinking for example of small groups, of 2-4 people, with whom you can talk more carefully: if we increase the sensitivity, the architecture will benefit”.
Concernig the catering sector, the problem of space, especially in old town centers, is difficult to solve. “We architects, at the moment, have the objective of enlarging spaces, but in the premises of city centers or villages, chefs have to be prepared to see the number of seats reduced. But it could also be a good thing: by hosting fewer people the chef can build a dialogue and offer a unique experience. There will be more moments to go out to eat during the day, but it would require an agreement between the chefs for a shared plan, and follow the same guidelines, but differentiating the offer and making it as clear as possible, starting with the capacity”. Another central topic is that of moving out of the city, “as I have been arguing for years, following the theories of Superstudio’s designers and the Greek architect Elias Zenghelis, who in the 1970s had designed a utopian development of cities. They had noticed that in centrally developed cities, like Milan, which grows in concentric circles, there would be a problem because development like this weighs down everything on the center, which remains in the same position, and the further I get away from it, the more I will need to go there anyway. The alternative is linear cities, like London, which has no center, but many centers, which are its neighborhoods, each with its peculiarities and each in its way a city center. From this point of view, the Zenghelis studio had imagined the building-city, which have the objective of providing all the necessary services, in order to avoid displacements and pollution: the city does not spread into ugly suburbs, but becomes a series of centers separated by nature. Getting out of the cities, and going to the villages, for me, is a natural choice: to work I can go to the city by public transport, but the value of living in open spaces, where you can eat what you grow, is enormous. Especially in this period. For years, with More, we have been promoting living in the green, and therefore living in a large environment, with natural light, with a different ecological impact. I believe a lot in living outside the city, especially for families. The villages, unfortunately, have very often tried to become small towns, instead of finding their own identity: the village will never have what a city has, and vice versa”.
In this sense, Italian catering and gastronomy, even of the highest level, are linked to the countryside, more than to cities. “Let's think of Gualtiero Marchesi: Albereta was his home, next to Bellavista, where we could provide catering, on condition that it is very different from Albereta, which already has three different kitchens. Terra Moretti, in this sense, is a small world open to the world, able to catalyze the attention of tourists by making the whole surrounding area grow and creating a virtuous circle from which everyone benefits, on the model of Champagne. A restaurant or a company of a certain level can increase the quality of life of an entire community. My obsession - continues Valentina Moretti - has always been to save the landscape through architecture, which is why I chose Franciacorta. Architecture today has a great responsibility, first of all, to enhance what we already have and make the best use of it, and then to build what is needed and can improve the landscape. And this also applies in agricultural realities, where the architect can make an enormous contribution, especially if we think of the landscape: with the Parisian architect Michel Desvigne I did a project on Franciacorta, planning an area for the sheds and then a series of routes to discover the wine landscapes, with very few roads for cars and many for bicycles. Projects we should start doing, even if convincing local governments is not easy at all: too often we have gone from reckless urbanization to a stop to any project and innovation, which makes no sense”.
Returning to the size of the winery, there are examples “like Sella & Mosca, which is a village: in terms of space, it is a small village, with its church, bodies of different buildings that can accommodate shops and restaurants, but also schools, bed & breakfast or luxury hotel, but also a riding school to ride through the vineyards. All this can be done, just a stone's throw from Alghero: wineries can become true villages - concludes Valentina Moretti - moving the flow of people out of urban centers and raising awareness of wine and quality not only among connoisseurs but also those looking for something else and increasing their wine culture, focusing on meeting other worlds, from art to music”.
Luca Zaniboni, an architect who, with Studio Dordoni, is rethinking the interiors of houses, offices, shops, and restaurants, is more skeptical about the changes that this crisis could bring. “I hear a lot of reasoning about what interior design will be like after this crisis, but in my opinion, it is a cat biting its tail. The costs would be too high, especially in the city centers, where the offer is small: you can't think of redistributing the spaces, for example reintroducing the corridor and overcoming the open space, in apartments of 80 square meters, where the common spaces, for obvious reasons, have taken away space from the rooms and in some way replaced the study and library of the houses of 200 square meters. Not to mention the relationship with the outside: everyone would like a 150 square meter terrace, but it is an intent that cannot be achieved. Space - underlines Zaniboni - is an impossible limit to overcome, and the smart working we are forced to do in these weeks confirms it: overlapping with other family members is often inevitable because today’s houses are built following other priorities. There will likely be an adaptation, but it cannot work for everyone, especially because in many jobs the interpersonal relationship is fundamental. Precisely because of the function that the premises have, as a social aggregator in which to meet, especially in Milan, proximity is important, it is a habit, and that is also the beauty: the trattoria with the innkeeper between the tables, the counter of a Café like the Cavour of the Cerea Family, are places where a large turnout meets small spaces. It is not a problem that can be solved: if I have limited space in a historical building, which cannot be modified, I cannot do anything else but, in the case of a restaurant, reduce the number of seats, becoming economically unsustainable, because the expenses are more or less the same. It is a complex issue, I hope this is a temporary passage, a storm to be overcome to return to shore, to the habits of before. In the future - says the architect from Milan - I don't think there will be much change in the catering sector once this emergency is over: it is unthinkable that our culture of being together could be overturned. We've indeed rediscovered the pleasure of being at home, but I am convinced that when everything starts again we will realize that little will have changed compared to before, even in our relationship with nature”.
In this regard, Zaniboni considers “fundamental, talking about wine and food, the knowledge of the supply chains, the concept of respect for companies, the search even in the city of country products brought directly from the farmers. Now that you can go out again, people want to be outdoors, but I don’t think people will want to go back to the restaurant at least for now. But when we go on holiday, I think we will try to recreate a home environment rather than opting for a holiday village, at least for this summer, and the countryside will benefit. The large, highly receptive places, above all the discos, will not be able to reopen, and certain habits will change, perhaps by finding the small tavern in the countryside, the agriturismo. With the reopening (the so-called “Phase 2”, ed.) it will be necessary to understand how to guarantee physical distance, which does not mean social distance: at the restaurant, we could still have social proximity respecting the physical distance, given by longer or bigger tables. We won't have the hug or the face to face, but we would still maintain sociality, this is the opportunity that the reopening of the premises offers us, to have a meeting point that cannot be recreated elsewhere. Technically, however, I don’t know what it will be like, certainly we cannot eat with the mask”.
What will the near and short-term future of catering be like then? “It won’t pass through the design of the interiors as much as it will through the arrangement of the tables, sadly a large round table of ten will only be able to accommodate four or five people - explains Luca Zaniboni - and I don’t know how much we need to start again in this sense. I don't want to think that it will become a design theme, because it takes months between design and implementation. If we think of a place that implies distance, for me it is something sad. It can last a year, reasonably a year and a half, this crisis, and the solutions can only be temporary. It's different for haute cuisine, where the tables are generally few and far between. Beyond paying more attention, I do not think they will have major losses, and the type of audience is not the one most affected by the crisis: on a relatively high account, something will be added but it will not be a big problem. Then there are realities, I am thinking of the Costa Smeralda, of the highest level, but they live exclusively on foreign tourism, and they will have to understand how to start again. At the same time, we will have the opportunity to enjoy places once crowded in a completely new and better way, especially the squares of the cities of art. It will be a particular summer from many points of view, but I think it is a passing crisis, it is interesting to think about it at an academic level, but the reconstruction will not be a revolution, especially in Italy, where drinking and eating are a unique experience in the world”.
The fundamental concept, the Milanese architect reiterates, thus becomes that of “technical distance, especially in the restaurants, which is sufficient but not the social distance of not seeing and not speaking to each other, which in many cases has even been reduced. Some relationships, both interpersonal and with space, will emerge strengthened. In a few weeks, the restaurant will not be a forbidden zone, but a granted zone, even with all its limitations and the many cases still to be understood how to deal with, from the most immediate to the most particular, which we will resolve as we face them”.
Stefano Lambardi, professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Florence and a member of the Montalcino Case Basse (Soldera) winery, one of the most prestigious wine brands in the world, does not believe in a different reality, especially for catering, from the one we know. “The catering business as we knew it before, we might not see it for a while: just the idea of going out to eat on Saturday nights, without a reservation made weeks in advance, becomes impossible, because the seats will be practically halved. As for bars: it is unimaginable to think of standing in line outside the bar for a coffee. Restaurateurs will certainly try to start again, with fewer tables, but it is not sustainable either for cost or space. I cannot even imagine such a future, we're not equipped, the human being is not meant to be at a distance of one and a half meters”.
Limited spaces, especially in the historical centers of villages and towns, which “are the characteristic of so much of our catering” - Stefano Lambardi continues - “and where we won’t be able to return for a while. In the short term, we will adapt, but I see no real alternative to a return to normality”. On the idea of moving, in a sort of historical counter exodus, from the cities to the countryside, “two aspects must always be taken into consideration: the first is that the Covid-19 in the villages arrives and spreads exactly as it does in the cities; the second is that the costs in the countryside and the villages are often not at all lower than in the city. The very concept of saying: let’s choose bigger houses, it's absurd because they are not affordable”. The issue, “is serious - continues Lambardi- because this situation has made us think a lot about the futility of many things and the world we have built in the last fifty years. Considering the almost eight billion people who populate it, the problem will be solved in the long term: after the First World War, we overcame Spanish flu, which killed 50 million people worldwide within two years. We cannot deprive ourselves of physical contact, it is neither good nor fair. That the development model has shown all its limits is true, but in the medium term, I don’t think that architecture can give answers: Italy is made of small villages and narrow streets, it is our beauty, our uniqueness, and in the “Covid-19 regime” we cannot expand spaces. The city, on the contrary, has suburbs, but what needs to be rearranged, the real great theme is another: mobility. That needs to be rethought, both at the urban and suburban level: we should focus more on trains and less on planes, for example. Everything, however, depends on the role of politics, especially concerning the economic world. Ultimately - reiterates the architect Lambardi - the only solution I see in the long term is a return to normality”.
At WineNews the vision of four great architects: Marco Casamonti, Valentina Moretti, Luca Zaniboni and Stefano Lambardi.

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