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Ribbon-thin Ductal concrete creates sculptural seating at a San Francisco eatery.
The Aidlin Darling-designed Bar Agricole has brought new life to a warehouse in San Francisco’s industrial South of Market neighborhood. Built in 1912, the renovated building is now home to the 4,000-square-foot “urban tavern” owned by restaurateur Thad Vogler. Taking an unconventional approach to realizing his design vision, Vogler commissioned work from the designer and a variety of trades in exchange for a stake in the business. One of those craftsmen was Oakland-based concrete design and fabrication company Concreteworks.
Concrete isn’t the first material that comes to mind when designing restaurant seating, but Joshua Aidlin envisioned ribbon-thin fixed banquettes extruding from the wooden “hull” that would form one wall of the interior. The seats would complement other concrete elements, including the integrally colored concrete floor and board-formed concrete bars, but they would be made from an ultra-high performance fiber-reinforced concrete called Ductal. Developed by Canadian cement manufacturer Lafarge, the high-strength material is gaining increasing popularity for applications like furniture, facades, and other architectural design elements. With a guaranteed lifespan of 50 years, the material has four to eight times the compression strength of conventional concrete, allowing it to be used for very slender, lightweight structures.
Working in their 12,000-square-foot, pre-World War II manufacturing facility, the Concreteworks team created metal formwork for the banquette’s dark gray Ductal elements; the at 5-by-5-by-5- foot pieces are formed with a seat on either side of a parabolic backrest. The entire cast form is only one inch thick. A special form with one seat and one flat side was made for the end of the seating row, and the curling base of each banquette is also cast from a separate mold. A three-piece host stand topped with two-inch reclaimed oak mirrors the seats, which are topped with slender, curving pieces of oak for comfort. Like the restaurant’s reclaimed elements and locally fabricated materials, Ductal will help the project achieve LEED Platinum certification because it requires fewer raw materials and limits fabrication waste.
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