A Lighter Take for Melbourne café

Perforated aluminum panels create a mist that contrasts with the masonry interior.
24 May, 2017
Penta is a 155 square meter café in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick.
With a first look inside, it's hard to say whether the architects succeeded or failed at their mission to make the food what gets noticed by café guests. The client wanted architectural firm Ritz & Ghougassian to design the restaurant interior so that colorful seasonal dishes took center spotlight, and less so the muted surroundings.

The team decided on polished concrete flooring and terrazzo banquette seating, a heavy and stone-cold approach that framed the exposed ceiling vents and pipes with their industrial feel. The back-to-back benches are draped in black leather cushions suspended from stainless steel rods, which complement the matching planters. Each bench faces a table and opposite chair in black, protecting the minimalist intent. At the same time, the entire venue becomes the framework for the chef and the cuisine.
Images: Dezeen
"The dishes on offer are given a muted and distilled background to allow them to be the real stars, said Jean-Paul Ghougassian in an interview. "I guess in a lot of ways whilst taking a back seat to the food offering, the interior mirrors the playfulness and diverse menu."

With all of that weight, the architects needed some light – and they turned to aluminium to achieve it. All of the walls inside the Penta are wrapped in a delicate pattern of perforated aluminium panels that appear weightless and airy, allowing the room to breathe with a delightful and elegant understatement.
Images: Dezeen
In a lot of ways, Ghougassian said, the architects used the project to explore new processes, materials and ways of construction. "This is exampled in the perforated aluminium screens," he said. "To create something reminiscent of mist between the ceiling and ground planes involved sampling an array of screens and prototyping the veil of perforated aluminium across walls and ceilings."

The aluminium screens have a dual role, because they also close off a small private room in the café. It's used as a dining room seating area for private bookings, or can be available as a meeting space. The light aluminium panels behave almost as a lattice frame and make the barely-there room seem unobtrusive, but inside the room that mood quickly shifts. It is intentionally furnished in dark tones, continuing the minimalist black of the main dining area.
Images: Dezeen
While it lacks the light of the Penta's main room, it benefits from shadow that plays along and through the perforated aluminium. The intimate space keeps its seclusion and its monochromatic themes, but with the aluminium "mist" reversed from the inside.

The perforated aluminium also screens the kitchen from view as it folds itself across the creases of the walls, bathed in sunlight that fills the main dining hall and gives the high ceilings a sense of grandeur. The panels express the intentional choices of contrast in texture, but also the play of light and shade.

Even the leather cushions selected for the terrazzo seating were balanced with the perforated panels and contrasting masonry, so that the just-so flow of the drape fall complemented them.
The overall effect is clean, streamlined and achieves the goal of creating a canvas on which the Penta menu is on display – but with such an intriguing blend of materials, it's hard not to notice them too.
Banner image: Dezeen