For the designers behind AvroKo, the New York firm known for its high-concept restaurant interiors, the most personal projects often start out as group obsessions. Lately, apropos of nothing, they’ve been compiling a collection of silent video clips featuring modern furniture or architecture, snipped from movies or pulled from obscure design archives. So far it’s just a game — “a meme floating around the office,” as partner Kristina O’Neal puts it — but the first time the team was so possessed, they began with a bank of photographs and ended up opening a restaurant. After securing several projects in Asia a few years back, they began carefully documenting the bizarre cultural mash-ups they found while on trips out East, from mangled English translations to neon-lit religious altars; in 2008 they opened Double Crown in New York’s East Village as an homage to their Anglo-Asian fascination, with food evoking the 19th-century British occupation of India, China, and Singapore. With a new AvroKo office in Hong Kong fielding projects like the recently opened New York–style eatery Lily in Bloom, their anthropological depository keeps growing.
The approach is unsurprising, considering O’Neal and her cohorts — William Harris, Greg Bradshaw, and Adam Farmerie — commit to concepts so fully and so meticulously in their design practice. They are some of the industry’s greatest storytellers, rigging elaborate interior sets that change with the seasons or modeling midtown steakhouses after old-school Lower East Side butcher shops, complete with slick white tiles, endgrain flooring, and jars of curing liquids lined up over the bar. For Richard Sandoval’s new D.C. Latin-Asian fusion restaurant Zengo, they researched palaces built by dictators in both cultures, subtly weaving recurring tropes from power architecture into the design. One example: “We did a central piece with huge wood beams marching down the space in procession,” O’Neal says. “We created a myth around the idea by using real references.” For the most part, though, their research process is less scientific and more observational and curiosity driven, and the results are not about authenticity but vision.
A glimpse of that process can be seen here. The images in this slideshow, pulled from AvroKo’s collection and mostly culled during their travels, represent O’Neal’s eight favorite realms of Anglo-Asian culture clash.