Why architecture matters in food


Being an architect at ECE, Maria Mateo Navarro performs a variety of tasks: She supervises the progress of the construction work on site and during conversations in a relaxed atmosphere she finds ideas for new, creative concepts.

40 percent of visitors – nearly one out of two people – choose their shopping center based on its restaurant options. It isn’t difficult to get a good meal. However, the three “E’s” are often missing; guests simply eat and may not return. At ECE we aim to arouse Emotions, provide Excitement, and Entertainment. Maria Mateo Navarro, Head of Department Creative Design at ECE, explains why architecture plays such a crucial role in giving places this special atmosphere and how it is being implemented at our ECE shopping centers.

How has the role of architecture in food and restaurants at ECE changed over time?

We are seeing an increasing number of restaurants and casual dining concepts that offer services and opening hours outside of shopping hours and outside seating. They open up the centers towards the city and create an urban feel that adds life to the center. Popular examples include Balducci at AEZ, Alex on Skyline Plaza’s rooftop terrace and Hans im Glück at Milaneo. From an architectural point of view, this is also challenging, because we have to find the right spaces and meet the operational requirements for every tenant.

Hans im Glück at Milaneo Stuttgart is one example for a casual dining concept that offers services and opening hours outside of shopping hours as well as outside seating.

How do we deal with these challenges?

Variety and uniformity are obviously contrary parameters that have to be united when it comes to shopping center dining. High-quality tenants, high-quality food, and high-quality architecture combined with the right product at the price are the key factors of a convincing dining concept. These components must be matched to the requirements of each center to supply the desired feel-good factor. This is a complex but attractive task requiring detailed preparation and permanent communication with our customers. It must be remembered that sometimes there is a long time between planning and implementing new concepts, a time during which current trends may change.

Which trends are currently in fashion to give food and restaurants this special atmosphere?

The selection of materials and its combination is essential, together with a good lighting concept that can create different atmospheres throughout the day and the evening. The return to nature is currently in fashion and it is reflected in both food and architecture. The use of natural materials, such as wood for example, helps creating an adequate atmosphere that provides a high quality to visits and the adequate lighting will only enhance it.

The return to nature is currently in fashion and it is reflected in both food and architecture. The use of natural materials, such as wood for example, helps creating a special atmosphere – as can be seen above at FoodSky Europa Passage Hamburg (l.) and Skyline Plaza Frankfurt (r.).

What is your most important project right now and why?

Of course, our current project “Foodtopia” at MyZeil in Frankfurt is expected to become a showcase project and a combination of the various elements of current restaurant concepts. With this wonderful glass roof, we already have a great architecture. On the fourth floor, there is going to be a dining area with an incredible bandwidth of concepts. Each area is going to have a special character that matches its use and hours of use. Each restaurant will have its own space and some will have an outside terrace with a fantastic view on the Frankfurt skyline. In addition, there is a shared area for events and entertainment with the premium class movie theatre Astor Lounge. To sum it up: A wide range of choices in harmonious and special food architecture.

Construction work for the new food and entertainment area “Foodtopia” at MyZeil Frankfurt is in full swing. Foodtopia is planned to open in spring 2019.

Last but not least: What’s your favorite restaurant?

This is certainly the hardest question of the interview (smiling). The best food experience I had was in San Sebastian, in Akelarre, a once in a lifetime dining experience. Traditional Basque dishes reinvented with the perfect modern and surprising twist but still bring you back to Grandma’s cooking. In Hamburg, I love enjoying Italian food in Pavoni since they work wonderfully with seasonal products and have a traditional but changing menu. My mother’s fridge is also a constant source of amazing food she has prepared, but that is not really a restaurant!

Alex on Skyline Plaza’s rooftop terrace not only offers an amazing view on Frankfurt’s skyline – it creates an urban feel that adds life to the center.

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