Former Power Plant Provides Unique Dining Experience

A collaborative  effort has created a modern dining environment that re-energizes the once abandoned space.

A collaborative effort has created a modern dining environment that re-energizes the once abandoned space.

On the outskirts of downtown St. Louis sits Lafayette Square, a historic neighborhood established in 1836 by Victorian settlers. This neighborhood, named after the famed French military officer Marquis de Lafayette, was once home to City Hospital—an iconic institution that shut its doors in 1985 after serving the St. Louis community for nearly 150 years. At its peak, City Hospital occupied four city blocks and consisted of 12 separate structures, including a power plant that supplied power to the entire complex.

Lafayette Square, once one of St. Louis’ most fashionable places to live, began to steadily decline after a devastating tornado dismantled the area at the turn of the 20th century. Decades later, developers began to breathe new life into the historic area. At the center of the neighborhood’s revitalization sits Element, a restaurant and lounge with a unique dining experience located on the second and third floors of the once thriving power plant.

Element’s innovative design, created by St. Louis-based architecture and design firm REMIGER DESIGN, lends a hand to its unique food and drink offerings. This adaptive-reuse project concentrated on uncovering the beauty of the raw space and, in doing so, created an industrial-chic environment. Now, this once forgotten power plant bears a significant role in Lafayette Square’s rebirth.

Collaborative Design

Multiple obstacles were encountered while renovating the old power plant into a new restaurant. With a fixed timeline, the project team of architects and designers, owners, restaurant chef, general contractor and a food-service consultant had to work together from the very beginning to ensure the project would be completed on time and under the relatively modest budget. The entire group worked collaboratively to turn the abandoned power plant into an upscale full-service restaurant, composed of a dining room, bar and lounge, multiple terraces and a small private dining room. This collaborative effort granted the opportunity for all parties to provide feedback throughout the entire design process and allowed for the creation of a space that would meet everyone’s needs.

Considering the building was on the Washington, D.C.-based National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, the design and construction team was faced with having to work within certain parameters and limitations to maintain the building’s historic distinction. This obstacle, however, seamlessly aligned with the team’s overall vision for the restaurant.

The open-kitchen concept showcases Element’s approach to contemporary, farm-to-table comfort food.

The open-kitchen concept showcases Element’s approach to contemporary, farm-to-table comfort food.

Creating a well thought-out, functional design proved to be much easier with the input of the contractor and end user. Engaging the entire team from the beginning provided the opportunity to have a comprehensive approach to the design with influence from the business side of the restaurant, as well as the chef’s needs and menu selection. This input ultimately facilitated the creation of an atmosphere that preserved the original integrity of the power plant while introducing a modern feel to match the surrounding neighborhood’s newfound renaissance.

Chef’s Table

The space’s limited square footage posed a challenge. As a result, the team decided upon an open-kitchen concept, guaranteeing every guest in the dining room would have a seat at the chef’s table. The three-sided, contemporary display kitchen serves as the rectangular 74-seat dining room’s centerpiece and provides guests the opportunity to watch and engage with the chefs preparing their meals. This strategic concept showcases Element’s approach to contemporary, farm-to-table comfort food. Parallel to the restaurant’s aesthetic are the unique seasonal menus and natural ingredients used in the “contemporary comfort” dishes.

Following the chef’s vision of creating a contemporary kitchen, modern subway tile surrounds the base of the kitchen and stainless-steel trim provides a sleek finish and a sense of cleanliness. To help balance out the modern look with an industrial feel, reclaimed, epoxy-finished wood tables with angled steel edges were incorporated in the design. Booths along the side of the room provide softer, more intimate seating options, and additional seating flexibility was added with a banquette along the back of the room. Although fresh, locally sourced ingredients are a notable part of Element’s appeal and success, the building’s rich, historical ambiance also has guests coming back for more.

About the Author

Cara McKedy
Cara McKedy, NCIDQ, LEED AP ID+C, is an interior designer with REMIGER DESIGN, St. Louis.

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