The Slice is Right
Shanghai-based Mike McGirr explains the importance of zero-waste in his new design for Phnom Penh pizza restaurant 4P's, and how it is actually possible to build remotely
When you read the name of Phnom Penh’s new design-centric riverside pizza parlor, you imagine the 4P's stands for an inventive topping, or a signature sauce. However, the meaning goes deeper, as director Kazuya Kubota explains: “At 4P’s we aim to realise a world in which individuals respect each other and appreciate the earth, society and their existence. We want to help make a better world - we are ‘for peace’.”
Pizza 4P’s was founded in Ho Chi Minh City in 2011, a time when there were few pizza restaurants, and a local lack of interest among the Vietnamese in eating cheese. From one store with 30 seats, the company has since expanded to 24 outlets across Vietnam, and has been in Cambodia since late last year. Apart from world peace, the company ethos emphasises sustainability and farm-to-table, including aquaponics, reducing plastic use, and promoting reusable containers. For their newest store in Phnom Penh, the company went all in and embraced a zero-waste concept. To achieve the look, they called on Shanghai-based Mike McGirr and his team at Red Design.
Tell me about the early days of Red Design, back in 2007
Red Design’s founders, three British designers living in Shanghai and missing a good pub, saw a gap in the market for well-designed F&B and hospitality projects. Since then we have grown into a multinational design firm working with leading hotel and restaurant brands across Asia, which for the last few years has included Pizza 4P’s.
F&B seems to be a major focus of Red Design’s work, are there particular reasons you're drawn to this design area?
We are passionate about creating unique interior spaces with an emphasis on lifestyle and narrative. We enjoy working in the F&B sector because it is an area which is continually evolving in terms of guest experience: customers seek new experiences, so brands need unique and creative interior design with storytelling at its heart. This is especially the case now that social media allows consumers to live in their own ‘celebrity inspired’ worlds.
We also appreciate the fact that F&B design provides us with the opportunity to create new design trends which can then filter into our work in other sectors. For example, in 2022 we will complete our first projects with Hyatt Hotels: the first Hyatt Centric in Shanghai and the first Caption by Hyatt in Asia. It was the creativity shown in our restaurant design work which led to our success in winning and executing these hospitality projects.
How would you describe the relationship between the worlds of food and design?
Our design approach always responds to the food. For example, in Pizzeria S, one of our recent projects in Shanghai, the Italian cuisine is focused on quality and freshness so the color and vibrancy of the ingredients takes centre stage. Our interior response was to create a space that highlights the food: we selected a reduced palette of just five materials so that the pizza was the focus and the space did not conflict with the food.
Our table design also considers the food that is placed on it. For another recent project, the French fine dining restaurant Journee in Shenzhen, we choose the opulent Four Seasons marble for the table top to complement the more refined food and plate setting. In this restaurant the food is the main focus for customers and they love to take beautiful photos of their experience so we try to ensure the back drop is instantly recognizable.
What excites you about designing a new space, and how do you begin a new project?
At Red Design, all our projects aim for a deep connection with the concept to achieve the unique design qualities that consumers are searching for and to provide longevity in an ever-competitive market. We do not design concepts that only we like; we research our client’s brand and needs and collaboratively develop ‘our’ new concept together. The design of each space is derived from this research and that makes each space new and exciting for us.
Pizza 4P's is an outlier in that it’s not a China-based project. What led to this partnership?
I decided to make a trip out to Vietnam in 2019 as we were interested in this emerging market and felt it had similarities to how Shanghai was in the early 2000s. I spent a few days there and fell in love with Pizza 4P’s: their food is amazing, the brand core fundamentals were exciting and honest and they had some amazing store designs already.
I was lucky enough to get a meeting with Kazu and loved his passion for design that appreciated existing materials without over embellishment. As Kazu said at our first meeting, ‘if the wall on the site is beautiful, why cover it?’
Our first store with Pizza 4Ps, in Hanoi, happened shortly after my meeting with Kazu. The success of this project, and the ease with which we were able to implement the design from Shanghai, led to Pizza 4Ps coming back to us for the first location outside of Vietnam: ironically Covid-19 made us more attractive as they felt we could implement their zero-waste dream remotely.
You mention responding to local culture, what areas did you identify as uniquely Khmer?
We were inspired by New Khmer Architecture, the mid-century architectural movement which blended elements of the Modern Movement with the Cambodian vernacular, and in particular by Vann Molyvann’s Institute of Foreign Languages in Phnom Penh, a building which combines bold concrete structures with traditional Khmer methods in breathable architecture. This combination of modernism and sustainability sat well with the Pizza 4Ps brand goals for a sustainable, green approach to design.
How did you then incorporate these elements in your design? And what was left out?
We decided, due to the curving nature of our space, to insert a fan like ceiling structure that leads the customers eye around the space. This dominant concrete structure aims to visually stand out as a key Khmer Architecture feature, anchoring the space and creating plays of shadow and repeating patterns. These structures also formed screens and dividers while maintaining an open space.
Another key characteristic of Khmer architecture is to raise architecture on legs: in the Khmer vernacular raised walkways and buildings are used to make interior spaces naturally ventilated and protected from heavy rain. This concept was incorporated into a private area at the back of the space, enclosed with foldable screens to allow the space to be opened when needed.
What elements would you find in all 4P’s branches across Vietnam and Cambodia?
The recurring design element found in all 4P’s stores is the use of locally sourced materials, in some cases the materials from the actual site whether a heritage building or the shell of a new build. For example, new builds often have reclaimed brick internal walls, creating a consistent interior design language regardless of building type. Each store also has a different and unique way to use the 4P’s brand colour of indigo to highlight the brands visual identity.
4P’s zero-waste principles stand out, how do you bring these to the diners attention?
For Pizza 4P’s, zero waste means a set of principles to eliminate waste through the actions of reduce, reuse, and recycle, avoiding sending anything to landfill or polluting the environment. Our intention is that the interior visually highlights these principles; some are easy for consumers to notice straight away while others require more exploration to find out about the story behind the elements.
The recycling principles are evident from the customer’s first interaction with the space: the brass entrance signage is made from melted down Cambodian bombs and empty cartridge cases by local craftspeople. As well as providing a pure representation of the zero-waste approach, this is a poetic demonstration of the Pizza 4P’s vision to ‘Make the World Smile for Peace’.
We chose to locate the ‘Garage Room’ – a recycling hub – at the entrance to the space. This room offers receptacles for 20 different types of recycling, and stores food waste from both the cooking process and customer leftovers. Because this room is integral to the zero-waste concept we chose to make a feature of what would normally be a hidden space: customers can explore the ideas behind the concept while they wait to be seated (most Pizza 4P’s locations have long queues to get a table so we aimed to utilize this waiting time for a brand experience).
Further store elements made from recycled elements include the restaurant furniture. We teamed up with local plastic recycling specialists to create the composite plastic material which forms the chairs and banquette base; this material was stained indigo to reflect the 4P’s brand colour identifier. It is our hope that when customers use this recycled material they will see that plastic waste (a major issue in Cambodia) can be used to form something beautiful and that this will inspire others to consider reusable materials.
We know that traveling from China is almost impossible, so how did you make the project management work remotely?
At Red Design, design detail is everything: we consider it the secret ingredient in our design compared with other firms in the fast-paced F&B market. Our design documentation is extremely detailed orientated, a habit formed while working in emerging markets throughout our 15-year history. We recognize the importance of informing the construction team of every connection, from all angles - we do not leave space for them to fill in the gaps.
This emphasis on details means that working remotely via con-calls in another country is possible. We are proud that the as-built Pizza 4P’s is identical to our design concept. This was achieved without a single site visit, thanks to our detailed drawing package and a close working relationship with Kazu, whose passion and belief in the design contributed to its success.