Two Projects Capture Region’s Flavor

Undertakings reflect the heritage an agricultural community and evince its essence.

The economy of Yakima, WA, has long revolved around agriculture. The region is a major producer of apples and other fruits, a wide variety of vegetables, and 75% of the hops grown in the United States.

It’s no surprise, then, that two recent projects designed by Graham Baba Architects, Seattle, reflect those agricultural roots and seek to capture the essence of a utilitarian agricultural aesthetic with a warm, simple palette of natural materials.

While the two projects are food related, they are on different ends of the distribution/consumption spectrum. Nevertheless they share a flavor and spirit that reflects the community’s character.

Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse Bar
Yakima, WA

The first half of the 20th century was a time of growth and dignity for downtown Yakima. Presidents Roosevelt and Taft visited the emerging agricultural center where the main street featured fountains, grand theaters, and stately, multi-story brick-and-masonry buildings. By mid-century, however, most of these structures had been demolished to make way for parking lots as businesses struggled to keep their downtown relevant and residents fled to the suburbs.

A local family with long-standing ties to the agricultural heritage of the region sought to counteract this decline by combining their interest in food with their desire to help revitalize downtown Yakima. They chose a site in the downtown core and created a restaurant and bar featuring local food and drink, setting their dream in motion. From the project’s honest use of materials celebrating the agricultural vernacular and history of the valley to the synergies resulting from strategic placemaking, the project provides a much-needed shot in the arm for civic renewal.

The two elements of the project—restaurant and bar—are conceived as distinct yet connected structures that weave together where they meet. The Icehouse Bar, a board-formed, cast-in-place concrete structure pulled tight to the sidewalk’s edge, maintains the street facade established by the existing historic buildings. The Kitchen, essentially a timber-structured, glass-walled pavilion, is pulled back from the sidewalk to open up the corner via a small plaza with restaurant seating.

The Kitchen is elegant yet approachable in its aesthetic, with the dining room and kitchen area all under one roof to put the preparation of food at center stage. Surrounding seating affords views of the chefs at work. Wrapped on three sides with large windows, the dining area opens to the neighborhood, visually and symbolically merging the activity inside with the neighborhood beyond. The structural system is exposed, typical of agricultural vernacular buildings throughout the region. A casual dining area at the back of the restaurant connects to a public plaza through garage doors, offering a protected patio setting for three-season dining.

The bar is an appropriately moody environment, emphasizing natural and repurposed materials. A zipper skylight situated above the bar washes the bar wall with light. Vintage ice tongs hold cast glass cubes topped with a light source, illuminating the glass from within and creating an aqueous light effect over the bar. An off-center pivoting steel and glass door with inset pilot door provides access between the bar and exterior bar seating.

The Kitchen and Icehouse Bar are separated by a board-formed, cast-concrete wall punctuated by a series of vertical vents. The vents create interesting light-and-shadow play and offer glimpses into each venue. Rafter tails slip through the vents to become a unifying gesture between venues. They also serve as supports for custom lights made from vintage smudge pots, referencing the region’s fruit industry.

The materiality of the project recalls the agricultural vernacular of the valley and highlights the honest beauty of materials used in their natural or weathered state. Repurposed concrete form boards and formwork are used for ceilings and feature walls, including the wall behind the bar. Sun shades and exterior lighting suspended from angled wood poles, like those used for staking fruit or vines, are yet another nod to the area’s agricultural heritage and complete the transition from building to city to region.

The Cowiche project has spurred the transformation of an adjacent municipal parking lot to a new central city plaza. The plaza is envisioned to become the centerpiece of an even larger urban revitalization effort.

Washington Fruit & Produce Co. Headquarters
Yakima, WA

Surrounded by the world’s most high-tech fruit packing warehouses, the 16,500-sq.-ft. Washington Fruit & Produce Co. headquarters is conceived as an oasis amidst a sea of concrete and low-lying brush landscape. Tucked behind landforms and site walls, this courtyard-focused office complex provides a refuge from the noise and activity of the industrial processing yards nearby.

Taking its design cue from an aging barn that the client had identified as a favorite, the concept seeks to capture the essence of a utilitarian agricultural aesthetic. A simple exposed structure that employs a limited material palette and natural patina, the design merges rural vernacular with an equally spare contemporary aesthetic.

The L-shaped building is nested into the landscape through the use of board-formed concrete site walls and earthen berms that wrap the perimeter to form a central, landscaped courtyard. Soil excavated for foundation work was repurposed for the perimeter berms, eliminating the need to remove it or add more.

A notch through the berm provides access from the parking area to the formal courtyard and building entrance. Crossing the courtyard via a boardwalk, the visitor is embraced by a fully glazed facade, punctuated by a series of wood columns that march across the building in regular intervals. The boardwalk aligns with an off-set building entry, which is formed as a wood-wrapped passageway inserted into the glazed facade.

The building recalls its agricultural roots by pulling the 18-ft.-tall scissored glu-lam structural columns to the outside, revealing the physics of its construction and enabling the 175-ft.-long interior volume to be column free. Topped with 68-ft.-long exposed truss girders, the interior reaches 20-ft. at its peak. The repetitive nature of the structure ensured easy fabrication and assembly, saving costs and resources.

The north-facing courtyard facade is glazed along its length, visually extending the interior space into the courtyard. Interior light is balanced via a long clerestory dormer on the south, while the extensive use of large, south-facing overhangs and high efficiency glazing limits summer heat gain. Reclaimed barn wood siding and a weathering steel roof round out the exterior materials.

Spartan, daylight-filled interiors are complemented by a warm, simple palette of natural materials. Private offices line the south wall, while conference spaces and back-of-house functions are set in wood-clad boxes. Interior furnishings terminate well below the ceiling. The open feeling of the structure is reinforced by keeping furnishings low and allowing them to float within the space. Lighting consists of custom-designed uplights, which keep the ceiling plane tidy. A raised flooring system further ensures that the clean aesthetic is preserved and free of cabling. The deep agricultural roots of both the company and location underlie the simple design concept and attention to detail throughout the project.

The sales office is located in the short arm of the L to isolate noise and enhance privacy. Adjacent to the sales office is a separately enclosed structure featuring a 30-ft.-long table where farmers with whom the company works gather for communal meals. The exposed structural system connecting the lunchroom to the main building creates a small, partially covered courtyard, nodding to a remnant of an aging barn.

Views throughout the thirty-acre complex are controlled, whether to the courtyard, the distant hills, or to the shallow private office views created between the building and the berms. Everything is curated to create a peaceful environment in which to work.

Click here to visit Graham Baba’s website.

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