Order in the Food Court

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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UXUS, a design consultancy in the Netherlands and New York, has announced one in a new trend of “designed food experiences” in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport departure lounge. They say the goal was to break from standard food courts by offering unique dining pleasures through three different “food concepts.” Under the umbrella “Street Food Market” there are three lounges: The Grill, The Oven and Fresh food. Always hungry when I’m in an airport yet disappointed by the fast-track offerings, this “staged” environment struck my fancy. I asked Oliver Michell, chief creative officer, architect at UXUS / FutureBrand to explain the concept and goal.

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First, tell us a little about the goal of UXUS in creating this court?Our aim was to create a vibrant alternative to the traditional food courts travelers have come to expect. We looked at street food markets for inspiration and focused on showcasing “live” food preparation and fresh ingredients.

We also sourced sustainable materials throughout, playing with color, contrast and texture to create a streetscape that isn’t pastiche. The look and feel is deliberately urban, playful and unexpected—and it’s casual in every sense of the word.

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How was food presented at the airport prior to this?There was a more classic food court on the same site, prior to the terminal’s refurbishment. It offered the expected range of known brands and was more of a “free-flow” concept with a central cash point—and lots of beige. At the new Street Food Market, three of the four “stalls” are a unique, tailor-made concept. McDonald’s completes the offer for customers looking for something familiar.

What roadblocks were there in terms of airport rules, traffic patterns, customer needs?The process was very fluid and seamless because Schiphol Airport has a vision to innovate and constantly rethink passengers’ experiences to better fit their needs.

The Street Food Market offers a food and beverage experience that breaks with tradition and directly appeals to what diners are asking for: affordable, fresh and customized meals served fast. There was a real sense of partnership and shared vision between ourselves, HMSHost (the operator) and the Airport to deliver something exciting and new.

One of the design challenges was to ensure the Street Food Market is visible from the main concourse below. To attract diners, we created a lit ceiling feature that spells out “food” in multiple languages. The neon-like LED forms are eye-catching and add to the urban atmosphere we’re creating at the food court.

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How has this changed the spirit as well as the airport experience?This innovative food court experience is part of a wider renovation program for the entire “Lounge 2” terminal, which aims to bring a sense of fun and discovery to travelers.

This includes a dedicated family and kid’s play area adjacent to the Street Food Market, expanded retail and F&B offers, digital art installations and a general upgrade to the terminal’s interior design.

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Food courts have existed for a long time. How is this different?The Street Food Market is theatrical in multiple ways, rather than a neutral seating zone servicing the expected fast-food outlets. It’s designed to create a distinct atmosphere and sense of place, and is part of a wider family lounge zone that welcomes diners to dwell and enjoy their dining experience. We also focused on having open kitchens, playing up the excitement of seeing your meal prepared freshly in front of you.

Around the food court, we put a lot of effort into designing a range of seating types to suit different traveler needs, adding surprising details wherever possible. The free-serve drink island is inspired by street art, featuring signage made from bottle caps. There’s even a high-table made from recycled Amsterdam bikes.

Do you think the traveler appreciates the effort?So far we have had great feedback from travelers and operators alike. They enjoy the food offer and find the experience refreshingly different, and beyond their airport dining expectations.

Well then, bon appétit!

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →