Students design, fabricate architectural
installations for restaurant renovation


Using groundbreaking modeling techniques and emerging fabrication processes, last Spring students in digital design-build course at Texas A&M created a series of architectural accoutrements to enhance the ambiance at the recently renovated La Riviera Restaurant and Bakery in Bryan, Texas.

Led by Gabriel Esquivel, assistant professor of architecture, the students designed and fabricated their work, which was commissioned by the restraunt, at the College of Architecture's Digital Fabrication Facility, or “Architecture Ranch,” located at Texas A&M’s Riverside Campus.

"The scope of the project included a ceiling installation with 4,000 plastic-injection molded flowers, wall ornaments and a new bar," said Esquivel. "Due to an extremely tight budget, the team developed innovative processes to reduce costs while achieving the desired atmosphere."

It was an ambitious project that emerged from the restaurant owner's wish to equip the restaurant's entrance with a new, more sensual atmosphere, more in line with the restaurant's upscale offerings.

The students’ designs were informed, Esquivel said, by pastry techniques like fondant, frosting and cake ornamentation, in order to produce a series of sensations using materialism and form or specific perceptions, sensations and actions. Their solutions were ornaments, he said, that basically interpreted the wall, furniture and ceiling surfaces as frosting and fondant.

"The ceiling design began by folding pieces of pliable felt fabric into flower-like forms," said Esquivel. "After several iterations, the team digitized the form and further refined the design on a computer. The finished model was exported as a stereolithography file and sent to a factory in Mexico City that specializes in plastic-injection molding."

When the manufactured flowers returned from Mexico City, students manually placed each one in the wire mesh, then transported the piece to the restaurant.

"The installation blankets the entire entry space," said Esquivel.  "The light source is masked and diffused by a layer of translucent forms, casting an even glow over the entire space."

Fashioning the installation’s double-curved surface out of planar, or flat, sheets proved a bit problematic for the student designers.

To overcome this, he said, the ceiling was split into seven smaller sections, and decomposed further using Lamina software, which approximated the installation's 3-D geometry by generating a number of 2-D parts. The parts were labeled, cut and joined using a weaving technique to form the skeleton.

Students also designed and built a countertop from three-quarter inch medium density fiberboard sheets.

"It's a flat surface with a slight dip at one end to display a dessert tray," said Esquivel. "Once we arrived at the final form, the model of the countertop was sectioned and the pieces were nested together to reduce material waste during the milling process."

One of the polyurethane foam ornaments made by the students rests on the countertop. Because of its proximity to restaurant guests and its potential to sustain damaged, Esquivel said the piece was designed for durability — cut on the CNC router, glued together with epoxy and reinforced with metal dowels.

"The entire piece went through several stages of sanding to remove any blemishes and was finished with a coat of golden car paint," he said.

The wall ornament, fashioned out of lighter, 2-pound polyurethane foam, was modeled in Maya software and split to fit onto sheets of 4'x8'x4" blocks. After several stages of sanding and coating with a compound to remove any blemishes, they also received a coat of gold paint. 

The students’ work can be viewed at the restaurant, located at 3700 South Texas Avenue, Suite 300. For directions, visit the La Riviera website at


- Posted: Oct. 7, 2010 -

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Contact:   Phillip Rollfing, or 979.458.0442.


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