If there is an architectural symbol of New Yorkers’ current food obsession, it has to be the food hall. As one of the first to open during this most recent food hall boom, Eataly provided an excellent jumping-off point for Open House New York to launch its series of food hall tours. Organized as part of The Final Mile: Food Systems of New York, OHNY hosted a group of visitors at Eataly for a tour with Diana Revkin, managing director of the retail studio at TPG Architecture. As the architect behind Eataly, TPG played an integral role in the design and execution of the “largest Italian marketplace in the world,” which was developed in partnership with the in-house creative team at Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group (B&BHG) and the Italian planning team from Eataly.
A joint venture between Italian businessman Oscar Farinetti and B&BHG, Eataly opened in 2010 to much fanfare and has sustained great success ever since. The market features distinctly Italian flavors, in both the food and the design, for a dining and shopping experience that is inspired as much by Italy as it is by the frenetic city just outside the market’s doors.
Revkin began by leading the group through the produce section at the front of the store. With fresh fruits and vegetables displayed in carts and baskets, this narrow entranceway acclimates customers to the feel of the Italian streetscape, which is replicated throughout Eataly. TPG worked within the footprint of the building’s historic cruciform floor plan to encourage visitors to slowly drift between the small shops and restaurants, taking a circuitous route to experience the variety of spaces rather than moving mechanically as one might in a modern grocery store. As a result, the energy of the space is heightened, especially when the store is crowded (which it often is), in a way with which many New Yorkers are very familiar.
One of the best examples of Eataly’s vitality is La Piazza, which is located in the lobby space of the hotel that originally occupied the building when it opened in 1856. The team designed La Piazza as an ode to the central square of an Italian village. Revkin explained that TPG tried to preserve much of the original architecture, including the marble niches that frame La Piazza’s four corners, each of which was carved from a single massive piece of stone. The ceiling was dropped to cover a number of major pipes that ran above the space, but the combination of industrial elements and the hotel’s distinctive architecture is apparent throughout the interior.
After winding through the market, Revkin ended the tour by answering questions about some of the broader implications of hospitality design and Eataly’s presence within the fabric of the city. The food hall’s construction coincided with a “renaissance of retail spaces” in the area, to borrow Revkin’s turn of phrase. Following Eataly’s opening in 2010, retail rent around the Flatiron District has risen by nearly $200/sq ft.
Eataly houses a number of shops, including Caffe Lavazza, Caffe Vergnano, and the Nutella Bar. The collection of small vendors, food retail, and sit-down eateries is a model that many food halls have experimented with, in varying proportions, but at the time Eataly opened it was an exciting and surprising format for New Yorkers. Since then, it has developed into a premium tourist destination, a gourmet grocer, and an Italian food lover’s dream. Looking across the rest of the city, it is hard not to see Eataly’s opening and remarkable success as one of the sparks that ignited the current food hall boom.
As contemporary food halls continue to evolve, the design of this particular space has undoubtedly had an effect on what New Yorkers envision when they think of what a food hall is. Asked how her colleagues at TPG think and talk about food halls, Revkin confirmed that it is a frequent and robust topic of conversation. “But there are no definitive answers,” she observed. “There are a lot of great questions about what comes next.”