Ted Gachot - January/February 2002
Food Arts presents the January/February 2002 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Hugh Hardy, the distinguished architect who in his exuberant devotion to "the romance of public space" has exemplified the idea that a well-designed restaurant is not merely "evanescent scenery," congenial fly-paper for attracting hunt-and-peck crowds, but part of the enduring sinew of public life. His commitment, he says, is to "architecture that generates places that have basic values that survive."
There's an impish quality to Hardy that you might not expect from one of the country's most prominent architects whose twin talents for creating vibrant new buildings and transporting old ones into the present tense without loss of historical integrity continue to deluge him with awards from his peers. With an amused grin perpetually dawning over his face, he appears continually armed with a trove of well-balanced insights, generous overtures, and slightly mischievous remarks that have made him a favorite on the speaker's podium and national television.
Hardy's entrée to the world of restaurants was, not unlike that of many waiters, through the theater, early on working with scenic designer Jo Mielziner and Eero Saarinen on the construction of the Vivian Beaumont Theater at New York City's Lincoln Center. And after founding his own firm, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates in 1967, which planted spirited new buildings across the country, he would over time restore old Broadway jewels like the New Victory and New Amsterdam theaters and most recently Radio City Music Hall. Hardy's flair for the dramatic, feeling for history, and unflagging sense of the contemporary won him the job of revivifying The Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, earning raves from both critics and customers. Other skyscraper aerie projects have included, after an earlier bombing, the rebirth of the now vanished Windows on the World and the just opened Equinox restaurant complex in Singapore. Conversely, his orange carpeted "grand entrance" staircase at the millennial Brasserie 8 1/2, descends curvaceously into a Manhattan skyscraper basement, to the photo op delight of event planners.
Knighted "Mr. New York" on national TV, Hardy is particularly lauded for reclaiming two municipal treasures from grim dereliction through the restaurant and cafe medium: Bridgemarket under the Queensboro Bridge vastness and Bryant Park Grill, a seemingly organic attachment to the New York Public Library.
In restoring historical places, Hardy believes that "you have to do it with a little wit and find a way to invite a new generation in. It's in the contrast of old and new and the other 'collisions' arising from an electric approach that create interest and give new life." And to remember always that restaurant design succeeds by making people "feel wonderful and look wonderful."