If you head to , the new market-cum-restaurant-complex at Hudson Yards, looking for impeccable paella or mouthwatering Iberico ham, you won’t be disappointed. But you might also be surprised to find that your aesthetic experience while there is as rich and authentic as your culinary one. Mercado Little Spain, the first New York endeavor for José Andrés, who partnered with Ferrán and Albert Adrià, was designed by Capella Garcia Arquitectura in collaboration with ICRAVE. The goal was to ensure that the sprawling individual spaces (among them the market, an all-day Spanish Diner, the fire-cooking restaurant Leña and the seafood spot Mar) were outfitted in decor coming almost exclusively from Spain. Here, Juli Capella, a founding partner of Capella Garcia Arquitectura, walks us through the details and inspiration behind his work.
What was the general design concept for Mercado Little Spain? Did you have a specific memo from José Andrés and the Adriàs?
One day José called me urgently to go to Madrid to visit markets and restaurants with some American partners. This is how the adventure began, looking for what would be the ideal typology for a spacious food hall in Manhattan. When we developed it, in long meetings with José and the Adrià brothers, a special and unique place came out. The two basic inspirational concepts were, on the one hand, the old Spanish markets of fresh fruit and fish, and also the shape of the small Spanish towns, with their little houses and small streets and squares, where people go out to meet, chat, and drink and eat to celebrate.
How did Mercado's design compare, both in terms of concept and actual execution, with other work you have done with him?
This is José's most challenging project because of its size and being in New York. He knew it was a difficult and demanding city and had to be prepared and convinced with a powerful project. It is a bet that has little to do with his Jaleo restaurants, which already have an experienced and successful formula. With the Mercado on the contrary it was a new invention. There is no other place like it, it does not look like a real market or a food court.
The tiles throughout the space are particularly striking. Why did you specifically choose Vives Cerámica and why were tiles such an important part of the design concept?
José wanted Little Spain to be a piece of the best of Spain—not just food—placed in the middle of Manhattan. That is why we wanted all the furniture, lamps and materials to be original Spanish. Ceramic is a very typical material of Spain. We are the second largest world producer of it, and we have very advanced companies, such as Vives in Castellón, with a truly rich catalog that allowed us to outfit each stall with a different kind, suitable for each offering: red in the ham station, green in the fruit station, pastel in the ice cream station, blue sea in fish station. All the countertops of the bars and kiosks are Silestone or Dekton, two high-quality materials invented by the Spanish company Cosentino that sells all over the world. It’s our Formica! And there is also a lot of hydraulic pavement, typical of Catalonia. All this helps to create a very Spanish atmosphere.
What inspired the design of the churros station? It has a very futuristic, ’60s feel to it.
In the collective memory of the Spaniards of my generation, there is always a van or trailer selling churros. During our childhood, in the ’60s, we saw them tour the streets offering churros and hot chocolate. That's why we wanted to make a tribute as if a van had parked inside the premises. The orange color is a tribute to the color of the Spanish fruits, always vibrant colors and hanging lights.
The murals are also very impressive. Why were they important to your concept and how did you choose the artists and themes you wanted?
José has always liked to incorporate artistic works in his restaurants—he is a promoter and collector. But beware, it is not about hanging pictures once the place is finished, but from the beginning incorporating art and taking into account creative young people, to be able to show their work in relationship with each venue. Here we chose Javier Mariscal, author of the Olympic logo of Barcelona ’92, who made a trompe l'oeil drawing of people sitting, enjoying themselves on an outdoor terrace in Ibiza watching the sea.
The other mural is by an emerging young man, Sergio Mora, who stands out for his ironic style, with a viewpoint of very Spanish magical surrealism–like Dalí—which gives us a vanguard touch in the space, welcoming the visitor.
There is also graffiti in the Spanish Diner by Mikel Urmeneta, a Basque artist with a rich universe of characters that are like pets that populate space.
How does the design of Mercado balance its inspiration and its setting, specifically reflecting Spain and also nodding to the New York neighborhood it’s in?
It is very curious the coincidence that MLS is located just below the High Line, whose structure of metal pillars and cast iron beams is very similar to that of the Spanish markets. That is why there is also a constructive harmony here. For the design, we worked with the local team ICRAVE, which has helped to Americanize the space. There are two cultures that have always been in , there was a neighborhood called Little Spain in New York, not far from Hudson Yards, but it was eclipsed by Little Italy and Chinatown, and now is the time for it to come back!