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LuLuSan Francisco, CA

Harmony and chaos in a fire-lit Mediterranean setting: This was the vision behind Restaurant LuLu, the popular eatery that helped catalyze San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. Open since 1993, LuLu is the first restaurant designed by CCS.

A vacant 8,000-square-foot warehouse was transformed into a vision of Michelangelo’s Renaissance Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, with its trapezium plan, centralized ellipse, and focus on the Senatorio building. In this translation of Michelangelo’s composition, the prime axial location of the Senatorio building is occupied by a large open kitchen with wood-fired ovens–the focal point of the entire restaurant. At the center of the plan, the Campidoglio’s elliptical paving takes the form of a sunken dining area. A pair of adjoining structures on either side of the vaulted main space become “buildings within a building” and the equivalent of the side buildings in the real Campidoglio. These contain tables overlooking the main dining room on one side, and a bar on the other.

The façade, stretching 100 feet along Folsom Street, is an important part of the overall design because it needed to create a backdrop to the “piazza” inside, create a buffer from the street, and create a strong urban presence that would become the face of LuLu. This was achieved by focusing on the middle of the facade with a concave wall punctured by a door at the center, tucked behind an existing column. Surrounding the door is a curving wall of white plaster and an irregular arrangement of colored windows, flanked by large storefront windows.

Inside, existing trusses supporting a pair of double-barrel vaults were sandblasted and the timber roof peeled open at the front and back to admit sunlight and reveal activity from within through clerestory windows. Interior finishes including new and old wood, raw steel, colored glass, and various warm tones of plaster in a decidedly Mediterranean palette.

Photography: David Duncan Livingston, Bryan Natinsky