Sliding Glass Walls Enable Flexible, Safe Restaurant Design

April 12, 2021 - by NanaWall
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Lumen Detroit is a popular restaurant that was able to stay open during much of the COVID-19 shutdown, helping to revitalize a faded downtown neighborhood. Its design includes opening glass walls that expand air flow and maximize floor space to meet health requirements and make customers feel safe.


Detroit, Michigan.


Architect of Design: Touloukian Touloukian Inc., Boston
Structural Engineering: Studio NYL, Boulder, Colorado
Interior Design: Saroki Architecture, Birmingham, Michigan
Owner/Developer: DTE Energy

What was the vision behind the design?

From its conception, the mission of the building was to be a part of a great public space, to be an architectural icon in the City, and to encourage patrons to engage the surrounding area. Instrumental to achieving that goal was the ability to connect the building seamlessly to the park, and the neighborhood that encompasses it, by opening the walls -- a dramatic effect accomplished by two extensive NanaWall sliding glass wall systems. This choice has since proved to be prescient during the COVID-19 crisis.

What are the highlights of the design?

The building is distinguished by a swooping, soaring canopy. It seems, at first glance, like it is all roof with no walls at all. It subtly references Detroit’s rich historic involvement with both automobiles and music. “We intended to make the building like a machine, like a car: slender roof lines, louvered grills, concealed equipment,” says architect Ted Touloukian. “Another aspect is its reference to music. The building geometry and wood ceiling louvers undulate with a rhythm unique to itself.” The glass perimeter walls completely open on both halves of the building, the bar, and the dining room. The full height NanaWall HSW60 operable panels rise over 10 feet on one side and nearly 12 feet on the other.

With the glass walls opened, the rising roof seems almost to levitate, supported only by slender corner columns. It cantilevers far beyond the footprint of the enclosed space and ‘takes off’ into the surrounding park. Opening the operable glass walls adds another 1200 square foot of seating covered by the floating roof.

The bar opens on two sides with 15 panels of sliding glass wall taking up an expanse of 47 feet. The 86-foot-long dining room wall opens on three sides with 26 panels that park within three compact bays. The panels store completely out of the way preventing interference from open views, traffic flow, and table layout.

“The way the operable doors retreat into discrete areas was really important for us,” notes Touloukian. “The flush sill details and the ability to have a pass door were also significant selection factors, as was energy efficiency. NanaWall allowed us to open it up and extend the room, make the space feel larger. The system opened up the building to make great connections to the park and to the historic buildings downtown.”

The combined effect of the spreading roof and opening walls were fundamental to the design. “We lift the building up,” he explains, “and create complete reciprocity between the building and the outdoors. The perimeter of the building disappears. There is no interior or exterior, it’s all one space.”

How does the design help the restaurant adapt to COVID-19 requirements?

The owner’s original concept was a structure so flexible that it had options for alternative uses such as a performance area, a boardroom, or a farmer’s market. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the ability to open the walls became significant in an entirely new way. With the specter of contagion shutting down indoor dining, Lumen’s versatility became its saving grace. The entire restaurant is effectively outdoors. It could operate with dining under the roof as well as on the surrounding patio through the warm months after pandemic re-opening.

Distancing restrictions have obliged them to move tables farther out on the patio and to take certain interior tables out of use, but they were able to make maximum use of the facility. The open walls not only meet public health requirements, but make customers feel safe. The wide apertures also allow waiters to navigate a ‘minimal contact’ course that passes by the fewest tables on the way from the kitchen to the outside.

With the likelihood of a continuing awareness of airborne infection even after Covid-19 has ceased to be a threat, Lumen may be a model for healthy restaurant design for the foreseeable future.

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