Serene Zen Modernity Welcomes Guests at the Nobu Hotel Palo Alto
Montalba Architects’ redesign of the Nobu Hotel Palo Alto is an architectural project that could be characterized by a sense of delayed gratification – but one worth the wait. While the property opened its doors to welcome guests into the retreat’s ryokan-inspired accommodations appointed in Nobu Matsuhisa’s modern-meets-traditional-Japanese serene aesthetics back in 2020, the architecture practice has only now been able to unveil a centerpiece addition, one notable as much for its active sustainability as its poetically serene atmosphere.
The Nobu Palo Alto Garden Restaurant is a 4,100-square-foot complementary component to the Nobu Hotel Palo Alto, but also exists wholly independent once guests cross into its zen-like confines. Accessible from the hotel’s lobby, surrounding conference rooms and from its frontage on Emerson Street, the indoor–outdoor dining experience is confident in its contrast between traditional Japanese landscaping and contemporary interior architecture and furnishings.
“Contrast” may be a misnomer of a description, except in regards to the span of periods from which each element references. The warmly appointed interior is furnished with seating and tables not dissimilar to the modernity for masses of Richard Meier’s Getty Center or Apple’s best efforts within their retail spaces. Meaning, there’s an unobtrusive air to Montalba Architects’ work permitting the garden to breathe as the centerpiece experience for diners and guests alike.
“Overall the design was driven by ideas of composition and warmth of materiality – thinking about how we consider air, water, light, nourishment, comfort and tranquility of mind when seeking a retreat in an urban setting,” says David Montalba, Founding Principal, Montalba Architects.
Large-format stone tiles extending into the outdoor patio are used as literal stepping stones to connect the architecture to the complementing landscaping. The seating is echoed spatially by vertically arranged boulders sourced from Japan, positioned as an artful garden repose.
While Japanese gardens are traditionally planted with species evolved for plentiful rain, like the rest of California, the city of Palo Alto is suffering to adapt under the duress of drought. Montalba Architects thoughtfully chose to reinterpret their Japanese garden planted with California’s native ground cover. The result is a Japanese aesthetic evolved to flourish with less water and maintenance. The garden planting is designed to change throughout the year to reflect the seasonality of the natural landscape.
“We developed the idea of an integrated garden dining experience well before the pandemic,” added Montalba. “The design was driven by a desire to facilitate natural moments of pause and mental rest. It was important to us that non-patrons be able to experience the space, too – that they come upon this unexpected garden scene while walking along the street.”
Montalba Architects’ design is inviting and relaxing, a lush micro habitat designed to evolve seasonally, an example of contemporary biophilic design incorporated into the sum of an experience rather than a simple window dressing.