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Feast for the eyes – Américas River Oaks restaurant by Jordan Mozer and Associates

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This ordan Mozer-designed restaurant references to Latin American history and culture

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From gauchos roaming the pampas to the corn, beans and maize that were staple foods for 3000 years, the symbols of Latin American history and culture are many and diverse. One way to draw these elements together under a single roof is with a decor that evokes the region's most famous literary style – magical realism.

Américas River Oaks restaurant, created by design architect Jordan Mozer and run by Nicaraguan chef Michael Cordua, reflects this imaginative approach. Both men are aficionados of the work of the great South American writer Gabriel García Márquez and his favoured genre, magical realism, led the design.

The surprising, hybrid decor is appropriate for the avant-garde restaurateur. Cordua is noted for creating South American dishes made exclusively from foodstuffs indigenous to the Americas, but using culinary techniques from Europe, resulting in radical, contemporary North American dishes. If the menu sets up a dialogue of unexpected tastes, then the same can be said for the decor, says Mozer.

"The restaurant is designed to convey the surreal New World culture of hybrids, a non-linear architectural narrative, like a dream or a poem, that unfolds from the first glimpse of the pre-Columbian graffiti on the facade and meanders through every corner of the interior, even into the smallest powder room."

The fine-dining restaurant is on the upper level of a 1930s shopping centre in Houston. Interiors comprise a bar, terrace and lounge, together with a raised, reconfigurable dining room. The furnishings are loose and many partitions are operable to allow flexibility and to increase density in the main dining room on quiet nights. And almost every element in Américas River Oaks confounds expectation.

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"The doodles on the bronze-relief facade were inspired by the Nazca geoglyphs of ancient Peru, Incan gold figures and the modern-day graffiti of Rio de Janeiro," says Mozer. "At the bar, there's another contemporary cultural reference – ‘hoodie' bar stools with ‘skinny jean' legs."

"A raised private dining room overlooks the bar and this can be separated by a moveable felt partition – the same material that is used to make cowboy hats," says Mozer. "It also references the Incas' use of llama wool and cotton fibres to create textiles, weapons, boats and bridges. Advantages of using a wool material to create partitions include its sculptural and sound attenuating qualities."

On the walls, sculptures of maize, beans and popped corn are also made from felt.

"Between the bar and the terrace dining area, four steel-framed, leather-covered sculptures demarcate the lounge – the leather is another nod to gauchos and cowboys," says Mozer. "For the dining room I designed feature ‘hugging' love seats in the colour of chocolate or coffee, both signature commodities in Latin America."

A boardroom and another private room overlook the dining room – every space has myriad features that help conjure the spirit of the Americas. Exotic cast bronze pitcher plant lamps evoke their living, insect-devouring counterparts. Powder rooms are fitted with sculptural illuminated Soul Window mirrors and cast bronze vanity basins.

As with Chef Cordua's dishes, each component of the restaurant's design has been hand-made from scratch and produced in America.

"Many couture studio furnishings and furniture were created for the project," says Mozer. "These were produced in Chicago and Houston by artists, craftspeople and factories in just 11 weeks, the entire process streamlined by rapid prototyping and manufacturing techniques."

Materials for the restaurant were chosen for durability and sustainability – to develop patinas, not maintenance issues. Elements were sourced and produced near the site, or were recycled. Nothing was imported or chosen from a catalogue. The earthy palette includes regional mahogany, American ebony and bronze, as well as Chicago glass, wool felt burlap, saddle leather and raw cotton denim, to name only a few finishes.

Américas River Oaks is more than the sum of its diverse custom-designed parts – together, they evoke a cultural cornucopia for the diner's pleasure.

First published date: 06 October 2013

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Credit List

Location Américas River Oaks restaurant, Houston, Texas
Design architect Jordan Mozer, Jordan Mozer and
Associates, design team Jeffrey W Carloss, Scott Genke, Peter Ogbac, Manuel Hernandez
Architect of record Jeffrey W Carloss
Construction company JE Dunn Construction
Graphics Jordan Mozer and Associates
Structural engineer Haynes Whaley Associates
Mechanical engineer JEK Engineering
Code consultant All Texas Permits
Flooring Teka engineered wood flooring in White Oak (entry), Daltile quarry tile in Sahara Sand (bar), Masland Contract carpet in Surge 7224,
Columns Finished in custom-stained leather
Wall treatments Sherwin-Williams paint, leather partitions by Jordan Mozer Studios (lounge), burlap (dining), mosaic glass tile by Architectural Systems (powder rooms)
Furniture All designed by Jordan Mozer Associates with fabrication by Wood Goods Industries or Delta Furniture, including cast resin bar stools and wing-back chairs, both upholstered in leather
Lighting All custom designed by Jordan Mozer Associates, including hand-blown glass pendants with hand-sculpted wool felt light fixtures, hand-polished, cast bronze Swamp Flower table lamps, felt chandeliers, Rasta lamps
Powder room Bronze sink, resin mirror by Jordan Mozer