The rear section of the Juan Valdez Flagship on 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan used to look like this:
[photograph by Paul Warchol]
When I visited the 2004 storefront designed by Hariri & Hariri Architecture for first time two years ago that was the case. The undulating walls gave the space character, but they also limited the space that could be devoted to seating, even though a bench at the rear of the space (under the projected image above) was created by the blob-like manipulation of the wall surface. At that time the plaster walls looked like they were taking their fare share of abuse, but even with (up to) two more years of wear and tear I was surprised to see the transformation of this section of the cafe into what I saw today:
Gone are the undulating walls, replaced by flat walls, built-in benches and graphics galore, views of Colombia and its coffee growers. As well, pendant lights make the space more intimate by bringing the scale of the tall space down a bit. The new incarnation of this seating area seems more relevant to the fact the space represents Juan Valdez, but it is definitely more timid than the "liquid wall" of the Hariris' design. It is also design by graphics instead of design by architecture, an unfortunate response to whatever made the store change this space.
Without knowing how and why this transformation happened, I can't help but chalk it up to a difficulty in maintaining the plaster wall, as it was easily scuffed and damaged to greater degrees. But it's also not unrealistic to assume that the design was off-putting for customers; its rather cold and detached treatment pushed people away instead of embracing them. The current state is a bit too polar, too corporate, too Starbucks. A way of keeping some of the original design while opting for a different feeling might have been a good approach to consider.