At the southern tip of the Navy Yards in Washington, D.C., steps from the Washington Nationals baseball stadium, is Agua 301. It's a contemporary Mexican restaurant whose design is anything but, thanks to GrizForm Design Architects, which styled the interior after ancient Mexico.

Design inspiration for the restaurant is drawn from Luis Barragan, the Mexican architect known for minimalist designs and the pink hues that adorn traditional Mexican buildings; Teotihuacan, the ancient city that yielded custom-routed wall panels in Agua 301; and Mayan and Aztec pyramids, whose famously steep steps inspired a wood trellis that wraps the restaurant's columns.

"We wanted to go a little deeper than your typical sombreros on the wall," says Michelle Bove, one of the lead GrizForm designers on the project who also studied in Mexico for a short time. "We thought it was important to look at the deeper side of Mexico, like the courtyards that we used as inspiration for the private dining room. The country's ancient heritage was a great concept for the walls. We wanted to bring it a step further than what you normally see in a Mexican restaurant."

The design wholly reflects the restaurant experience and menu at Agua 301, which opened in December. Much like the design, Bove describes the menu as a little more adventurous, polished, and refined than a stereotypical American Mexican restaurant. Menu items include Short Rib Mole Chichilo and Fried Pork Chicharrones.

Another important element of the project was re-use: Agua 301 was once a lumber shed building in the D.C. Yards Park, and as the D.C. Yards Park undergoes a revitalization, developers encourage creative adaptations of old buildings. Agua 301, which took about a year to build from the design stage through construction, retained the concrete floor, ceiling, and columns that were built in the original lumber shed.

"Everything else is brand new, but when you're there in person, you see that there are some markings on the concrete columns," Bove says. "They have yellow numbers on them that indicated different days for the lumber shed."

The biggest challenge in design was juxtaposing the restaurant's bar with its family-friendly atmosphere. Owners Stephen and Amanda Briggs and David Bonior wanted both a bustling bar scene and an atmosphere that would not deter families, since the restaurant is so close to the baseball stadium and the D.C. Yards Park often has live music on Fridays.

"It was sort of a challenge to make the bar separate, but still a part of the dining room," Bove says. "I think our layout was pretty successful in that. There is still a connection between the two, but there's not much overlap, so if you're with your kids, you don't feel like you're sitting in a bar."

By Sonya Chudgar

Industry News, NextGen Casual, Restaurant Design