Chipotle is all about simplicity. Its Mexican-style menu consists of a dozen or so fresh ingredients arranged into four different dishes, allowing for hundreds of different combinations and thousands of devoted followers (myself included). Basically, you could argue that what Mies did with glass and metal, Chipotle does with cilantro-flavored rice (white or brown) and beans (pinto or black). Hey, it’s not a perfect analogy. But while you definitely couldn’t argue Chipotle has trimmed all the fat from its menu items, the company’s pared-down design is a different story.
A 2007 article in Architecture magazine comments on Chipotle’s “warmed-up factory look,” noting the combination of birch wood with industrial materials, like exposed plumbing pipes. This signature design was the work of the aptly named architect Brand Gould. Director of design Scott Shippey explained, “Our food is simple ingredients – it’s what you do with them that counts. The idea with the architecture was, let’s take these simple, rudimentary materials, but what we do with them will say something.”
When the Chipotle hired architect Thaddeus Brinner to redesign their locations in 2008, Brinner knew better than to mess with a good thing, and mostly just updated the style, keeping the concrete floors while scaling up the art. In October, The Huffington Post interviewed Brinner for an article about the design influence of the fast casual chain on the lower-priced fast food community. You’ve probably heard a lot of complaints about the Burger Kings and Taco Bells of the world, but none as harsh as Brinner’s: “There’s a lot of Mies van der Rohe rip-offs out there that are really sterile and cold, and it gave modernism a bad reputation. That’s the reason you have to have architects involved in these designs. Every one has to be designed and crafted.”
With this lament – a familiar one in design circles – it’s clear Chipotle’s management is making a conscious effort to follow the tenets of modern design philosophy, rather than merely imitate them. Now, I’m not trying to say your average Chipotle is a Crown Hall equivalent. But the next time you go in one, make sure you admire the one place in a strip mall that will serve you a burrito for $7 while actively embodying Miesian ideals. Also try the guacamole, it’s great.
-Alison Howard, Summer 2011 Mies van der Rohe Society intern
-Photo by Local Manhattan Beach via flickr
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