The skyline in Grand Rapids, Michigan could be considered one of the most changed in the Midwest, with development projects and creative moments of design found around most corners of the downtown core, which spreads along western Michigan’s Grand River. It is a burgeoning travel destination with a bent for hospitality, with several recent hotel projects hosted in hospitality families like Marriott and Hilton. Its flair for hosting the regional and international traveler uniquely pairs with the city’s intimate, mid-sized metropolitan feel and unique dining destinations that harness flavor profiles from traditional and Louisiana-style French cuisine to Asian fusion and Japanese eateries, and jovial tapas bars.
In 2020, one of the city’s oldest and most renowned hotels, the Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton, underwent a comprehensive renovation of its 27th floor restaurant—formerly Cygnus 27—that revealed a new addition to the downtown culinary scene this February 2021. MDRD is a visionary dining and design experience perched over the river and cityscape; it embodies a “lavishly Spanish” aesthetic identity and a distinctive menu fit with eclectic tapas and dinner plates, and inventive desserts to match. To create MDRD’s design, AHC Hospitality, the management group of the Amway Grand Plaza, partnered with Gensler, a global architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm, which was also involved in an ongoing renovation of the hotel’s historic exterior.
“I think one of the key reasons we won the project is because [AHC] likes that we are global thinkers. At any given time, our team might be working on a project in Manila, for example, and then at the same time using our talents on a project close to home,” said Lori Mukoyama, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED GA, principal and a design director at Gensler.
“AHC is so internationally focused in their thinking, and I think they wanted to bring well-traveled flavor back to their restaurant; and even beyond the restaurant, giving that cultural exposure to the city. Grand Rapids is changing and growing so much; they wanted to be a part of that revolution moving forward,” Mukoyama added.
From the onset, everyone from designer to chef was involved in the sensory transformation of MDRD, which is captured in curated spaces and private dining rooms with themes based on Spain’s many cultural and historical moments, such as: the High Heel Race in Madrid’s Chueca quarter; the matadors of Salamanca; Madrid’s Puerta del Sol; Agustina de Aragón, known commonly as the “Spanish Joan of Arc;” and El Rastro flea market. By creating different zones of activity and moods within MDRD, the design team enables patrons to choose their own experience, and thanks to an arrangement of seating in “stadium style,” each table functions as the best in the house, with clear views of the glass window surrounds.
“In the previous space, the restaurant was quite focused on special occasion dining. With this reimagining of the restaurant, we wanted to create different zones of experience so that when you came in with a date, it would be one kind of special memory; while if I came in on my own as a traveler it could be totally different, and then again if coming in and having a larger celebration,” Mukoyama said.
The lounge at the very front provides a more intimate, almost residential feel according to Mukoyama—with plush banquettes, dimmed lighting, and minimalistic metallic bookcases—while the nooks and cozy circular seats of the bar area create a comfortable but dazzling environment, especially when paired with the runway-like path cut through the multi-platform dining area.
Throughout spatial zones weaves a custom tile installation reminiscent of falling confetti and classic costumes of Spain’s famous Carnival celebration. The celebratory air is accentuated in custom light fixtures representing a modern take on the hoops and batons of street performers, and they are placed in undulating heights to evoke a tossing motion. Additionally, bright murals of Spanish neighborhoods handcrafted by local artist Maddie Jackson adorn the walls, and the entirety of these visual delights is accented by materials like brass, metal, velvet, and marble in everything from finishes and furnishings, to the geometric shelving units and wall cladding.
A final resting point—or an evening starting point—is the backless L-shaped bar surrounded on two sides by the glass overlooking the river and its bridges beyond. It is fixed at an “intersection” of space that is envisioned as a crosswalk through diagonal stripes of grey and white marble flooring. Gold metallic shelving adorns the open space above the bar top, as does the custom diamond-shaped tile series. Each piece of gold and white tile within the installation was designed with its center point shifted so when the sun rotates around the perimeter of the space, the tiles move the light in glittering waves.
Designed to allow patrons to curate their evening and relish in the sights, smells, and tastes of an international epicenter for Spanish cuisine and culture, MDRD is a pivotal addition to the Grand Rapids food scene—and skyline—that transports visitors far away, by way of an eloquently styled, intimate setting in the sky. It’s embedded with a sense of wonder and discovery between people, places, and food—the very things that inspire Mukoyama about the hospitality sphere more broadly.
“When we design corporate or office spaces, you can’t as easily just grab your friends and family go in and check it out, so when we do a hospitality space, it’s so nice because we can visit together and see and feel what came to life,” Mukoyama said. “Everyone is touching their food, literally breaking the bread together, and they’re using the whole space. I think there’s this really amazing immersive experience for all people that happens in a hospitality setting that’s like no other.”
Text: R. Collins
Photography: © Dan Ham, Design by Gensler