This is not the first restaurant venture to aspire to a value system rather than just a business. But it is unique in that it laid the groundwork for a democratic enterprise and a far reaching design dialogue. This project examines how a building can be a critique of current urban development patterns and the entire U.S. food industry, as well as become an anchor for the revitalization of a walkable downtown community.
Alice Waters, Judy Wicks and Frank Stitt are all restaurateurs involved in the farm to table movement, Waters having invented the genre. This movement establishes a business venture as an activist mechanism. Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver have written extensively about food and the food industry. The Little Building seeks to examine the café as an example of entrepreneur as community activist.
The café is rooted in the notion of the local, and operates within this concept on a number of levels: food is sourced regionally with a 100 mile goal radius, the location is in the downtown district, avoiding the automobile-centric and ubiquitous “strip”, the architecture is framed by an existing mixed-used building (commercial and residential) which was completely renovated using sustainable design principles and local craftsmen.
The goal of the café is not to design all the activity inside its four walls, but to extend the influence of the farm-to-table movement throughout the community. Their Little Building Blog, along with the sandwich board out front, serves as a town crier for the ever-changing daily menu. This virtual space has led to quite an intimate relationship with the customers: daily Facebook critiques of spring greens soup and chocolate chip muffins make the café feel very democratic. Partnering with the local artist co-op has led to a constant flow of artist and designer community events that promote the creative capital of Starkville.
The seating is organized via a bench that extends through the entire space. Placed adjacent to the bench are tables that were made on site and that I designed. Inserted into the top of the table are ceramic tiles depicting small maps of the Starkville area by London artist Lubna Chowdhary; this was the only non-local act. The main brick wall is painted white to enhance the light coming through the new skylight, hence reducing the electric light need during the day. The iconic Little Building blue was created by matching the paint colors to the Mississippi sky prior to a rain storm. The chairs were created by me for the project to reflect the “Within Arm’s Reach” ethos as well as telling a story about the southern vernacular.
Photos by Rinne Allen and Jennifer Hudson