Under the Sea

Ayala Serfaty’s colorful lighting fixtures and furniture sometimes recall creatures of the deep: bright coral, tangled seaweed, soft anemones. The perfect environment for her work may be the restaurant-cum-aquarium at the new Oceanographic Park in Valencia, Spain’s City of Arts and Sciences, where she has designed a sculptural chandelier with a complex set of requirements.

The building, which opened in December, sits in an artificial lake: the ground floor is a vast entrance hall, and the submerged lower level is a high-end restaurant with glass walls, putting diners inside a 360-degree aquarium. A round hole in the slab floor connects the two spaces. The interior architect, Francisco Vasquez, wanted to fill the circular space with a fixture that would absorb restaurant noise, block daylight from entering the lower level, provide nighttime light for both floors, and simultaneously intrigue visitors above while providing privacy for diners below. To add to the complexity, the ceiling of the building, by late architect Felix Candela, was too thin to support the weight of a hanging fixture.

“This building is so unique,” Serfaty says. “I wanted to do something that would be an organic and very natural part of it.” When she entered the space for the first time, an image came to her: a flock of spheres floating in the opening, with nothing connecting them to the ceiling or floor. To get the forms to float, Serfaty called on British engineers Dewhurst Mcfarlane and Partners: “I just sent them this image [and said], ‘I need these spheres like clouds in between the floors.’” The solution is a stainless-steel central column that supports 49 spheres and attaches to the slab with just three cables. The lamps are made from a favorite Serfaty material—yellow silk—and they glow like golden jellyfish, suggesting that the space inside the restaurant might be as silent and dreamlike as the water around it.

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