With good design as a key ingredient, contemporary culinary culture is having a big impact on neighborhoods, cities, and towns.

We all know that American cities are undergoing a renaissance, with growing populations, the renovation of parks and waterfronts, the proliferation of bike lanes and pedestrian promenades. But here's another leading indicator of renewed urban vitality: food, in the form of new restaurants, cafés, and the farmers' markets that have sprouted everywhere in the last few years, even in the most precarious urban centers.

Cathleen McGuigan, Editor in Chief
Photo © Michael Arnaud

Take Detroit. When the über-cool barbecue joint Slows Bar BQ opened in 2005, just across from the crumbling symbol of the city's lost grandeur, the hulking ruin of Michigan Central Station, it became an instant hit with young urban pioneers and out-of-towners alike. Along with the increased bustle of the city's historic Eastern Market, it is part of a 21st-century culinary story that has been repeated across the Rust Belt. In downtown Cleveland on East Fourth Street, once moribund after dark except for drug dealers, there are now more than a dozen restaurants along a vibrant two-block stretch—including Lola, the flagship of Iron Chef Michael Symon, and chef Jonathon Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern, central to the city's locavore scene.

As urban jump-starters, restaurants are often the first catalysts to turn around a declining neighborhood. New York chef and consultant Rozanne Gold explains it this way in “Dining by Design” (page 64): “Restaurants used to want a good address. But now out-of-the-way locations actually add to the cachet of a place.”

Architects have long played a big role in the success of restaurants, matching the visual aesthetics to what lands on the plate. You can see how gracefully that can be done in such projects as Workshop Kitchen + Bar in Palm Springs, California, by the firm SOMA (page 106). Its starkly elegant concrete interior and warmly lit bar (by the lighting designers at .PSLAB) complement the subtly sophisticated cuisine.

In this issue, we also look at design across the culture of food—from farm structures to market stands to a vineyard to a bake shop, as well as spots for fine dining. The chief concept behind every phase of food production, marketing, preparation, and consumption these days is “authenticity”–a reflection of consumer demands for sustainability and locally sourced edibles–expressed in both foodstuffs and the architecture that surrounds them. A perfect example is SHED, a pointedly simple emporium in Healdsburg, California, that possesses an earthiness missing from the precious establishments that dominate the upscale Sonoma County town (page 96). Designed by Jensen Architects of San Francisco, SHED employs a standardized metal-and-glass building system to create a two-story retail outlet of local gourmet products and modestly stylish housewares, as well as a café and a contemporary “grange” for community events.

Designers are applying their talents all along the food chain—from a beautifully crafted dairy barn for teaching at Cornell University by Erdy McHenry Architecture (page 80) to an elegant egg-shaped cedar-wood chicken coop by Matthew Hayward and Nadia Turan (page 48). Even farm animals, it turns out, benefit from high-design habitats, which can help cows produce more milk and hens lay more eggs.

Who knew good architecture could do all that?