by Jincy IypeJan 03, 2023
What goes into abstracting and inculcating motifs of medieval fortresses into the contemporary interior of a retail store? How would this interior scenography affect the user's retail experience?
Themes of medieval battlements, castles, and ramparts of Guimarães, Portugal are succinctly transformed into 'something incorporeal' within the contrastingly different, permeable, and modern interiors of the silvery grey 1G Store. Estudio Além, a Spain-based architecture studio led by Paula Navarro Mazón and Filipe Nunes Faustino, was tasked with the remodelling of a commercial space's interior, to convert it into a shoe and clothing retail store, now dominated with structural elements of an electro-welded wire mesh made of galvanised steel. The two-pronged brief shared by the client Sportino, a Portuguese multi-brand sneakers and casual clothes store, went thus, as relayed by the Spanish architects: "The renovation of the locale must achieve two goals: a clear display of the product and a striking approach that endows the store with personality and offers a differentiated user experience that constitutes an added value compared to other stores in the sector."
Striking remarkable elegance with stone, steel, and gravel, the retail store's design "began with a study of the castle and the city ramparts in order to create a setting in the interior that evokes one of the main elements of the rich historical heritage of the town Guimarães," they continue. Thereon, the proportions instilled within the interior spaces were organised around the structural elements of the wire mesh, which employ a cohesive interplay of geometric patterns and shifting transparencies to amplify the setting. The perimeter fitted with the displays also weaves into the light, open, and vast spatiality of the store, recalling the context's architectural history. "A complex maze of interwoven, metallic grids is filled along its entire length with 23 tons of local granite, to simulate collapsed walls that capture a specific fictional moment in the history of this new rampart," they continue.
In a conversation with STIR, Estudio Além gives an experiential walkthrough of the 1G Store in Portugal, coherently medieval and modern at once, while expounding on how the medieval battlement of the castle and ramparts of Guimarães became the starting point for the commercial design.
Jincy Iype: "The starting point is a single element: the medieval battlement." How did the store's interior design come about within this context?
Estudio Além: In Guimarães, Portugal, medieval architecture dots the rolling hills of the northern city. It's here where the country's first independent king, Afonso Henriques, established his court, after defeating the army of León in a battle waged close by. A foundational fortress, built in the 10the century, encapsulates the origin of the country. It's this national and architectural history, a romanticised medieval past with a well-preserved historic core, that inspired the interior design of the 1G Store.
This element, which tops off the walls of the city's ramparts and towers has a clearly recognisable geometric pattern, which has been transformed into something incorporeal, placed in a different setting, and reinvented within folds of electro-welded mesh made of galvanised steel. Immaterial and permeable, this new battlement is transparent, and its wire surface reflects light, which transforms it into an ethereal element, devoid of inert stone.
This element, considered in and of itself, is an emblem that also serves as a display case with multiple configurations: shoe display, accessory display, clothing display, or even a mirror mounting. It appears repeatedly along the entire perimeter, providing a continuous background perspective for the entire interior, like a new, almost virtual rampart inside the store—a complex maze of interwoven, delicate metallic grids full of transparencies, glazings and depths.
Once this great virtual rampart—lightweight and perfectly articulated—has been created and its weight and material have been erased, it is filled along its entire length in an uneven manner with 23 tons of local, grey granite stone that were crushed into gravel, with particle sizes ranging between thirty and sixty millimetres. The front counter—an element that had to be clearly identifiable and prominent in the store, consists of two large granite blocks. These were extracted directly from the quarry, and the large grooves left by the shovels of the excavators have been highlighted. These blocks were carved manually to expose the glass and stainless-steel compartment that will hold the small accessories and the equipment needed to carry out the cashier's work in the store (computers, cash registers, alarms, bags, etc.).
Jincy: The store's interiors blend the medieval and the modern in an almost inconspicuous way, where the differences and similarities between the two find poised cohesion. How did you achieve this grainy, battlement-inspired visual?
Estudio Além: The battlement remains in the collective memory and visual imagery of society, always strongly linked to the medieval. This vertical element provides, through its repetition along the entire perimeter of the store, a continuous background perspective for the entire interior, an enthralling visual. It would also not seem like the insides of a retail design at first glance, making one curious enough to venture in and connect with the space. When the gravel is added to the electro-welded mesh, the rampart serves as gabions that enclose a 'pseudo-ruin,' evocating collapsed walls that capture a specific fictional moment in the history of this new rampart, attesting to the history of the region.
The grainy, imperfect texture of the wall and ceiling cladding, achieved using projected cork, reinforces the stone materiality, while its dark shades yield centre stage to the shimmering reflections in the metallic mesh and serve to control the acoustics in the store. All the structural details, fasteners, fittings, and accessories are designed to streamline the process of setting up the store itself, as well as for the placement and arrangement of the displays. Other secondary elements lend personality to the space and help to underscore the scenography created.
The benches where the customer can try on the shoes are also made of solid granite blocks, polished on four of their faces (bottom, top and two of their sides); the other two faces are left untreated, just as they were extracted from the quarry. The mirrors needed in the store are fully integrated into the rampart, taking on the form of the city's battlements. And finally, the fitting room: a stainless-steel compartment integrated inside the central cube closed off by a silver curtain fits in perfectly with all the steel elements around it.
This integrated and unitary approach successfully creates an atmosphere that surprises and intrigues visitors, while also serving as a neutral receptacle to showcase and add value to the product for sale. It is when the product for sale is arranged on a completely refined, abstract and neutral structure, that construction is complete and acquires its full meaning.
Jincy: What were some challenges of remodelling a commercial space into a shoe and clothing store?
Estudio Além: One of the great challenges for us consisted of creating, beyond a shoe store, an evocative scenery, a visually striking atmosphere and a space with spatial and experiential interest that would encourage an elevated and intense user experience. This always remained at the back of our minds, while we thought of ways to accentuate the store's offerings.
Jincy: Twenty-three tons of granite and electro-welded mesh made of galvanised steel were employed for the scenography of the store. Where were these materials sourced from and how do they feed into the store's intended aesthetic?
Estudio Além: The electro-welded meshes were made to measure in a workshop in Barcelona. They were entirely designed by us, so that the diameter of the rods that compose them, and the space between them, was ideal for the metric required by the client to display the shoes and all the holding accessories between rods. It was also designed to have the necessary rigidity to withstand the thrust forces of the stone contained. In addition, it allowed us to control the level of transparency of these elements.
The stone used is Santa Eulália and Castro Daire grey granite, extracted from a quarry in the Viseu region and Elvas in Portugal. The appropriate size of the stones was selected so that they would be contained in the metal meshes without coming out through the voids. They were also selected manually, discarding those whose chromatic range did not adjust to the greyest tones. It was previously washed and bagged in five kg bags to be handled easily by the assemblers who placed it on site.
Jincy: Could you describe how the 1G Store is experienced?
Estudio Além: The store can be traversed in multiple directions. A perimeter wall along the entire length of the store guides the visitor while a series of elements subdivide the space into six areas.
In keeping with the concept, six large rocks are brought in to mount the bars for hanging garments and at the same time, as an exhibition surface to showcase the products. Since solid rocks of that size would not be easily transportable within the store, a three-dimensional scan of seven real rocks was made, and then, using a digitisation process, large blocks of expanded polystyrene were carved using numerical control. This polystyrene core was then sculpted by hand and several layers of a mix of aggregates and paint were applied to it, thus recreating a surface like granite rock.
One of these rocks appears in each of the subspaces, giving continuity to the experience of its interior design. The first rock is found just after crossing the access threshold, where the newest products stand out. To the right, we find the first area with another rock and the beginning of the perimeter battlements. Here we find a first access step to another space made up of a staircase that evokes imaginary unevenness. This space communicates with another with some buttresses which, when crossed, take us to the back of the store: a large, faceted aluminium surface referencing a rocky slope. The store's background, usually darker areas, becomes in this context, an abstract and luminous simulation of a rocky hillside.
From there we can access the central tower, a cube rotated 45 degrees with four doorsteps that can be crossed in all directions. Inside this tower, we find finally, the fitting room: a stainless-steel compartment integrated inside the central cube closed off by a silver curtain that fits in perfectly with all the steel elements around it. The changing room is close to the counter to pay, and from there, one can continue touring along the remaining wall until the exit is found.
All the elements mentioned so far—stairs, buttresses, towers, battlements—are built in mesh and filled with stone, creating this great landscape of volumes and elements. This integrated and unitary approach successfully creates an atmosphere that surprises and intrigues, while also serving as a neutral receptacle to showcase and add value to the products for sale. It is when these products are arranged on a completely refined, abstract and neutral structure, that construction is complete and acquires its full meaning.
Jincy: You describe yourself as an "architecture studio that bases its practice on what is beyond without and what is beyond within." How does this design ethos relate to the design of the 1G store?
Estudio Além: Whatever the work that we are entrusted with, we always approach projects in the same way, regardless of the program, the project size, or the client. We always try to give timeless and essential answers. We try to go to the origin of the place and delve into the roots of the site, getting deep inside its context. With the 1G Store, we never stuck to trying to solve an interior for a retail store. We wanted to go further and explore the limits of the space, in every way, while remaining tied to the history of its locale. We immerse ourselves in all these topics, analyse and manipulate the required program and, from there, explore the matter, deep dive into spatial relationships, and create suggestive atmospheres that evoke sensations that last in the user and visitor.
Jincy: What is NEXT for you?
Estudio Além: We continue working with the same care and affection towards the projects as we did the first day, and we hope to continue to do so. We also hope to grow as a team with people who have the same work commitment. Currently, we are lucky to be working on super interesting and inspiring projects—one of them caters to refugees in the middle of nature in Galicia, where you can disconnect around a fire, or a new store, with an austere and resounding design reminiscent of Japanese interiors, and where priority has been given above all, to a respect for the environment, by building everything with recyclable and local materials.
Name: 1G Store
Location: Guimarães, Portugal
Area: 305 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Estudio Além (Paula Navarro Mazón, Filipe Nunes Faustino)
Design team: Tiago Mendes, Daniel Vale, Paulo Teixeira, Nuno Ferreira, Querubim Enes, Emanuel Nunes (assembly); Daniel Deyllot (metalwork); Rui Morais, Pedro Morais (pladur); Cortiça projetada (projected cork); Spazio sport (flooring); Bruno Rodrigues, José Rodrigues (electricity); Paviturque, Samuel Santos (natural stone); Corporeos (3D print); Publisilva (illuminated signs); Margarida Enes, Patrícia Enes, Helena Pinto, José Nunes (cleaning)