Herzog & de Meuron brings alive a concrete space frame in UNIQLO TOKYO store

The Swiss architectural firm exposes the original concrete construction of a Japanese retail hub to design the global flagship store for fashion brand UNIQLO.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Jun 23, 2020

Herzog & de Meuron has transformed an insular 1984-built Parisian style retail hub into a customer-friendly global flagship store for Japanese apparel brand, UNIQLO in Tokyo . Known as the Marronnier Gate, the building is located in the Ginza district of Tokyo, which is a shopper’s paradise.

Exteriors of UNIQLO TOKYO | Herzog & de Meuron | Tokyo, Japan | STIRworld
Exteriors of UNIQLO TOKYOImage Credit: Courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

The Swiss architectural firm sought inspiration in the 'practical beauty' of the multi-storeyed building's historic concrete frame construction. In order to maximise the floor space, originally all services were slotted on the perimeter of the building, which created a barrier between the various storeys and the street outside. Suspended ceilings of a recurring height further hid these services and the beauty of exposed concrete beams and columns.

The central plaza | Herzog & de Meuron | Tokyo, Japan | STIRworld
The central plaza Image Credit: Courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

The architects understood this lack of visual and spatial connections in their design approach. “Aiming to expose this 'found' construction both externally and internally,” says the firm, “all extraneous elements such as cladding, suspended ceilings and additions were removed in an exercise of design through subtraction.”

Between the storeys  | Herzog & de Meuron | Tokyo, Japan | STIRworld
Between the storeys Image Credit: Courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

Upon entering the building, open sections on the corner of its two entrances double as cues to the grandness of what lies inside. Mirror ceiling reflect the interior display, and thus strip the insular character of the architecture and reconnects it with the pedestrians. Owing to the transparency of programmes lent by baring the exposed concrete frame, Marronnier Gate’s new identity in the street has become that of an arcade.

Store display | Herzog & de Meuron | Tokyo, Japan | STIRworld
Store display Image Credit: Courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

Inside, the concrete grid reveals a muted framework that offers synergy with the colourful products of UNIQLO. A strong orthogonal presence has been created by exposed beams and columns that run throughout the building. Herzog & de Meuron subjected new interventions to the grid to reinforce the former construction design and render distinctness to different spaces within the store. “Infills in a variety of materials are applied to each location and function: floors of stone, concrete, timber and metal; ceilings of coloured panel and mirror; external facades of glass and cement studded with glass beads,” adds the Pritzker Prize winning firm.

Restored visual connections | Herzog & de Meuron | Tokyo, Japan | STIRworld
Restored visual connections Image Credit: Courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

Visual relationship in the building is restored by the mirrored underbelly of the existing beams that span across the void and the precise surgery in each floor slab that creates vital interconnections.

At places, ‘shelves’ within the framework are either occupied as digital screens for large- scale installations or simply kept open.

 Exposed concrete skeleton | Herzog & de Meuron | Tokyo, Japan | STIRworld
Exposed concrete skeleton Image Credit: Courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

Reinforcing the identity of the brand the space represents, the design uses signage cubes – a reference to UNIQLO's graphic identity on the building’s exterior. “These cubes offer an opportunity to display dynamic graphics from designers and artists, becoming part of Ginza’s active nighttime image,” mentions a statement by Herzog & de Meuron.

The beauty and simplicity of Marronnier Gate's old concrete skeleton is restored as all else is stripped away and new possibilities are explored.

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