by Anmol AhujaMay 07, 2022
Holloway Li, a British architecture and design practice, conceptualised the interiors of bathroom brand Coalbrook's new experiential showroom and co-working space in Clerkenwell, London. This unique space is reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution. The store, called the Market Building, is inspired by the forms and materiality of the revolution—the chimneys which towered over the skylines of cities, the heat of the furnaces and engine rooms, and rough chiselled quarries. While the showroom has a grungy industrial design aesthetic, the co-working section has a mid-century modern feel with a pastel colour palette.
"Coalbrook is a new brand for the client, and takes its name from the town of Coalbrookdale in West England. The town is small, but is known as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, as the site of the world's first iron bridge and where mass production of coal began. We designed the showroom as a spatial channel to experience Coalbrook's brand story, in a way which is not possible online. We feel the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this shift towards the primary role of physical retail becoming one of offering experiences rather than selling things,” mentions Alex Holloway, Creative Director, Holloway Li.
Holloway Li successfully crafted a surreal space, which breaks all expectations of what a retail design should look like. The firm worked closely with a network of expert craftspeople to create the materiality of the industrial backdrops. Other collaborators-in-residence exhibiting at the space include Danish furniture supplier Menu, lighting manufacturer Phos and The Stonemasonry Company, as well as housing Holloway Li’s own studio.
Keeping in mind Coalbrook’s design identity, Holloway Li studied the history of industrial forms and processes to craft a distinctive space that exhibits the brand’s narrative. The showroom is designed around a series of industrial ‘casts’, used to display working products. The space features a ground floor and a basement. “Holloway Li interpreted our brief from a unique angle, tracing Coalbrook’s brand narrative back to Britain’s industrial heartland. In doing so, they have reimagined the showroom typology from the ground-up, creating a memorable space to experience the story of our brands, beyond the possibilities offered by online channels,” add Giuseppe and Pietro Corbisiero, Founders and Owners, Coalbrook.
Moreover, the showroom depicts Holloway Li’s design philosophy, which borrows from the 'world-building' practices of theatre and cinema. The practice tries to ground each project in a narrative with an associated visual and material language. “We explored forms and atmospheres which have a place in our collective cultural memory, whether as a result of live encounters or through references we have seen on film and television. These industrial forms are markers of a bygone era, and their power derives from their ability to conjure lost processes,” adds Praveen Paranagamage, Project Lead Designer, Holloway Li.
The ground floor of the showroom is designed to feel like a landscape of the Industrial Revolution with industrial chimneys, age-old machinery and casts of Victorian bathroom wall panels in striking orange and amber resin. The basement is a dark, mysterious space with the ambiance of a subterranean engine room, comprising two oversized industrial 'boilers' and wall panels moulded from cast iron.
The arresting orange and amber resin contrasts with the rest of the interiors and makes for intriguing backdrops for Coalbrook’s products. “We worked with a company based in Turkey, who typically make moulded interiors for London buses, to fabricate a set of piercing amber cast resin wall panels to act as the backdrop for the shower displays. We digitally modelled a wall of a Victorian bathroom with decorative cornice and moulding detail, tiling and part of a traditional sash window. Sampling back and forth and refining the fabrication process allowed us to achieve the ideal transparency of resin, which appears almost liquid. The resin 'dematerialises' the form of the cast, at points appearing crystalline, ethereal or fluid depending on the viewer’s position and angle of light,” adds Alex.
Holloway Li worked closely with a number of expert craftspeople and fabricators to carefully design specific elements in the showroom. For instance, they collaborated with the client’s subsidiary brands Bard & Brazier to conceptualise display units fabricated from brass tubing, and with Bard & Blackwood for the bespoke joinery. The practice worked with a foundry in Essex to make a set of cast iron panels that are the backdrops for Coalbrook’s shower displays. Additionally, they collaborated with a stonemason near Stamford for the post-tensioned solid stone staircase with a rough quarried edge. Cut from a single block of limestone and then chiselled, the edge profile becomes rougher as it nears the basement floor, as if crafted from the ground itself.
"The Market Building is a dream-like reimagining of Victorian London. We take joy from distilling these bold overarching narratives into material 'alchemy' at a very small scale. This often involves applying a series of processes to raw materials to yield unexpected finishes and requires close collaboration with fabricators. On this project the metalwork chimneys and boilers were fabricated by a young metalwork studio (Steel & Form) in South London. Each item was modelled digitally and separated into a kit-of-parts, which could be laser cut for assembly. The aged 'cast' look was achieved by applying layers of chemical treatment to the raw metal, developed over a series of workshop visits,” remarks Alex.
Holloway Li as a design practice advocates slow design and brought this philosophy to the Coalbrook showroom as well. “For The Market Building, we attempted to tap into the client’s history of manufacturing in the Midlands, where they still own a number of factories. Visiting the factories at the beginning of the project, we took note of their existing processes, standard components and knowledge base, and tried to leverage this throughout the design process. One example is the design of the chainmail curtain rails and mesh display panels, which were all formed from standard brass pipe components used to manufacture towel rails at the client’s factory. The showroom also encourages a consideration of the industrial design heritage of the Coalbrook products. The products acquire an intangible value like pieces in an art gallery, again encouraging a shift away from fast-retail,” concludes Holloway.
Name: The Market Building
Location: London, United Kingdom
Interior Design: Holloway Li
Design Team: Alex Holloway (Principal), Praveen Paranagamage (Project Lead Designer), Emily Mak (Architectural Assistant), Stefanie Tao (Architectural Assistant)
Project Manager: Constructive Management
Contractor: SLD Build West Limited
FF&E: Menu Space
Structural Engineer: Lucking and Clark
MEP Engineer: David Webb Associates
Staircase Structural Engineer: Webb Yates
Product brands: Bard & Brazier, Bard & Blackwood, FSE Foundry, PHOS, Polkima Moulded Composites, Steel and Form, The Stonemasonry Company