Foster + Partners conceives an energy-efficient design for India’s first Apple store
by STIRworldApr 22, 2023
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by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Apr 28, 2023
Sitting at the intersection of being an installation and a retail experience, Vishal K Dar's interpretation of Gaurav Gupta's Mumbai flagship store needs to be visited in order to be understood. There are certain basic tenants that one attributes to what a retail space should look like. Most of them have either been reinterpreted or completely transformed in this installation. In fact, it is hard to call the retail design of this couture showroom a project. The design vocabulary one would typically use to discuss a project of this function does not seem appropriate here. The points of discussion are closer to how one would talk about art.
However, it is important to create a distinction here between the temporary retail pop-ups and the sculptural nature of Dar's designs. Retail pop-ups based on collaborations such as the recent LV X Yayoi Kusama are temporary. The experiential nature of such interventions eventually disappears, remembered only through the social media buzz they create. Dar's sculpture is a permanent intervention, every new collection launched by fashion designer Gaurav Gupta will be displayed within the same curvilinear space.
Located in Mumbai's Kala Ghoda district, the architecture of the neighbourhood has an interesting mix of colonial and industrial architecture. Dar's fluid design language certainly sets it apart from its surrounding. The existing building's framework acts as an outer case within which the dynamic and fluid surfaces of Dar's design are encased. The existing structure is visible and seemingly untouched by Dar's intervention. Visually the store looks like an independent unit that has embedded itself inside a hollowed-out shell. On entering the store, however, what appeared as a volume from the exterior transforms into a series of undulated and sensuous surfaces.
While speaking to STIR, Dar explained his conceptualization of the space. He began by inserting a series of ellipsoids within the existing multi-level grid where through computational fluid dynamics, he made the structure and the ellipsoids interact. This process of surface interaction helped him arrive at a sculptural form where the old and the new were in dialogue. Dar expands on the concept "A grid structure is largely a porous structure. Within this porosity, I started imagining inflatable modules that would expand and adjust within this Cartesian grid". This conceptual idea is immediately visible to those in Dar's process model and when one first sees the store.
Those familiar with Gupta's work may find a synergy between the fashion designer's work and Dar's architecture, although it presents as interior design. Dar referred to it as a "meeting of the minds", where each respected the other as a creative individual. Words such as curvilinear, undulating, and whiplash could perhaps be used to describe both Dar and Gupta's work. Yet they are not the same, they are merely in conversation with each other through their design language.
While speaking to each other the two arrived at this vague idea of working with SHUNYA (zero in Hindi and Sanskrit). For Dar, the word becomes about expansion(s), which he expressed as a series of voids that intersect and interlock. Spread over four levels, the shunya manifests as geometric ellipsoids that are stacked into a multilevel inverted sculptural form. It is the melding of the cartesian and non-cartesian volumes and surfaces that generate the entire interior design as an edgeless and cornerless space. For Gupta, shunya was a different but adjacent idea. "Shunya is zero in Sanskrit. I love both zero and Sanskrit, and I love the fact that zero was discovered in India, thousands of years back [sic] and that moment has been the most inspiring for me. There's a sense of stillness, at the same time there's a sense of elevation, almost levitation, and there's a sense of infinity. In the Mumbai store space, these feelings coexist, where one almost feels like all the curves are infinite and going in different directions. You feel like you are part of a spatial means of sorts, and it's very befitting that it's kind of taken birth from the concept of shunya."
When STIR asked Gupta about his experience working with Dar, he said, "Vishal is a true artist. It is great working with him on this, we resonated on so many different levels. Vishal is one of those very rare artists who is really able to work in the abstract, but at the same time deliver it into reality. He's the one who's designed the space. It's his space. We simply brainstormed on what the brand represents, and we came up with the word truly and together. And from there it just, he just took it in his own way and we were really with him behind the design process. It was really smooth sailing, and easy to work with Vishal. It was not easy for us to actually get this kind of mammoth task executed. Because it is challenging to get something like this made." Dar's ingenuity is best highlighted through his process sketches and drawings. While distinctly sculptural, the architecture of the store is not modelled by hand. Dar explained, "The sculpting is computational, not traditional. And the construction of these double-curved surfaces heavily relied on a parametric process. The surface complexity can be best seen in the 3D-printed model. The building of the surfaces is also parametrically developed, so it is completely computational for that point of view".
There are a few key material and aesthetic details that go beyond the actual construction, computing and conceptualisation of the space. Built across four stories, the store is a constant revaluation of volume. Entering into what feels like a triple-height space, one walks towards a skylight-lit spiral staircase, which takes you to a slightly shorter second floor. This change in height is further amplified by the ellipsoids that are either experienced as cutouts or as undulated surfaces that divide space. Given the nature of the design, some of these ellipsoids disappear into the ceiling, floor or walls leaving the visual form incomplete. The entire space is completely white and made with Dupont’s engineered material—Corian. Dar refers to it as his first choice of material as it was most suitable for engineering large curved surfaces.
For all its poetics and conceptual theories, the Mumbai showroom is at the end of the day a functional space. There are a few ground realities that needed to be incorporated. It is perhaps a testament to the collaborative design process, that the display rack, lighting design, changing rooms and other auxiliary functions such as restrooms, workshops and storage all find a place in this sculpture. Designed by vis à vis the ambient lighting faced a few specific challenges. For one, white surfaces reflect all the visible wavelengths of light and create higher illuminance in space. This was countered by using Barrisol's back-lit stretch ceiling system, which has the ability to control the light intensity allowing the showroom to be adapted based on the collections on display. As a ceiling system, this also meant that the shape and size of each fitting corresponded to their location within the overall interior structure. While that took care of the environmental lighting, lighting the garments was another challenge. Illuminating Gupta's designs required its own innovative lighting arrangement. To create higher illumination levels on the garments as compared to the environmental lighting. It was also important to create a hierarchy in the spatial organization within the showroom. To this effect, ERCO spotlights, with a varied optical beam with an interchangeable lens, and controlled beam output, highlight the outfits themselves and emphasise the surfaces and textures features of each garment. The combination of the spotlight and the environmental lighting also helps avoid elongated shadows. The lighting design also accounts for the dynamic nature of haute couture, with its adjustable volumetric lighting to its changeable spotlights, the showroom can change its avatar from retails to museum display, as was the case at the showroom opening.
Name: Gaurav Gupta Flagship
Location: Mumbai, India
Year of completion: 2023
Architect: Vishal K Dar
Lighting Designer: vis a vis
Product brands: Corian, ERCO, Barrisol
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