Czech Republic’s second largest city, Brno has seen its fair share of iconic architecture and design. In addition to its historic castles and cathedrals, it is also home to Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat (1930). An icon of modernism and a UNESCO heritage site, it was a groundbreaking translation of Mies’s ‘less is more’ principle. The house was so intricately designed that Mies alongside Lilly Reich, crafted specific furnishings for the house, specifically two armchairs called the Tugendhat chairs, named after the owners of the home, and the Brno chair, eponymous of the city. While both of these chairs are still in production, a very different chair is making a new architectural statement, and in a very different form. Nearly 85 years later, a refurbished car showroom in Vinohrady, a housing estate built in the early 1980’s, was transformed into ‘a functional banner advertisement’ for a domestic furniture supplier company. Designed by CHYBIK+KRISTOF Architects & Urban Designers, the façade was a good instance of working with the tools handed to them.
The project was commissioned by the MY DVA group, known for their office, school and metal furniture. The brief for the project required a simple and economical refurbishing of the functional and aesthetic aspects of the dated architecture of the showroom. Founding architects Ond˘ej Chybík and Michal Krištof worked with the limits of their budgets and used MY DVA’s own products as raw material. The 550sqm. showroom - a single storey, freestanding building, was stripped completely both internally and externally giving the architects a blank canvas to work with. In an attempt to give the dated architecture of the 90’s showroom a more contemporary look, the designers converted the entire structure into a porous black box, without interfering with the framework of the exterior.
Offering a tribute to material, Hermès’ palette of textures and colours was unusual, and a welcoming respite from the chaos of the Salone-time buzz of the city outside. The large, dimly lit hall was fitted with a convoluted maze of mid-height exposed stone walls. Compelled to begin at one end, the journey along this earthy-toned stonewalling was punctuated with clusters of vibrant products in a plethora of patterns, designs and artistic geometry.
The shell was clad in innumerable black plastic chairs, the company’s own product called Vicenza. While providing a texture to the building, the designers also used this draping to indicate what is inside the building. Connecting the product and the building is a subframe, which follows the massing of the building voids and openings. Constructed using steel profiles, the frame anchors individual seats into a grid, giving the façade movement. By spacing the chairs out a little, the skin allows for diffused sunlight to enter the premises. Even the colour of the product was selected keeping in mind that they would be exposed to natural elements including ultraviolet light, adding to the advertorial nature of the design feature. By allowing each chair to be independently fixed on the subframe, the façade also becomes easy to maintain, in that it would be easy to replace a damaged part.
The interior is segregated into two parts; a showroom and back offices. Having completely stripped the interior to make room for a gallery space, the periphery of the structure retains office spaces for the employees. The exhibition area of the modestly sized showroom is designed to accommodate versatile functions. The rectangular space is further divided into three cylindrical display zones, each representing three different aspects of the company’s product line – school furniture, office furniture and design pieces. Each ‘pod’ is demarcated by a white curtain that drapes from ceiling to floor.
The entire gallery is tied together by a white polyurethane floor finish, while the ceiling is patterned with visible utility wires against exposed concrete. The white curtain acts as a secondary façade within the building creating a semi-public space between the chairs on the façade and the products on display inside. This is mostly used for presentations and client meetings.
The project makes a subtle comment on the growing trend of tactile façades while maintaining the core beliefs and design aesthetics of the founding members Ond˘ej Chybík and Michal Krištof. The relatively young studio was established in 2010, and their work has earned both Chybík and Krištof a place on Forbes ‘30 under 30’ Czech Republic list in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Scrutinizing local context, their work tries to generate an impact to larger ideas. The adaptable nature of the display of the client’s product in a relatively small space, reflect their understanding of the changing nature of architecture.
The entire building seems to have been designed in layers, including the colours. The exterior is black, the employee offices along the perimeter of the structure are covered in a grey carpet, while the innermost section of the gallery is complete with a white floor and white curtains. The products also undergo a change in their purpose while their form, structure and material remain constant. In the innermost sanctum, the variously designed objects are displayed as ‘products to be viewed’. Outside the fabric but within the gallery, the objects are in use by employees and by clients. On the exterior, the object seizes being a product and becomes a part of a larger entity and loses its individual value. CHYBIK+KRISTOF’s black skin acts as a statement to the value of a single product to a holistic design.
(This article was first published in Issue#20 of mondo*arc india journal – an initiative by STIR.)