Housing couture: the sculptural and spatial allure of Vishal K Dar's retail architecture
by Devanshi ShahApr 28, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Apr 02, 2022
For over a decade, the two-storey building, originally a corner shop and residence, was home to Argentinian restaurant Porteño Argentinian BBQ in Sydney, Australia. After an interior fire, the building sat derelict until recently. The space is now the centralised headquarters for the Australian fashion house, Aje. The building is a consolidation of the fashion brand's key functions combining aspects of both retail design and commercial design. Australian practice THOSE Architects were commissioned to design an inspiring workplace that connects key business functions into a single tailor-made hub.
Founded in 2008 by Adrian Norris and Edwina Forest, Aje is a contemporary Australian fashion brand dedicated to "raw beauty, tough femininity and effortlessly cool", which is an aesthetical balance between coastal to urban style. THOSE Architects' design approach works in tandem with these ideas and is particularly visible in the materiality of the interiors. The material palette and soft furnishings were all designed and selected to align with the Aje aesthetics. The palette includes oak timber battens, limestone flooring, travertine benchtops and goat hair carpet. The walls are natural white, and custom-made tubular steel balustrades coated in Eucalyptus green are used in the upper gallery.
Once a landmark building, the 1890s corner shop and burnt-out restaurant have been reimagined by THOSE Architects into a light-filled creative industry hub. They carefully uncovered the original volumes of the interior which were hidden under layers of interior linings. The studio also had to strip away the damage caused by the fire that gutted the restaurant. Their replanning delivered a brighter interior that displays a balance of openness and discreet workstations.
During the demolition works, a concrete archway was revealed which the studio chose to retain and use as an anchor. Its curves inspired the motif used in some of the new additions, such as the curved reception walls and joinery. Ben Mitchell, Director at THOSE Architects explains, "The curves help balance some of the interior geometry. They also act as a subtle wayfinding cue, leading you through the space. Furniture is also part of that experience and we built most of it into the architecture; the reception seating for instance."
He continues, "Two key opportunities we identified early, were the central space of the courtyard, and restoring the original building fabric to make it legible.” The central courtyard was transformed into a two-storey roofed under a nine-metre central glass atrium. Finished with a reglazed glass, the atrium roof and the external windows, were specifically done so to bring in an abundance of natural light to the interior.
Programmatically the atrium functions as a multi-purpose space, where clothes can be displayed on racks as part of the retail experience or where new collections can be showcased. Edwina Forest, Co-director at Aje comments on the space saying, "The atrium provides a wondrous sense of calm and tranquillity to the showroom, where stylists, media and celebrities can browse the latest collections and explore with ease. This space also hosts company briefings or education sessions for the team at large."
Treating the interior design of the retail space as one would a courtyard building, THOSE Architects planned the overall layout of the headquarters by making the atrium a central circulation node. The two levels are divided into key functional zones, that wrap around the atrium, much like one would see in a courtyard house. On the lower floor are the reception, boardroom and meeting spaces all of which overlook the design and production section. On the upper level is a communal kitchen and breakout space, which faces north and looks out towards a cluster of mature trees. The CEO's office is also on this floor and it overlooks the central void.
As is true with most architectural and interior projects over the past decade, sustainable ideals and practices were considered during both the demolition and construction process. Natural materials were used, and a considerable amount of the existing built fabric was either retained or incorporated. Because they took a more sensitive approach to the demolition process, they were able to preserve a small segment of old terracotta-tiled floors that were unearthed. They have been preserved under a glass fitting as an imprint of the building's past.
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