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The Fashion of Architecture

A Berlin exhibit on Louis Vuitton architecture makes clear that building a strong brand identity doesn’t mean cookie-cutter building design.

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BERLIN — It should come as no surprise that Louis Vuitton has a 25-person architectural department, given that the French luxury goods brand owns and operates more than 300 stores worldwide and continues to expand and renovate between 50 to 100 stores each year.

This story first appeared in the May 28, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But, as an exhibit on Louis Vuitton architecture in Berlin makes clear, building a strong brand identity doesn’t mean cookie-cutter building design.

“Inclusive: 1 Brand, 6 Architects, 11 Projects” at the Aedes Architectural Gallery in Berlin Mitte through July 5 presents models and 1:1 scale prototypes of the facades of Vuitton’s newest building projects in Nagoya, Tokyo; Kochi and Kobe in Japan; Seoul; Hawaii; New York, and Hong Kong. The facades are not only one of the buildings’ most fascinating features, though; while they all play with the Vuitton Damier checkerboard pattern, they are nonetheless a constant variable in Vuitton store design.

In Jun Aoki’s concepts for the company, for example, the 1999 Nagoya Tokyo shop featured a moiréd Damier patterned facade, whereas he used a horizontal bar and vertical braided metal mesh for the 2002 Omotesando Tokyo store. Aoki’s Ginza Namiki Dori Tokyo store, due to open in 2004, calls for a terrazzo facade embedded with translucent marble squares. And in New York, Aoki will replace part of the facade of the Thirties skyscraper on 5th Avenue and 57th Street with a white glass wall incorporating graduated degrees of transparency for the flagship set to open there next year.

Other Vuitton “store skins,” or facades, include Eric Carlson and David McNulty’s mosaic tile shell wrapped by stainless steel metal fabrics for the Seoul Vuitton shop, or their flexible facade system composed of interlocking conical forms sandwiched between the existing building structure and outer glass skin for the 2004 Hong Kong store; the pixelated screen of 20,000 parallel glass tubes for the facade of the 2003 Roppongi Tokyo store by Aurelio Clementi, Aoki and Eric Carlson, and Philippe Barthélémy’s and Sylvia Griño’s open louvred Damier checkerboard for the Kobe Japan building.

All the featured architects, including Carlson, who heads up the Vuitton architectural department, were in Berlin for the opening last Friday and the preceding lecture series at the Berlin University of Arts. Asked about the preponderance of Japanese projects on display, Carlson said, “The Japanese [fashion] clientele is very sophisticated and demand more. They want to be moved — not only via interior design, but through architecture.”

However, while a recent Vuitton architectural exhibit in Tokyo was, with one exception, thoroughly Japanese, “now, six to eight months later, the new projects are not all in Japan. The rest of the world is beginning to embrace building projects,” Carlson commented. “New York and South America are coming around, but luxury neighborhoods in Europe are generally historic neighborhoods which don’t welcome new buildings.”

As for Germany, Vuitton has a new large-scale store opening June 11 on Neuer Wall in Hamburg. “That’s our next big project [in Germany],” said Gabriele Schnitzler, manager of Louis Vuitton Germany. “We’ve gone from 650 square feet to over 5,000 square feet and while it’s not a new house, the entry facade has been designed by Vuitton.”

Berliners, on the other hand, will have to wait until 2004 for the second Berlin Vuitton branch to open at Quartier 206 on Friedrichstrasse. The two-floor space, next door to Gucci and cater-corner to Yves Saint Laurent, formerly housed Donna Karan.

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