Louis Vuitton Ion - Design Bureau

Front Inc. & Louis Vuitton

Front Inc. & Louis Vuitton

Front Inc. & Louis Vuitton

Front Inc. & Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton Ion

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Good design often means making the very complex seem clear, but sometimes designing with the opposite in mind can be equally as transformative. This idea was brought to life while designing a curtain wall for Louis Vuitton’s 9,000-square-foot flagship boutique in Singapore—the largest LV store in Southeast Asia.

New York-based design and consulting firm Front Inc., in partnership with LV’s in-house design team, created a dramatic textured and curved glass façade for the luxurious two-level store. The curtain-like façade was created using an innovative multi-stage, kiln-based forming process. A regular sheet of cut float glass was placed on top of a profiled sand bed, then heated in a kiln until soft, thereby assuming the geometry of the sand. Then the pieces were heated again in order to be gently curved.

Light hitting the building doesn’t have a single point of reflection anymore, but [refracts] over thousands of surfaces. Even in the day, it diffuses the light in a pattern. It looks like linen in the day, and in the night, like a waterfall of glass.

“We were looking for a luminescent façade that was diaphanous and changeable from day to night,” says Marc Simmons, one of Front’s three principals (along with Bruce Nichol and Michael Ra). Simmons lived for several years in Hong Kong and Kyoto, and also helped design the gossamer glass façade for Rem Koolhaas’ landmark Seattle Central Library. “Light hitting the building doesn’t have a single point of reflection anymore, but [refracts] over thousands of surfaces. Even in the day, it diffuses the light in a pattern. It looks like linen in the day, and in the night, like a waterfall
of glass.”

Resembling thin drapes of fabric, the double-story glass façade lets in a bounty of natural light while partially obscuring what’s happening inside. “One of the challenges was to do something that was very curved and expressive while retaining a sense of elegance and restraint,” explains Simmons. “It had to have that sensuality to it, and be an authentic interpretation of their brand. In retail, brand is everything, and how you interpret it is very, very delicate.” The façade achieves a delicate balance of giving the sense of transparency desired by the landlord while still maintaining a more private, intimate client experience sought by Vuitton.

The almost transparent quality of the glass wall is also, the designers hope, a reinterpretation of the genius pattern-making and materials that initially made Vuitton famous. “The brand is synonymous with the quality of its leather goods,” Simmons says. “It has a legacy going back to the 1860s. The patterns used on the goods have endured.” With the glass, the material has changed, but the approach was born from Vuitton.

This was the first curvilinear Louis Vuitton store — a brand built on rectangular leather suitcases. As a result, the company’s designers re-imagined new custom displays and configurations. Structurally, the glass façade also had to be completely suspended from the top of the building by builder Gartner because there was a subway pass underneath that couldn’t handle the weight.

Vuitton was so pleased with the Front’s design that it hired the company to design three more flagship stores in Asia for its sister comapny, DFS Galleria (both companies are subsidiaries of LVMH Group). Although less prestigious than LV, the stores come with footprints more than five times the size of its first project, giving Front the chance to work on a grander scale. At the same time, Simmons says, the nature of the firm adapts to each situation. “We creatively inhabit the space and try to act in a way that fulfils the needs of the project. Sometimes we’re filling holes that are needed, and other times we’re taking a subordinate role. We’re not traditional in that we don’t look at things agnostically regardless of the project. We want to have an emotional stake.”

Text by Brian Libby

 

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