by Kwah Meng Ching
Sited in a sea of low-rise, homogenised heterogeneity, Herzog and de Meuron placed the shop proper at a corner of the site and it becomes a landmark attraction due to its visibility. Freeing part of the land, they created an intimate plaza which serves as a meeting point and a precious relief in the totally built-up area in the surrounding.
Amidst this beautiful symphony of mass and void spaces, the 6-storey high, 5-sided polyhedral Prada Aoyama with a pointed top stands out like a Krypton crystal that has just landed from outer space. The façade comprises of a diamond-shape grid filled with hundreds of glass panels in 4 different types. There is the usual flat and transparent glass, the etched glass for modesty in the changing rooms, bulging convex glass that seems to project the interior of the shop out onto the street and sucked-in concave glass that seemingly draws the passer-by on the street into the shop itself. Together, these modular elements which form a compact architectural universe that gives an unexpected and multidimensional shopping experience. Not only do they offer unique views inwards to the products on display and outwards to the panoramic views across the city, they also created a surrealistic collage and reflection of one's whereabouts.
Surrounding the free standing glass and steel honeycomb 'crystal' is a boundary wall that folds as it negotiate the corner and unfolds onto the ground, forming the plaza. Defining the edges of the plaza, it terminates at one end with a flight of steps leading to the basement of the shop. On a closer look at the ribbon-like structure, one will have the delightful surprise and pleasure to discover that the wall is faced with living moss in little square blocks, creating a vaguely Aztec pattern.
The main entrance pierces the honeycomb structural wall at ground level, extending the piazza outside into the store. The spaces and various elements like the vertical cores and horizontal steel tubes are skilfully placed so that the shoppers do not distinguished between the floors bur rather perceive it as one continuous space. Such design intentions resulted in great technical complexity in terms of fire safety, structure and glazing solutions.
The cream-based hexagonal steel tubes contain either changing rooms or additional display space. Inside the waiting area for the changing room, its clear glass walls can be rendered opaque at the touch of a button. In addition, these structural tubes are like telescopes that frame the different views in the city. With the criss-cross circulation path and the abundant cream-based colour theme, one tends to wonder if one has been in the same floor before as one moves between the different floors.
The ceilings are finished in perforated metal with a series of indented black holes where light fittings are inserted. The display shelving 'grew' out from the vertical shafts and is viscously finished. The most eye-catching item of all will probably be the low, moulded see-through fibreglass tables that are illuminated from within. Some are even filled with fibre-optics that glow like the tentacles of jellyfish. The whole orchestra is completed by the presence of the snorkel-like elements that are used to transport images, sound and light.
When night falls, the building glitters, shines and radiates like a festive beacon of style and fashion in the heterogeneous urban fabric of Tokyo.
The Kaleidoscopic Universe
Prada Aoyama has set new standards. It is an inventive new store that breathes new life in the architectural world of designing for fashion. It sets out to redefine the traditional distinction between glass curtain wall, structure and façade, in the process eliminating the traditional differentiation between architecture, shop window and display. Everything is a display, everything is architecture. In fact, everything is a spectacle. Both the objects of desire and the shoppers are all but part of the enactment of the haute-couture stage set-up. Alternating between transparency and opaqueness, sharpness and blurring, cold sophistication and pseudo organic, this highly textured and tactile architecture has made shopping a comfortable and memorable one.