Armani Fifth Avenue
©Allan Toft
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Armani Fifth Avenue

Studio Fuksas en tant que Architectes.

After Hong Kong Chater House and Tokyo Ginza Tower, Fifth Avenue completes the trilogy of the Armani Stores designed by Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas for the famous designer.

Situated in the centre of New York, in one of the world’s well known streets, the project takes up the first three floors of the two buildings located between 5th Avenue and 56th Street.

Besides the basement, the showroom develops on four different levels and it is conceived as a single space, without clear distinctions, a space in harmony connected with the power generated by the vortex that is the staircase.

The heart of the building is, in fact, epitomized by the staircase. Structure in rolled calendar steel (made in Italy) and cladded in a plastic layer that highlights its exceptional sculptural presence. It is an entity that is almost impossible to convey in terms of any normal geometric shape that originates from a vortex with great dynamism, surrounded by the different levels that accommodate the Armani world.

The movement of the ribbons that constitutes the staircase, skimming each floor, disenchants the possibility to recognize the geometry. The general layout of every floor develops according to the different flexures of the ribbons, creating a space controlled by the vortex. No element is extraneous to the internal dynamism, not even the external façade; even if it is lined up to the rigid orthogonal stitch of Manhattan, simulating the movement through images and shades, projected on a set of LED threads. This screen, besides being the projection to the outside of the internal space, is also a particular tribute to New York City, the inescapable necessity to compare its modernity and its dynamism.

The fluidity of the internal space is rendered by the wall of continuous threads, that are realized with lacquered wood panels.

The different rays of bends that outline the threads transform into the spaces and handles for the different product areas. The folding of the threads give hospitality to the dressing-rooms and the VIP hall, also transforming into areas reserved for staff, cash desks, or special product areas such as Armani Dolci. A particular importance is given by the enlightenment that defines, characterizes and emphasizes the bends of the walls and of the spaces, highlighting the different functions of the general layout.

Every element of the internal design, from the shop floors to the storage, from the desks to the armchairs, follows and satisfies the movement concept generated by the staircase, becoming a part of the same vortex. The disposition and the route that it implies outlines the harmonic layout.

There is a confliction between the shine of the walls and of the furnishings and the noir of the marble and of the ceiling. Therefore emphasizing the areas that are there for interaction.

There is also a confliction between the apparent simplicity of the internal space and the cafe/restaurant giving an advanced notice of the elevator’s entrance. The refolded bronze that covers them, acquires and reflects the colours and the shades giving a glimpse of the new atmosphere. From the restaurant, filtered by an amber veil, there is a splendid view of 5th Avenue and the end of Central Park.

The colours and the materials utilized are the same as the rest of the showroom, but the suggestions are new and different. The space becomes recreational, a line of light on the floor that leads to the entrance of the restaurant, underlining the sensuality of the bends of the wall. A virtual curtain activates the passage and, just like a theatre, ...the show begins!

Armani Fifth Avenue

Speirs + Major en tant que Concepteurs.

Speirs + Major first began their association with Giorgio Armani on the flagship store in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Since then, the UK designers have worked on successive Armani stores in Milan, Beijing and Hong Kong. The opening of Armani Fifth Avenue, designed by Fuksas, was timed to coincide with New York fashion week in February 2009 and built to a very tight deadline. As director Keith Bradshaw put it, ‘there could be no delays, this was a mission critical job’.

In terms of its brand architecture, Armani Fifth Avenue differs from previous layouts by mixing and interspersing the various Armani brands. ‘Previously, the philosophy had been careful separation of, for instance, the Emporio and Giorgio Armani brands, as each is carefully tuned to appeal to a distinct demographic,’ says Bradshaw. ‘In the New York store they are testing the theory that by interspersing the brands throughout the store, they can help graduate, say, an Emporio user into a Giorgio Armani user. It’s about reconnecting the lineage and it makes for an interesting store layout.’

Façade The façade was conceived as an elegant glass box, with a semi-transparent veil forming a surface for large-scale media displays. As the Fifth Avenue planning association prohibited the use of large-scale, commercial signage, the façade was conceived as a low-resolution art screen, only very subtly promoting the Armani message.

The screen itself is composed of a series of vertical, mirror-polished bars with LEDs mounted at 100mm intervals. The spacing between the bars varies along the length of the building, decreasing from 200mm at one end to as much as 3200mm at the far end of 56th Street. The impact was to create a strong image at the corner for maximum effect with a decreasing intensity that reveals the extent of the store. This carefully planned approach prevented the vertical bars from marring the transparency of the glass box, and was approved by the Manhattan planning department.

As in any media screen content is of prime importance. The Armani content is updated on a 6 monthly cycle to match the fashion calendar with subtle themes that are associated to the brand narrative. These films tell a story using both abstract forms and more detailed elements, which can be understood from across the street or several blocks away.

Staircase The interior is dominated by the extraordinary sculptural staircase that links the floors both physically and aesthetically. The organic form twists upwards like a plume of smoke drifting through the store. Various techniques were tested for how to light this complicated form. In the end a simple solution was chosen for lighting the walkway only: strips of warm white Osram LEDs are integrated into the handrail, casting light onto the horizontal surfaces of the steps. The result is a theatrical centrepiece, with the contortions of the geometry and the white surfaces producing additional reflected light.

Merchandising The Fifth Avenue design presented several unique challenges, yet the essence of the scheme was to evolve and perfect the approach that had begun in Ginza in 2007. The lighting had to respond to both the overall shop image and a strict requirement to conceal the lighting equipment at all times.

The approach within the retail areas builds on basic principles of lighting merchandise but takes them to an extreme level of precision. An RSA 305mm-wide slot system developed for the original Ginza store – to produce punchy accent light and conceal the fittings as much as possible – was honed and refined to make it even more discreet for the New York store.

White walls and highly reflective black floors set a high-contrast tone. ‘The clothes do the talking,’ says Bradshaw. ‘We couldn’t light as many vertical surfaces here because the white walls act as wardrobes and potential display areas, so wallwashing was out of the question.’

Essentially colour temperatures on the clothing are cool to warm, offsetting the warmer white on the staircase. ‘We wanted to have a distinction between the retail fashion areas and the circulation route,’ says Bradshaw.

Restaurant The restaurant is a lesson in restraint. For this space only, the exterior LED bars used on the façade were also fitted with LEDs facing inwards. This second internal screen is mounted behind an opaque curtain to soften the light and filter views of the street below. The diners are wrapped in subtle, slow moving abstract patterns further softened by the gauze curtains. As with the exterior, the effect is of a diffuse, smoky background.

Within the restaurant, the lighting is tightly integrated with the architecture and furniture design. The main lighting focus is on the tables. Working closely with Fuksas, the tabletops were sandblasted to act as reflectors. By bouncing the light off the table it not only flatters people’s faces, but also creates drama as the tables become the focus of attention. It’s not a pioneering technique but what makes it particularly effective is getting the surface of the table absolutely right and having no other lighting to detract from the effect.

Restaurant approach A curved wall leads diners into the restaurant and features a recessed trough with iColor Cove MX Powercore fittings at the base. The LEDs – warm white at lunchtime, red during the evening – wash the bottom of the wall. The clever bit was creating a slightly undulating movement, like a curtain blowing. Sensors in the ceiling pick up the movement of people passing and animate the bands of LEDs closest so the ripple appears to be caused by their draught.

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