Prada's Second Pritzker
Herzog & de Meuron's Jacques Herzog tries on Tokyo for size
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 7/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
With all the fanfare surrounding the 2001 debut of the Rem Koolhaas "epicenter" in New York, it's hard to imagine how Prada's next move could measure up. Or how the Italian fashion house could make an impression on brand-obsessed Tokyo. The answer turned out to be Herzog & de Meuron, the Pritzker Prize–winning Swiss firm that itself generated a lion's share of buzz for transforming a London power station into the Tate Modern.
The world at large may not know, however, that Herzog & de Meuron and Prada have developed a long-term behind-the-scenes relationship. The label's first ground-up retail construction, in Tokyo's elegant Aoyama district, is one of four Prada projects, also including an office, warehouse, and factory.
On a humid Tokyo morning—just hours before an opening attended by super-models, drag queens, socialites, and celebrities—Jacques Herzog toured the flagship, shadowed quietly by a jet-lagged Pierre de Meuron.
It's hard not to make comparisons. Did you have any dialogue with Rem Koolhaas?
Not about Prada—although we've worked with Rem on other projects. I think Prada hired two different architects to create two very distinct designs. If not, it would become a corporate thing. The epicenters are meant to be about experimentation and research, both for us and for Prada.
What research was generated for the Tokyo store?
Prada asked us to explore the idea of the store itself and the potential of new materials and combinations, so we considered "organic" silicone, leather, felt, wood, and resin versus "technical" steel and glass.
Did Tokyo inspire you?
We could only have done this building in Japan or Switzerland, where the craftsmanship is very, very good. On the other hand, Tokyo is a city where not a single building relates to its neighborhood, and every building fills its whole site. We took a chance in creating a little space outdoors, like in European cities. We also reversed the typical Japanese emphasis on looking inward by giving importance to the view.
How does the store relate to the Prada brand?
The building expresses itself in diverse ways. From different sides, it might look like a diamond or a jewelry box or a house. But we don't really think in similes. They're just ideas.
What about the diamond-shape glass panels?
They're an interactive optical device. Because some of the glass is curved, it seems to move as you walk around it. That creates awareness of both the merchandise and the city—there's an intense dialogue between actors.
Also, the grid brings a human scale to the architecture, like display windows. It's almost old-fashioned.
How do you reconcile a long-lasting building with contents that go in and out of fashion?
Look at your own clothes. Some change. Some always remain. A museum is the opposite. The artworks are meant to last forever, while the building is less eternal.
You mentioned that several of your custom Prada pieces may eventually be for sale.
We're discussing this with Prada. Hopefully, items like the "implant-style" silicone down-lights, the stools, and the display tables will be available in some place, at some time.
How will you handle maintenance, especially with a cream-colored carpet?
That's a problem with stores in general, but the question is not: "Will it be replaced?" It's more: "How easily can it be replaced, and how do you deal with the change?"
Working thousands of miles away from Tokyo, how did you manage to create architecture that appears almost handcrafted?
Pierre and I are involved with the design of every single project. We meet with the in-house teams and try to in- spire them to develop their own ideas—we give them a lot of latitude, because we want aesthetic variety. Otherwise, things get boring.