Hanging in the balance
Sheila Kim -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
"I love a dialogue between the modern and the antique," says architect David Ling. "With a little maneuvering, the two can coexist quite beautifully." And so they do at Spazio A, a boutique in Florence, Italy, that sets of-the-moment fashion and architectural elements against a cinque-cento backdrop.
Spazio A is the latest offshoot of Aeffe Fashion Group, which oversees production and marketing for Alberta Ferretti, Jean Paul Gaultier, Narciso Rodriguez, and other luxury labels. In an inaugural effort to bring multiple lines together under one retail roof, Aeffe tapped David Ling Architect to design a prototype boutique. Ling was an obvious choice: Since 1998, he's designed five Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti stores worldwide, all imprinted with his signature blend of whimsy and intellect.
Ling was essentially given free rein to develop the Spazio A concept, but he faced numerous site-related challenges. Located in a palazzo near the Piazza San Trinità, the space comprised two adjacent storefronts, only one of them with a second story. The architect first needed to overcome this asymmetry to accommodate ample display space for each of six Aeffe lines; then he had to squeeze back-of-house offices into the 1,500 available square feet. Moreover, the Florentine landmarks ministry restricted alterations to the vaulting, marble capitals, and stone facade.
Nevertheless, Ling was able to update the eight street-front windows with frameless tempered glass. As a backdrop to the window displays, he devised a modernist waterfall: a sheet of water trickling between two layers of plastic scrim. The material captures both the water's movement and projected runway-show footage.
Inside, Ling demolished a wall to join the pair of storefronts and made the most of the resulting configuration and existing historical details. Transparent glass fixtures provide delineation between brands while avoiding mazelike compartmentalization. Wall-mounted glass boxes, outfitted with glass shelves or nickel-finished steel rods, show individual designers' collections. "Everything is crystalline. Yet you feel the presence of membranes, denoted by the glass," Ling explains.
A floating staircase, outfitted with glass treads and balustrades, ascends to changing rooms and offices on the mezzanine. Even the floor is surfaced in back-painted glass tile. "The lightness and modernity of the glass preserves and highlights the opposing heaviness of the gorgeous original vaulting and thick plaster walls," says Ling. Not to mention the delicate scrollwork embellishing the Tuscan capitals of the existing marble pilasters.
To counterbalance more ethereal elements, Ling scattered blocky leather-wrapped display tables around the sales floor. Chocolate-brown cowhide also covers low padded platforms in the display alcoves. Supported on recessed bases encircled by fluorescent lighting, the platforms appear to hover above the floor—held, like Ling's overall design, in perfect balance between grounded and airy.