At Cho Slade Architecture's boutique for Martine Sitbon in Seoul, South Korea, superficial isn't a four-letter word
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 11/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
In the hyperbolic world of high style, you can never be too rich, too thin, or too synthetic. Fashion's unapologetically superficial side—think Botox injections, collagen, laser resurfacing—provided Cho Slade Architecture with a rich source of inspiration in designing Martine Sitbon's boutique in Seoul, South Korea. "Koreans are known for quickly absorbing new technologies into their everyday lives: cell phones, the Internet, and especially plastic surgery," explains partner Minsuk Cho. "In this area of Seoul, the Cheongdam-dong shopping district, you see lots of artificial beauties." Count the Martine Sitbon boutique as one of them.
Cho Slade's approach was to treat interior and exterior to a taut new skin, designed and constructed in association with Ga-A Architects. A two-story plane of glass, transparent below and mirrored above, screens the building's unsightly 1970s mansard facade. During the day, the glass reflects nearby buildings; at night, the store becomes a glowing vitrine.
Inside, Cho Slade resurfaced the entire volume in a flawlessly creamy membrane of polyester paint that appears almost injection-molded. Or Botoxed. No frown lines or crow's-feet here. Prior to painting the volume, the architects even rounded off corners with quarter sections of steel tubes so that walls, floor, and ceiling curve into one continuously silky backdrop to Sitbon's feminine yet avant-garde silhouettes. "The synthetic nature of the space plays off the natural materials of the clothes," says Cho.
While a cheeky nod to fashion's frivolous extremes, the plastic-surgery concept also helped counter a peculiar site condition. The ceiling of the 1,000-square-foot ground-floor space is 13 feet high in front, soaring to 20 feet in the center before dipping to a head-banging 6 feet at the rear. Cho Slade chose not to eradicate these unusual variations by borrowing from the level above. "We exploited the shifts in volume by finessing the transitions," says partner James Slade. "Having no hard edges throws off the sense of scale—you can't quite tell where the interior begins and ends."
This confusion of space, scale, and surface is a hallmark of Cho Slade. "We like objects that change radically in relation to the viewer's position, that reveal another level of richness as you approach them," says Slade. Operating out of Seoul and New York, the firm is establishing a reputation for hard-to-read materials and reflective expanses—whether the project in question is a Korean office building or a Manhattan yoga studio.
At Martine Sitbon, merchandise is displayed in triangular fixtures of lacquered fiberglass-reinforced plastic. The front surface is indented to hold a clothing rack; the other two are mirrored, making the wheeled units appear razor thin when viewed from the side. Garments also hang from an oblong fiberglass light fixture wrapped in white synthetic hair.
A cash-wrap counter that looks like a hard surface is actually squishy silicone. Cho and Slade have caught customers caressing the walls to see if they're similarly smushable. (They're not.) "Touching is part of the shopping experience," says Cho, clearly delighted that the design plays into retail psychology while subverting tactile expectations.
Cho and Slade are unafraid of being a bit subversive when the situation permits or of tackling big ideas for small commissions. Says Slade, "Our work explores how form and materials change in relation to time and context, how our understanding of an object or space shifts with respect to distance." Retail projects—Martine Sitbon's boutique is a case in point—are particularly ripe for exploring such questions of temporality. "The beauty and value of fashion lie in its fleetingness," says Cho. It's a world where the shelf life of an object is inversely proportional to its ability to induce desire.