In the bank
Gabellini Associates racks up the IIDA's top honor for 2002, remaking a historic London bank as a Jil Sander flagship
Shan Kelly -- Interior Design, 1/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
The challenge of blending new and old has faced architect Michael Gabellini at many of the Jil Sander shops he's designed—85 in the past nine years—but the new London flagship represents the archetype. An early Georgian building, the structure came with architectural pedigree and a storied aristocratic past. The ability of Gabellini Associates to create a simultaneously austere and majestic environment there won him the admiration of the International Interior Design Association and its Best of Competition 2002 award. Judges cited the enhancement of the original building and an understanding of the retail brand among reasons for bestowing the top honor on this project.
Gabellini clearly understands the Jil Sander brand. He first worked for the German designer on her Paris store in 1993; his newest opened in New York in September. With an appreciation for the neutral colors and lean cuts of the range, now designed by creative director Milan Vukmirovic, Gabellini crafted everything in the London shop to flatter the clothes while respecting the architecture.
Dividing the 10,000 square feet into product areas, floating white walls snake effortlessly around original Ionic columns, their volutes traced in gold leaf. Nickel-silver trapeze display fixtures dangle from original ceiling beams, allowing clothes to hang seemingly in midair. Freestanding mirrors, made from lead-free spectacle-quality glass that color-corrects light, reflect 21st-century clothing and intricate 18th-century plasterwork.
Three years of painstaking effort by Gabellini's restoration and design team went into the project. That included nine months collaborating with English Heritage and municipal authorities on issues related to historic significance. Built by Italian architect Giacomo Leoni, the Palladian structure began its existence as a town house for John Bligh, later Earl of Darnley. It was next bought by Charles Douglas, third Duke of Queensberry, who named it Queensberry House and turned it into a salon for famous writers of the day. By 1775, a new owner, the first Earl of Uxbridge, had hired John Vardy to extend the building by three bays; the architect also clad it in the white Portland stone that is the hallmark of nearby Bond Street. After buying the mansion in 1855, the Bank of England added a double-height banking hall and oculus windows, four cut into the roof and the largest, most impressive one in the dome above the original double staircase.
Eventually sold to another bank, then vacated in the 1990s, the building was ripe for renewal. "We brought it back to life," says Gabellini, who set about restoring period features. The double staircase had been covered in carpet, and the delicate banister was submerged under 10 coats of paint—now the Portland stone, wrought iron, bronze, and mahogany gleam. Reached via the staircase, the second-floor's original reception rooms host private meetings for Jil Sander customers and press, while the main retail area occupies the onetime banking hall.
Gabellini's signature is lighting, which he approaches like a theater designer. Having spent two years in London studying at the Architectural Association School of Architecture—and becoming acquainted with the city's gray winters—he maximized natural daylight, supplemented by a computerized lighting system that simulates shifts in sunshine from dawn to dusk. Blue-tinged glass filters on halide theatrical lights, recessed in the ceiling beams, can even imitate the quality of moonlight.
The pièce de résistance of the lighting design is Gabellini's overtly contemporary reinterpreted chandelier. This simple tube of light—a 25-foot-long halide wand—shoots straight down from the oculus in the dome above the restored staircase. "It's respectful of the past but also playful. It's polished without being nostalgic," says Gabellini.
None of this subtle interaction of past and present was lost on the IIDA panel. As explained by judge Carlos Martinez of Gensler in Chicago, "Although the four of us on the panel have very diverse styles in our own work, it was a unanimous decision—that's very unusual in itself. Many people think that minimalism is easy, but it's actually difficult to achieve. Gabellini's work stood out for its restraint and control."
DESIGN PARTNER: KIMBERLY SHEPPARD. PARTNER: DANIEL GARBOWIT. PROJECT ARCHITECT: JENNIFER COOPER HANLIN. HALIDE WAND (STAIR): CUBE LIGHTING. SOFAS (RETAIL AREA): POLTRONA FRAU. STOOLS: STAVROS NEONAKIS. TABLE GRANITE: DANSK MARBLE GRANITE WORKS. MIRRORS: MONTI DI ROVELLO. LIGHT FIXTURES: LITELAB CORP. LIMESTONE FLOORING: BIGELLI MARMI. CUSTOM CARPET: PRADA GROUP. LIGHTING CONTROLS: LUTRON EA. LIGHTING CONSULTANT: ROSS MUIR REALITY. CONTRACTORS: LAWSON BUILDING SERVICES (MECHANICAL); OLDHAM LIGHTING (HANDMADE FLUORESCENTS); RAYTELL ELECTRICAL CO. (ELECTRICAL). MECHANICAL, ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: WHITBY BIRD PARTNERS. INTERIOR RESTORATION: NICHOLAS FORD. EXTERIOR RESTORATION: PRIEST RESTORATION. ARCHITECT OF RECORD: HMKM. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: WALLIS.