For future generations
Susan Welsh -- Interior Design, 4/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
"This place is too child-friendly," mutters one exasperated mum as she tries to extract her small daughter, clearly beside herself with delight, from the new children's department at Selfridges & Co., London. Future Systems principal architect Jan Kaplicky, who designed the 12,000-square-foot area, isn't surprised that it's a hit with the young. As with all Future Systems projects—including Comme des Garçons boutiques in New York, Paris, and Tokyo and a media center for Lord's cricket ground in London—the secret is in refusing to cater to received notions. "We try desperately to avoid 'kids' style,' treating children as rather mentally damaged people. Why use kindergarten colors, for example?" asks Kaplicky, who has personal experience with the tastes of the sandbox set. (He and Future Systems principal architect Amanda Levete have a 7-year-old son.)
With its space-age fixtures and intense but sophisticated palette, the children's department displays some of the hallmarks of Future Systems projects for grown-ups, but the details reveal kid-centric thoughtfulness. Clothing hangs inside gleaming white shells of GRP, suspended from the ceiling to allow youngsters to move about freely beneath. Clear blue acrylic surrounds original concrete structural columns, and the carpet—"not Yves Klein blue, but close"—is padded to produce just a suspicion of bounce. "I've seen kids take off their shoes as soon as they arrive," Kaplicky says. More surprises await at every turn: a forest of fiber-optic cables with colorful glowing tips; an orange carpeted hummock that acts as both a display fixture and a play area; portions of floor covered in shiny blue resin-coated pebble tile. And, the architect points out, all was accomplished on a restricted budget—Selfridges intends for such a space to last five years, maximum. "This is not Prada," he says.
It is, however, part of an increasingly fruitful Selfridges collaboration, to culminate in September with the opening of a Birmingham branch built by Future Systems. The 250,000-square-foot structure, an irregular shape covered in 30,000 convex aluminum disks, may be the world's first department store with no right angles. It will surely raise the profile of Future Systems in the U.S., where Kaplicky feels that the firm's work has been ignored or, worse, misunderstood. In the meantime, at least the kids are happy.