Snøhetta is an internationally-renowned architecture and brand design firm that was first formed in Oslo in 1989. Besides taking on big projects like the Oslo Opera House, the firm has also worked with Aesop on the design of three other stores, including the Raffles City outlet in Singapore. This time, Aesop called on lead architect Thomas Fagernes to spearhead the conception and creation of the Ion Orchard store. Find out how Fagernes was inspired by Orchard Road's plantation roots and how the firm managed to incorporate a slice of Singapore in the design of this stunning space.
Why do you choose to work with Aesop and what about the brand and its products and aesthetics inspire you?
Snøhetta has had a very fruitful collaboration with Aesop since we designed their first store in Oslo.It is a relationship we cherish, as Aesop is a client with a set of values quite parallel to ours. Their attention to details, attitude to materials and quality, and their drive for innovative design makes for a rather unique client.
The branding philosophy of Aesop is if course very interesting. At the core, they have a great product with a beautiful packaging. This, together with the functionality of their stores with the sink as an interactive element is always a constant that seems to work very well in all the wildly different stores around the world.
How do you go about thinking of the concept for each store? Are you inspired by the country, culture, architecture or do you go by specific themes you have in your mind?
This conceptual approach to each store varies. For the two stores we have done in Singapore, historical and geographical references have very much been the sparks, leading on to material explorations. It is a drive in the Aesop philosophy to anchor their store designs in the local contexts, an approach we very much agree with as a general design strategy. Engaging in the local context is a key inspiration point, leading our designs in quite different directions as we work in diverse cultures around the world.
In what ways has the Ion space inspired your designs and conversely, how has the limitations of the space (if any) or the shape of the space affected your final design?
The conceptual approach to the Ion store was a combination of the historical reference to the nutmeg orchards that were here before the development of Orchard road and the subterranean location which together sparked the concept of an inverted forest. The customer experience in this is thought to be exploratory, moving through the large 'trunks' displaying the products, with the sink as a 'glen' in the forest. The undulating walls are following this concept of movement. Should I point to any limitations it must be the acoustic and visual connection to the mall. This of course pose some limitations in achieving a sheltered experience upon entering the store which we have sought to mitigate by working with both floor and ceiling as acoustic dampers.
Why did you want to revisit Orchard Road's roots as a nutmeg plantation in the Ion Orchard store and how have you brought this outdoor concept indoors?
We found the reference to the orchards a great starting point to mould the concept and mood for the store, using this as a frame for working very directly with experiential references. Not so much as in replicating the outside, but in the concept for the circulation and in working with the light, materials and colours.
Please highlight a few areas that you are proud of or that you find unique in the Ion Orchard store.
The sink stands out as a centre piece in the store. The un-treated brass cladding of this and a number of other elements will over time take on a patina, altering the appearance of the store. The surfaces that are touched, like the sales counter and the sink top will be slightly more polished than the vertical surfaces, showing the life of the space.
How do you go about merging function, design and making the space comfortable and welcoming to customers?
For the Aesop stores the functional aspects are quite clear and always an integrated part of the architecture. The three main elements are the display shelves, the sink and the sales position. Working with the materiality and the design of these elements sets the atmosphere of the individual store. As the store has very little in the way of visual marketing this gives us the freedom to focus on these elements in a unique way in each store.
What are the materials and finishes that you enjoy working with when it comes to designing Aesop stores?
This varies but we would always prefer to work with natural and real materials, materials that ages beautifully and have character. Wood is of course a constant here. For the Singapore stores we have had the opportunity to work with brass which has been quite a pleasure, letting us work for instance with some great craftsmen in Korea to manufacture the wash basins. These are made by a company who specialises in traditional brass rice bowls and is the first time they have made anything this big!
What are some of your other, upcoming projects that Snøhetta is undertaking?We have an array of ongoing projects around the world. Last week we opened up the San Fransisco Museum of modern art. I could also highlight the Opera House in Busan, South Korea, set to open in 2020.
What is the concept of your firm Snøhetta and what kinds of projects does it tend to take on?
Snøhetta is a multidisciplinary design firm. Our core business is in the cultural sector with projects like the Alexandria library, the Oslo Opera house and the San Fransisco museum of modern art in our portfolio, spreading out to all other field of design, from metro stations to bee hives and even currency design.
The new Aesop store is at #B3-66 Ion Orchard