February 1, 2011
A London retail interior mixes high fashion, rustic masonry, and aggressive energy efficiency.
Universal Design Studio
The natural habitat of the dry stone wall is the English countryside, where these hardy, hand-built, mortar-free structures can be found snaking through fields and over dales. Recently, however, the English fashion label Mulberry unveiled a flagship store on London’s New Bond Street with a dry stone wall as its defining feature. But this is no mere pastoral pastiche; instead, it is part of a sustainable-energy strategy that could put Mulberry’s glitzy neighbors to shame.
“The idea of English craftsmanship is still relevant with Mulberry,” says Hannah Carter Owers, the associate director of London’s Universal Design Studio, which has been refashioning the company’s spatial identity for the past two years. “A lot of its products are still handmade in its Somerset factory. They’re obsessively attentive to detail but not precious or fussy, so they wanted a space that was really counter to that generic luxury environment.”
The sheer thermal mass of the 38-ton wall, which was hand-laid by a traditional Cotswold-stone specialist, regulates seasonal temperature fluctuations—but concealed behind it are some 2,000 tubes of phase-change material, a solution of salts that melts at 68 degrees. In summer, these tubes act like ice cubes in a drink, chilling incoming fresh air before it is fed into the store through gaps between the wall’s stones. “It will feel like going into a cool cathedral,” says Nick Cramp, the lead engineer of the firm Max Fordham, who worked closely with Universal on the scheme. In cold weather, a small fan draws ceiling-level air heated by the store’s metal-halide lights through the wall, recirculating it throughout the interior. On a freezing winter’s day, the 5,400-square-foot room is perfectly comfortable with no supplementary heating. “We’re introducing elements you’d usually see on a much more environmentally driven project,” says Cramp, who estimates that the store will use between 5 and 25 percent of the heating and cooling energy of its neighbors.
Rather than continuing the faux-country aesthetic, Owers treated the rest of the flagship like a warehouse gallery, choosing polished concrete floors, neutral colors, and natural, unfinished textures. Sculptural oak displays look like abstracted timber-framed houses (the designers refer to them as “follies”). As with the Mulberry bags, the metalwork is all warm brass—on wall panels, fittings, and light reflectors, and in a cryptic scattering of brass tablets set into the floor, which turns out to be an installation by the artist Jonathan Ellery, referencing David Bowie’s jaunty 1967 song “Maid of Bond Street.” Everything is built to wear and tarnish gracefully. “The type of bag Mulberry produces is the type that you can keep around and that gets better with age,” Owers says, “and the store reflects that.”