May 1, 2011
An architect and a landscape designer outfit a fashion showroom
in steel plate, lava stones, leather, and pine.
When Takashi Koike recently decided to commission a new showroom and office for the Japanese clothing brand Sisii, where he is the head designer, he had several seemingly contradictory objectives in mind. He wanted a space that was striking enough to leave a lasting impression on national and international buyers visiting Kobe, where the brand was born in 2001. At the same time, he wanted them to feel soothed and relaxed. Of course, the showroom also had to be functional for Sisii staff. Furthermore, Koike thought, it should create a public presence for the brand and act as a sort of Kobe flagship—even though the showroom would not actually be open to the public.
If that were not enough complication, Koike enlisted designers from two different disciplines to execute his vision. Fortunately, the pairing of the landscape designer Toshiya Ogino and the architect Yuko Nagayama proved to be an inspired choice. Ogino took on the task of making the interior—formerly an office—unforgettable but not overwhelming. He assembled an interior garden stocked with local lava stones and indigenous vegetation, including Japanese red pines. Meanwhile, Nagayama united the garden elements and the functional requirements by inserting a thin steel-plate floor that floats 28 inches above the original floor.
“By cutting and folding the steel plate at places, the floor generates ‘rooms’ and gardens sunken in the ground,” Nagayama says. This allowed her to carve three distinct work zones out of the 1,500 square feet. The staff hosts buyers in a meeting room settled below the normal level; office activities take place around a piece of floor that functions as a shared desk; and, between those zones, the latest Sisii collection is presented on artificial tree branches. “The antirust layer on top of the steel floor is the matchmaker of the interior,” Nagayama says. “The natural color fits in with the atmosphere of the garden as well as the earth-colored leather jackets” (a Sisii trademark).
The greenery integrates surprisingly well with the program of an office. But real vegetation needs a lot of care. To ensure enough light for the trees, the show-room is brightly lit 24 hours a day. (After office hours, Sisii switches from halogen lights to more efficient metal-halide lamps.) And since the showroom is in a glassy storefront on a busy shopping avenue, this has the added effect of transforming it into an eye-catching public showcase—just as Koike wished.