Some architects are such a natural fit with their client's projects that you wonder why they didn't pair up sooner. In the case of bathroom specialists Roca, the tapping of Zaha Hadid to design Roca London Gallery, its new London flagship store in Imperial Wharf, certainly could not have been a more symbiotic pairing.
From the outside looking in, there is a moment of disorientation as the sweeping grey interior surfaces are interspersed with discrete bathroom sets. The purpose of the space is not immediately obvious, itself a signpost that Hadid's MO of obfuscation and sleight of hand is already at work.
The street façade of asymmetrical heavy arches opens into a multi-tasking space that is showroom, office, café bar, library, social hotspot, and installation and exhibition space all in one. The 1,100 sq m store has the imposing grandeur of an underwater grotto that's been formed and sculpted by the force of flowing water.
Here, the Pritzker Prize laureate's penchant for swooping spaces and forms that appear like frozen wisps of mercury has rarely found a more appropriate occasion to be given full expression.
'Our work imbues architecture with the intricacy and beauty of natural forms,' Hadid says. 'Using a formal language derived from the movement of water, the [gallery space] has been eroded and polished by fluidity, generating a sequence of dynamic spaces carved from this fascinating interplay between architecture and nature.'
Translated: this was never going to be your typical bathroom and accessories showroom.
For one thing, traditional rectilinear walls are nowhere in sight. Instead, white and grey glossy concrete curves bend and turn along ceramic tiled floors to create caverns for a meeting room here, or a display for taps and sinks there, designed by a stellar cast of names like David Chipperfield, Herzog & de Meuron and Marcello Cutino.
Video screens and a multi-media wall create the impression of a research hub. Walls bulge and deflate; the width of ceiling joints are exaggerated to create the impression of water rivulets swirling above; while light fittings are hidden beneath amorphous globules that suggest air-pockets bubbling to the surface. The resulting gallery makes for thrilling place to wallow while you choose your new bathroom fittings.