Inside Fendi’s new Roman home: Palazzo dell a Civiltà Italiana
In 1938, Benito Mussolini ordered the transformation of 420 acres of lifeless no-man’s land five miles outside of Rome’s centre into a precinct of skyscrapers and freshly planted trees. Called EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma), this mini-city was set to play a starring role in Rome’s 1942 world fair, the perfect platform for trumpeting the pomp and power of Mussolini’s political empire. EUR was the most ambitious architectural scheme of his entire ego-fuelled Fascist regime, and like most despot pet projects, it went up with whizzing speed and efficiency. The biggest jewel in this cement crown was the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, a magnificent six-storey marble tower featuring a neoclassical facade of never-ending arches with glass and bronze windows that extend across all four of the building’s sides....
Writer: JJ Martin; Photography: Beppe Brancato
Read the full story here, or in the December 2015 issue of Wallpaper* (W*201)
Behind the seams: backstage at the world’s most renowned fashion headquarters
Inside Fendi’s new Roman home: Palazzo dell a Civiltà Italiana
Pictured left: the imposing exterior gives way inside to a fully functioning, workable atelier. Right: the clean, neoclassical lines continue on the roof of the Palazzo. Photography: Beppe Brancato
The Second World War ruined Il Duce’s carefully hatched plans. The world fair was promptly cancelled, Mussolini was eventually overthrown, and EUR was shut down, leaving its brand new buildings all dressed up with nothing to do.
Since then, this iconic building has been left eerily empty. Over the last seven decades, there have been occasional renters or onetime exhibitors (such as Giorgio Armani) who took temporary residence in Palazzo della Civiltà’s enormous interiors. But for the most part, the giant building was left without a heartbeat. Finally, though, it has fittingly glamorous tenants. The Rome-based fashion brand Fendi, led by CEO Pietro Beccari, has completed a full-scale, 18-month restoration, awakening the building from its long sleep and transforming it into its official global headquarters. Every square centimetre of its 20,000 sq m is now in use.
The central core of the Palazzo della Civiltà always was, and still is, an empty square chute and another natural light source, pictured. Photography: Beppe Brancato
Menswear designer Kris Van Assche makes a Paris printworks his new HQ
In the fashion world, where creative directors are hired and fired with dizzying regularity, Kris Van Assche is a rare stable element. It’s more than 15 years since the Belgian menswear designer made his way to Paris from his sleepy home town of Londerzeel, via Antwerp’s Royal Academy. He quickly became a trusted lieutenant to Hedi Slimane, first at Yves Saint Laurent and then at Christian Dior. This year marks a decade since the launch of his eponymous label and his seventh year designing Dior Homme, yet he remains one of fashion’s least visible design chiefs.
But even a steady hand like Van Assche needs to change his surroundings occasionally. In April, he shifted his label’s base of operations, if only a short walk from its old quarters in the tenth arrondissement. Van Assche is revelling in his new digs, a 435 sq m space designed by Parisian architects Ciguë, the six-strong collective behind his rue Saint Roch flagship store and a host of other fashionable commissions for the likes of Céline, Aesop, Isabel Marant and Dover Street Market. ‘It is a miracle that we found this place,’ explains Van Assche. ‘I like to think that it is the last rough, industrial space that hadn’t been renovated in the centre of Paris. And it is literally a 100m walk from my old office.’
Writer: Dan Thawley. Photography: Adrian Dirand
As originally featured in the September 2014 issue of Wallpaper* (W*186)
Pictured: On the ground level, the concrete flooring and red panel were left intact, while lightwells illuminate the basement below and the polished steel cube hides the workspace of Van Assche’s assistants; the space provides a simple backdrop for Van Assche’s collections. Photography: Adrian Dirand
The two-storey building is indeed a diamond in the rough; tucked at the back of a typical, light-filled courtyard behind the Place de la République, its bottle- green Haussmannian door is nestled between a strip of kebab shops, a pharmacy, small cafés and a halal butcher. ‘The first time that I brought Hugo [Haas] and Erwan [Levêque, both of the Ciguë team] to the space, I told them, “This must be your wet dream – when else will you find a space like this!”’ he laughs.
Van Assche first discovered his architects through word of mouth. ‘I heard about Ciguë because of the firm’s hands-on approach. They are not the three-piece-suit type of architects who send you a fax with a drawing and then come to have a drink at the opening! I felt that there was something very honest about that.’
‘There were a lot of restraints when we started,’ Van Assche reveals. There were heritage claims on the old printing factory, it was riddled with asbestos, and there were rumours of squatters. ‘So many buildings are protected in Paris, and you just have to deal with that. Here you have to cross the ground floor to access the basement space, so it can’t get much worse if you want to combine public space and private space. But I like a challenge. Menswear too is full of rules and codes and things that are forbidden. So it was about pushing against that to be inspired,’ he says.
Pictured: the entrance to van assche’s new HQ still bears the old printworks’ signage. Photography: Adrian Dirand
Van Assche’s plans to use the basement as a showroom meant the architects had to create private zones on the ground floor. They came up with four working cubicles lined in contrasting materials, creating a harmony of raw and polished surfaces against the rough concrete floors. ‘I’m in the black box,’ explains Van Assche, ‘and I kind of like the mystery of that! The polished metal box is where my assistants work, the mirrored box is our general manager, and the white box is our press team.’
The choice of materials echoes the composition of Van Assche’s boutique, explains Haas. ‘We already had a strong architectural vocabulary in place. We knew what fitted Kris’ universe and decided that the office space had to be a prolongation of our collaboration. We used brushed and polished steel, white plaster and black matt-painted plywood. This time it was in a more discreet manner, with less drama, but the same codes evolving in a different context.’
The holistic nature of the project saw Ciguë apply its multidisciplinary talents in all areas, including producing custom benches and fittings throughout. Haas describes the furniture created for the project as ‘direct, efficient, lasting, black, sharp and flexible’, all accurate adjectives for the stark tables, built-in bookshelves and benches that dot the spare expanses. ‘The existing space was in a rather bad state when we took it,’ says Haas. ‘So much of the budget went into walls, insulation, heating and so on. But we agreed that a minimum overall design intervention was needed.’
Foundations aside, the rustic concrete floors are one of the few remaining details; they are stencilled like giant tiles, with the remnants of a bright red painted floor panel. ‘You have no idea what it looked like when we found it,’ recalls Van Assche. ‘It was really rough. There was a lot of bricks and rubbish – like a squat.’
Ciguë worked fast, transforming the dishevelled factory over a three-month period, and the smell of ‘newness’ still lingers (there’s a crucial doorknob still missing, admits Van Assche). ‘It’s a question of attitude, of how to react to what you don’t control,’ says Haas. ‘For example, all the natural light comes from two glass roofs. So most of our thoughts were about finding a way to distribute and share this light between the different offices.’ The main concern was the dim basement, the all-important showroom that houses Van Assche’s seasonal collections and welcomes buyers twice a year, in January and June. Today, the subterranean level is positively luminous, thanks to the pairing of skylights and soft lightbox fittings that amplify natural daylight.
With houndstooth wool suits and pops of graphic colour from Van Assche’s John Baldessari-inspired A/W collection lining the walls, the space is already starting to embody that compact of brutal classicism with upbeat, sporty elegance that the designer has made his own.
OMA’s Amsterdam HQ for denim brand G-Star Raw
Commuters on Amsterdam’s A10 ring road can’t help but notice a massive building in concrete and glass that seems to have sprung up alongside the motorway overnight. A neon sign identifies it as the new headquarters for Dutch denim brand G-Star Raw. The fast-growing company had been operating from disparate sites around the city since its foundation in 1989, and by 2009 it was looking to gather its 650 employees under one roof. ‘We all felt we were missing out on a lot of creative potential,’ says Pieter Kool, the tousle-haired director of 3D design at G-Star. ‘A person who designs a chair can inspire someone who designs a jacket.’ Indeed, G-Star does both, considering its work to be project engineering rather than fashion, tackling projects from furniture to Leica cameras.
The company prides itself on doing practically everything in-house (for example, an employee found this parcel of land in an industrial zone by combing Google Maps’ satellite view). But to design the building, it hired Rem Koolhaas’ Rotterdam-based architecture firm OMA. Says Kool, ‘We really liked their uncompromising, straightforward way of thinking. They’re problem solvers.’
As famous and highly praised as OMA is, its approach was anything but an ego trip. The architects spent a great deal of time visiting G-Star’s studios, interviewing staff and conducting near-journalistic research in order to understand the company and what kind of building it needed. As OMA partner Reinier de Graaf explains, the firm uses this technique for clients whose work involves a creative process (it did the same for Prada). ‘It’s the architectural equivalent of method acting,’ says de Graaf. ‘When there isn’t a lot of presumed knowledge on our part about what we have to do, we go through a form of extreme identification with what we’re supposed to make a building for.’
G-Star wanted the building to have the feel of an airport hangar, so OMA created a long, horizontal structure, 19,000 sq m office space plus another 8,500 sq m for parking. Sliding glass-and-steel doors on the façade add to the hangar effect, while the entrance level is elevated to the same height as the A10 out front. ‘We treated the motorway not as an unwanted ingredient, but as a modern element that you could embrace,’ says de Graaf. Passing drivers see the building for a few moments, like a billboard, while the people working inside can watch the cars silently glide past in the middle distance.
Writer: Amy Serafin. Photography: Misha de Ridder
As originally featured in the March 2014 issue of Wallpaper* (W*186)
A rectangular border of black concrete frames the structure, and itself contains service functions such as archives, catering, a photo studio and parking. Within the concrete loop, five glass blocks stand side by side. This transparent space is for the creative staff, from design to e-commerce, with north-facing walls of windows providing ideal light for designing. One cantilevered glass box on the right sticks out like an open drawer and houses three floors of showrooms. Behind the windows and visible from the motorway, columns of mannequin legs parade the brand’s various denim styles.
The glass boxes’ front edges are staggered, producing a 550 sq m gap of uneven ‘raw’ space between the glass walls and the big sliding doors – perfect for parties, fashion shows and other events. At the push of a button the hangar doors glide open and the black concrete floor of this raw space merges with the deck outside.
OMA chose the building’s colour scheme before selecting materials, basing it on G-Star products and advertising campaigns. The near-grey of saturated denim reminded the architects of 1950s imagery and black-and-white photography – in fact, many of the floors are made of recycled aluminium, with a tone reminiscent of silver gelatin prints. The metal ‘has a lot of life, just like denim’, notes Kool. But G-Star wanted to avoid obvious comparisons, so this is where any denim metaphors end.
According to de Graaf, the building might have come across as ‘sort of generic’ except for two daring structural features. One is a pair of big diagonal beams that hold up the cantilevered glass box. The other is a long horizontal beam above the raw space that supports the upper band of concrete. The architect explains, ‘When we tried inserting columns to see if we could push down the budget, G-Star said no.’ Instead, G-Star opted to spend the extra money and keep the raw space unobstructed.
While OMA took care of the building, delivered after a swift 18-month construction period, G-Star designed almost all the interior furnishings, including desks and swivel chairs inspired by Jean Prouvé. Developed with the Prouvé family and manufacturer Vitra, the workspace collection went up for sale at the end of 2014. The one piece it didn’t create was a reception desk with rounded edges in lacquered wood the colour of Hershey’s syrup, by designer Marc Newson.
The result of a creative collaboration between two Dutch companies with global reach, the headquarters is, according to de Graaf, ‘a hugely scattered workspace dedicated to a single purpose’. G-Star sees that purpose as something greater than turning out blue jeans. As Kool points out: ‘The whole building has been designed around the activity of designing.’
Dušan Paunovic’s Milan atelier is as reductive as his fashion line
Many fashion ateliers bear the tear-your-hair-out signs of the industry’s last-minute timetables and a designer’s inner angst. But the Milan studio of Belgrade-born fashion designer Dušan Paunovic is completely chaos-and-pressure-free. ‘I love to come here at the weekends when no one’s here,’ says Paunovic of this tranquil, two-storey paradise, located in the city’s Porta Venezia district. ‘I sit here and meditate. It’s like a spa.’
This is no designer hyperbole. Behind an imposing door cut from 350kg of solid oak lies an open, light-filled space and an expanse of bleached oak flooring. In one corner, a giant oak platform levitates six inches off the floor; it is used for presenting his collection to buyers or editors, for draping mannequins, or even as an unconventional desk for his weekend sketching. Void of clutter, the space bequeaths insta-zen on all those who enter.
Just as serene is Paunovic’s 14-year-old fashion label Dušan, a niche line of luxurious womenswear. Though the eye of this designer is reductive by nature, his clothes boast the precision cuts, finest fabrics and exceptional fabrications that elevate them beyond old- school minimalism. They mimic, in many ways, the subtle yet intriguing details of his atelier.
Writer: JJ Martin. Photography: Beppe Brancato
As originally featured in the September 2013 issue of Wallpaper* (W*174)
Pictured left: Paunovic in the Porta Venezia atelier. Right: Dušan designs, in the brand’s signature taupe, lie on a pair of ‘Catalina’ chairs (1957) by Luigi Caccia Dominioni, now produced by Azucena. Photography: Beppe Brancato
Paunovic, a graduate of Milan’s Marangoni Institute who worked with the designer Zoran before founding his label in 1999, moved his seven-strong company into this space in 2010, after a lengthy renovation. The building, an early Fascist-era structure, had been severed into tiny rooms. Together with architect Attilio Abate, he restored the space back to its realist roots. ‘I love the architecture of that period,’ he explains. ‘It’s so simple, but the volumes are so important.’
Once untangled, the simple space allowed new elements to shine. A wall of windows subtly textured by a coat of white paint, for example, is gauzy enough to let the light tumble through the space. The oak floors have been tinted taupe — a signature Dušan colour – and then bleached. Most dramatic is the hole cut into the middle of the floor leading to a steep staircase with sculptural handrails. There are also clusters of 1950s and 1970s Italian furniture by the likes of Luigi Caccia Dominioni and De Padova. Bolts of Dušan’s rich fabrics line the roughly plastered walls.
‘My fashion is a lifestyle,’ says Paunovic, who does not show according to official fashion week calendars. ‘When I am making these clothes I always think what the houses of the women who are wearing them are like. This is a very important tie for me.’ It’s not by chance, then, that all messy signs of a half-cooked fashion collection are neatly buried downstairs, where his commercial and production team quietly hums along. That means the ground floor gallery can do what it does best: remain as an untouched oasis and a fashion spa for high-end creations.
Iron will: One of Paul Smith’s burning ambitions is to open uniquely designed boutiques around the world – and he’s done just that with his Mayfair emporia
Paul Smith’s office on Kean Street, just off London’s Drury Lane, is quite famous. In the manner of one of his heroes, the Victorian architect and inveterate hoarder John Soane, the designer has assembled an astonishing stash of stuff he likes. And stuff that other people send him in the hope he’ll like it and add it to the collection.
There are stacks of Stetsons, a piece by Marc Quinn, bicycles, cameras, thousands of books and magazines, toy robots and trinkets, cycling vests and Victoriana. The photographer David Baird recently created a 485 megapixel image of the office by stitching together hundreds of shots so you can zoom in and get a closer look. Smith left his Floral Street office in 2000 similarly stuffed. And it’s still much as he left it, an unattended personal museum. Smith tries, he says, to bring something of the spirit of this office into all his stores, now spread far and wide. Indeed, he says, the roots of all this diversionary clutter go back to the tiny, windowless store he opened in Nottingham in 1970, where he used his found objets as conversation starters.
One of his stores, though, carries more of this spirit than the others. In 2005 he opened a furniture store at 9 Albemarle Street in Mayfair and employed old friend and Ladbroke Grove 20th-century design dealer Nick Chandor to run it. Initially it was stocked with Smith’s personal haul, but Chandor began buying specifically for the store. He shares Smith’s magpie tendencies and willingness to go beyond the classic design canon. ‘He has such a quirky eye,’ says Smith.
The shop was more well-stuffed emporia, bric-a-brac and bricolage, than sniffy design store. And it has done very nicely thank you. As has its address. Since it opened, Mayfair, in particular Albemarle Street and Dover Street, has enjoyed a significant renaissance. So when 11 Albemarle Street, the entire building, came up for sale last year, Smith decided it was a smart acquisition. He now had two store fronts on the street and decided No 9 would make an excellent new flagship for the Paul Smith womenswear collection.
The furniture store, meanwhile, would be moved two doors down. But not before its new home, an undistinguished four-storey mock Georgian insert, was given a makeover. ‘The majority of humans on earth would think it was fantastic,’ says Smith, ‘but we wanted to make an impact.’ And the building definitely didn’t have impact. Smith settled on young London practice 6a Architects to add the required oomph.
Smith was a fan of the firm’s work at the Raven Row contemporary gallery in Spitalfields, opened in 2009. Formerly two mercers’ houses dating back to 1754, the site had been subject to meddling, expansion and neglect over the years. But rather than simply insert something abruptly contemporary into the patched-up spaces, the architects did something far more complex and clever instead, restoring and reconfiguring the building while telling its story in the process. Charred timber in the skylights, for instance, references a fire in the 1970s that had nearly destroyed the building.
Writer: Nick Compton. Photography: Michael Bodiam
As originally featured in the September 2013 issue of Wallpaper* (W*204)
Pictured left: Benchmark’s one-off bronze and wood display table. Right: a freestanding staircase, in plywood and steel with a teak handrail and coating in an Yves Klein-inspired blue resin, connects the ground floor with the basement exhibition space. Photography: Michael Bodiam
‘I think Paul liked Raven Row because it touches on a few common values,’ says 6a co-founder Tom Emerson. ‘There is a lot of tradition and history, but it is also fundamentally contemporary, and the distinctions between what is traditional or historical and what is contemporary aren’t always clear.’
6a Architects was called to the large meeting table in Smith’s office to see and feel the many and various places Smith is coming from. ‘There was this framed piece with military medals with different ribbons, stripes and colours. This is the world that he reimagines,’ says Emerson. ‘He doesn’t quote it directly, it is kind of environmental. And that was slightly what we tried to do with the store.’
The challenge with No 11 was that the architects were only charged with transforming the façade. Chandor and the in-house design team would deal with the interior, the dynamics and mechanics of store interiors being a specialist art. And, unlike Raven Row, which had a long, rich and incident-ridden history, No 11 had very little history. And none of it rich.
‘It was a matter of concentrating less on a particular, literal history than a material tradition in London’, says Emerson. ‘It was a matter of saying, OK, this is not something specific to this building, but it is specific to this place. It seemed like something quite tuned to Paul Smith, this background tradition, this foundation on which all his design work and innovation sits.’
On the back façade of Raven Row, 6a had used cast-iron panels. They had been cast in moulds shaped by charred timbers, picking up on the skylights inside the building. Smith’s team and 6a thought cast iron might be the way to go in Albemarle Street. ‘We were thinking about what we could do that was really part of London’s character,’ says Emerson. ‘And cast iron is one of the background materials of London – railings, drainpipes, manhole covers, lamps, fireplaces. It is the background texture you don’t really think about. It’s not like Portland Stone, which is the material of expression that says: “I’m a really important building.” And it has this nice tradition of craft and technology, but has never been an overtly expressive material. It was free to be reinvented.’ And 6a got very inventive. ‘Originally we were going to have cast-iron fabric coming down the building, but the building would have fallen down. Cast iron is super heavy,’ says Chandor.
‘They came in with a lot of casts. There was mesh, knitting, curtains,’ adds Smith. ‘But being a practical sort of person, I thought, what if pigeons nest in there or people put empty bottles in there? How are you going to keep it clean?’ The more restrained but still striking (and structurally feasible) solution 6a came up with was to hang almost 60 elaborately patterned cast-iron panels across the first storey of the building. They settled on a circular pattern that would then be continued and repeated in a new balustrade across the first floor. ‘The interlocking circles pattern is a typical Regency pattern you get in railings,’ says Emerson.
‘If you look for it, it’s everywhere; in windows, balconies. It’s so simple but once you repeat it, you gain complexity.’ The solution for the rest of the building was more simple: paint it black. ‘There is an amazing Georgian building on Dover Street that is jet black,’ says Emerson. ‘And we realised jet black was one of the traditional colours of Georgian architecture. There was a blackness to London that was due to the smoke and smog and a blackness that was designed in. So we said, yeah, let’s just paint the façade black.’ Another nod to the immediate environment were the semi-circular windows, clearly referencing the curved glass store fronts of The Royal Arcade next door.
For the cast-iron panels, 6a returned to the foundry it had worked with previously, FSE in Braintree in Essex. ‘What is interesting about this process is that on one level it is really ancient, Bronze Age technology – heating up metal in a crucible, making a form in the sand, pouring in the metal,’ says Emerson. ‘But there is an element that is really hi-tech. We modelled the design over and over again on Rhino and then moulds were made with CNC cutting. But fundamentally it is the same process as in Victorian times. And the great thing is that if the casts aren’t right, you can just smash them up, put them in the furnace and start again.’
Not that they were looking for perfection. Part of each cast does carry imperfections, what Emerson calls the maker’s mark. Indeed, Smith was so enamoured of the maker’s mark idea that he made a few of his own. ‘One of the nice things about cast iron is that because it is fluid you can draw in it,’ says Emerson. ‘So Paul drew a bird and a cat and they were cast into panels.’ Smith now has those moulds in his office.
Pictured: a wall in the woman’s accessories section is covered in 26,000 dominoes. Photography: Michael Bodiam
Clearly this was a very personal project for Smith. And, he will allow, something of an indulgence. ‘We do pride ourselves on the fact that all our stores are different. Our LA store is a bright pink box, influenced by Luis Barragán. The one in Seoul is this big piece of white bubblegum. But the furniture store is very personal. And, yeah, we can be a bit self-indulgent. We own the building, so we have an income coming in from the upper floors, rented out as offices, and we’re not suddenly going to get a rent review in three years.’
But if 11 Albemarle Street enjoys special privileges, Smith insists that all his new stores will be unique and surprising in some way. ‘There are a lot of really good shops in the world and we respect them, but we always try to make ours a bit different. There are so many low-cost good things. I think these days you have to have things that intrigue people. We just make the effort not to do the dreaded corporate roll-out,’ he continues. ‘So many of the big brands are doing that. And actually it is starting to become a problem for the world. It used to be such a joy to go to Barcelona, Madrid, Milan or Paris because you’d walk down the street and there would be a delicatessen and a sandal maker, a sock shop and a great café. Now it is just the usual candidates in every street. I think future generations may reject some of that because it’s what mum and dad did. They’ll be more: “I want my own vibe. I want my own character.” I’ve always tried to create shops where you want to go in because you never know what you are going to find.’
Emerson agrees that No 11 was anything but corporate roll-out. ‘There was none of this: “These are the company colours, these are the company materials.” It’s not part of a strategic network with a hundred other things. It has been much more what is this street like? What can we do with this street? What can we offer it? How can we give this building a more interesting presence and communicate the values of Paul Smith? There is a very site-specific quality to it. It’s been a very lovely, very London project.’