Feel the power of Frank Gehry and architecture firm G Tects at Issey Miyake, New York
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 4/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
One summer day nearly two years ago, Gordon Kipping was at home in New York, putting together a brochure about his fledgling firm, G Tects, when the phone rang. It was Frank Gehry, with whom the Canadian-born architect and engineer had taught a design studio at Yale the previous fall. "I'm here with Issey Miyake," Gehry told Kipping. "We're wondering if you're busy." Needless to say, Kipping discovered he wasn't.
The Japanese fashion designer, who planned to transform a cast-iron building in TriBeCa into his U.S. hub, had long admired Gehry's work. "Frank Gehry understands my sense of fun and adventure. When I saw the empty space, I could think of no one, save him, to harness its energy," Miyake says. Gehry, as it happens, couldn't take the job, but he knew that Kipping was eminently qualified to collaborate on the design and act as architect of record. "Mr. Gehry told me to work with Miyake on developing the program and that he'd be in New York in three weeks," Kipping remembers. The next day, he was on-site, figuring out how to develop a program around the fanciful narrative that Miyake and Gehry had developed to guide the design: A tornado swirls through the building and sweeps it clean, leaving behind a tornadolike titanium sculpture.
It was up to Kipping to determine the architectonic expression of that idea and handle such pragmatic elements as restoring the 1888 factory, navigating the landmarks approval process, developing a coherent plan, and constructing Gehry's whirlwind. "Mr. Gehry art-directed all aspects of the design, but it's hard to draw the line between my firm and his. The grids are more us and the expressive forms Mr. Gehry," says Kipping. He divided the program of the 15,000-square-foot space in three, with the prime street level for retail; the basement for showroom, VIP lounge and dressing rooms, and offices; and the subbasement for storage. Despite the functional separation, glass makes visual connections. Around the perimeter of the retail space, Kipping removed a swath of floor and installed glass slabs above the exposed joists for a result reminiscent of artist Gordon Matta-Clark's violent but provocative architectural "cuttings." Through the band of glass flooring, shoppers can see buyers placing orders in the glass-wrapped showroom area beneath—or, when buyers aren't buying, other shoppers shopping.
The metallic tornado emerges from this basement-level glass box. Making the fluid sculpture conform to Gehry's original sketches and models required some of the same procedures used for the Bilbao Guggenheim: creating multiple models and digitizing them on computer to re-create specific billows and curves. Fabrication was a decidedly low-tech affair. Kipping devised rubber-footed steel tubes that anchor the 4-by-8-foot sheets of .4-millimeter-thick titanium (the same used on the Guggenheim's skin) to the building's beams and columns with, believe it or not, large Velcro pads and industrial-strength double-sided tape. To keep costs down, Kipping, his staff, and a group of loyal architect friends performed the installation. Miyake intended the interior to recall Gehry's raw early work, and there is a definite roughness to the sculpture and the store's overall construction. But the tornado—as it rises from the stairwell, swirls through the front of shop and around the cashier's desk, and stops just short of the glass facade—also has moments of great lyricism.