Architect Qui Ly achieves a delicate balance of warmth and modernity in Triple 5 Soul's new Williamsburg headquarters.
Ben Vélez -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
FOUNDED DURING MANHATTAN'S underground music renaissance of 1989, the urban sportswear company Triple 5 Soul has served as a beacon for an entire fashion-forward generation. Founder Camella Ehlke, inspired by the whirlwind of creativity that was sweeping her Lower East Side community, bypassed a more conventional fashion trajectory to open the original Triple 5 Soul boutique. A live-in gallery space specializing in custom clothing for an emerging wave of artists, deejays, emcees, and designers, Triple 5 Soul functioned as a grassroots meeting house and watering hole for a growing hip-hop bohemia at a time when pre-Giuliani New York celebrated a neo-golden age of revelry.
A decade later, Ehlke's investment is paying off globally. A burgeoning wholesale business and a proliferation of international boutiques have confronted Triple 5 Soul with myriad spatial and design challenges. Desiring an image of success in contrast to the garish splash of billboard garmento magnates, Ehlke and partner Troy Morehouse procured a 13,000-sq.-ft. factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to house their growing office and warehouse. Ehlke, in characteristically understated fashion, simply requested "a clean, clear space designed to encourage creativity."
Presented with a raw space, a moderate budget, and a set of philosophical directives, architect Qui Ly set about creating a warm yet professional environment whose overall translucency gently reminds its employees that they are vital components of a larger organism. Suspended glass walls individuate executive offices without excluding the junior design and marketing teams' access to daylight and magnificent views of the East River and Manhattan. Qui Ly's design conveys the hierarchical yet still democratic corporate structure of Triple 5 Soul and its no-secrets ethos. The glass infrastructure and the lack of traditional cubicle walls evoke a genuine sense of familial togetherness. The open plan is further enhanced by the strategic placement of structural walls that convey a sense of privacy without interrupting the overall flow of the space. Floating steel/acrylic conference room walls, doubling as pin-up spaces for design review, easily swing out to reveal the company's wood, glass, and steel showroom.
The Williamsburg locale provided Ehlke and Morehouse with a greater quality of spatial expansiveness and quietude that encourages creativity, in sharp contrast to the noisy drama of the Seventh Avenue fashion ghetto. "A ten-minute cab ride leaves our clients immersed in an entirely different creative energy," remarks Ehlke. "I mean, the kids seem to love it… and who knows best?" In addition, the Williamsburg location provided an escape from New York's overstimulated commercial real estate market, hence affording Triple 5 Soul "a luxurious workplace that makes our people feel comfortable and clear."
Triple 5 Soul is dedicated to evoking a home-away-from-home feeling for the company's staff. International potluck meals are served in the roomy and fully functional kitchen, while weekly Tai-Chi classes are available to offset any stress. Signature orange lighting fixtures bathe the interiors in a soothing yet vibrant luminescence. After dark, one can enjoy the spectacular effects of the glittering Manhattan skyline as it contrasts with the soft glow within the office itself.
While the nature of the business has evolved drastically, Ehlke's original policy of working within her community continues to pay off. Ly, Ehlke, and Morehouse have known one another for the better part of a decade and as such are not strangers to one another's aesthetics. Granted an unusual degree of artistic freedom, Ly's marriage of clean simplicity and rugged appeal complements the mature functionality that Triple 5 Soul's collections now embody. Even elements of industrial piping were left plainly visible, playing upon the signature utilitarian vibe of Triple 5 Soul's garments. The overall effect of the design creates a modern and lean sensuality that manages to retain the space's original character. The partners were so pleased with Ly's interpretation that he has been entrusted with directing the facelifts of existing Manhattan, Tokyo, and Osaka shops and the architecture and decoration of imminent Triple 5 boutiques planned for London, Los Angeles, and Fukuoka.