It Takes Two
Art deco and mid-century buildings join together as the Milan headquarters of D&G—grazie, Studio Piuarch and Ron Arad
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Here are two separates you wouldn't think to put together: a brick art deco structure dating to the 1920's and a glass-box office building from the 1960's. But those with the right vision, namely tastemakers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, could picture this architectural odd couple as one. They renovated both and combined them to create a 54,000-square-foot Milan headquarters for their contemporary line, D&G. To carry out their vision, they returned to Studio Piuarch, which had completed nearby headquarters for Dolce & Gabbana five years ago as well as transforming the city's Metropol theater into a venue for the label's runway shows. Then, for good measure, the fashion duo called on Ron Arad Associates, too.
Integrating the unrelated structures, both five stories, was the first issue for Piuarch partners Francesco Fresa and Germán Fuenmayor. Organization was the second. The architects designated the deco building for in-house services, mostly sales. Thus, it required less work. The exterior was painted white, the interior stripped down to its cement floors. Meanwhile, the 1960's building would become D&G's public face, with three floors of showrooms and a café up top—and would therefore require a complete face-lift.
On three elevations, transparent glass panels are interspersed with vertical fins of translucent glass, 2 inches wide and 8 deep. Straight on, there's an almost completely clear view of next season's clothing in the showrooms, hung on racks along the window wall. From the side, though, the translucent blades take over, blocking interior views. "That's the game of the facade," Fresa says. He describes the interior as "clean, linear, and pure." It's also, deliberately, the absolute antithesis of the merchandise. Think back to season after season of bold colors and leopard prints with a sexy, street-smart attitude—that's D&G, the clothing, not the headquarters. Fuenmayor likens it to a "Japanese building."
Interior walls that aren't glass are clad in white Namibian marble, which also tiles the floors. "The marble is neutral, without much veining, but it has materiality," Fuenmayor says. And there's little to distract from it. "We're obsessive about using as few materials as possible," Fresa adds. That's a good thing, especially in the showstopping lobby reception area, Ron Arad's contribution.
Arad, whose renown on the furniture circuit rivals Dolce and Gabbana's fashion fame, had presented a 30-piece show at their converted Metropol building last year as part of the citywide design extravaganza that Milan becomes during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. (A smaller version took place this year.) Though he doesn't usually do interior design, he was nevertheless on board for this particular high-profile commission.
His reception area's primary element is aluminum shaped via a thermoforming process used in the aerospace industry. "The metal sheets are blown up like bubble gum. You have to stop before they pop," he explains. "As with every good design, there's a negotiation between the will of the designer and the will of the material." Here, that negotiation resulted in the monolithic 16-foot-long reception desk's biomorphic curves. One concave end is reflective "like a lens," he says. A pair of his limited-edition coffee tables are the same material—their tops scooped out like built-in bowls, which D&G fills with colorful lollipops.
The only other pop of color comes from the orange felt upholstering the undulating polyurethane-foam seating from Arad's aptly named Misfits collection. He designed the series a decade ago, yet the pieces went into production only this year.
Elsewhere, Piuarch handled the furnishings. In the three floors of showrooms, various styles of jeans hang on stainless-steel bars; eyewear and watches are displayed on blued-steel tabletops. In the fifth-floor café, strong color makes another appearance in the form of an oblong counter of orange back-painted glass. Back-painted glass, this time green, tops the café's rectangular polished-aluminum tables. The furniture and, overhead, a sea of glass pendant globes by Jasper Morrison are amplified by walls of white-painted glass, creating what Fresa calls a "crazy effect." More serene is an adjacent roof terrace where, on nice days, employees and buyers can eat lunch in the shade of a steel pergola.
Connection between D&G's two buildings occurs at the main staircase of steel, glass, and marble, fashioned as a box inside the larger box of the buildings. "We had an opportunity to make it not too boring," Fresa says with a chuckle. Fashion may be all about what looks good on the outside. At D&G, however, interiors are at one with that fabulous first impression.