Dance of Veils
Architecture Research Office choreographs a spatial ballet for Qiora on Madison Avenue.
Philip Nobel -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
FOR SEVERAL YEARS, New York's Architecture Research Office, led by architects Adam Yarinsky and Stephen Cassell, has been making a name for itself while successfully bucking prevailing trends. At a time when conventional wisdom suggested that emerging firms should herald their talents by deploying all manner of bells and whistles in and around their work—mutant materials, mutant forms, mutant language—cooler heads prevailed at ARO. As Cassell once said, "We're jargon-free architects." To which Yarinsky added: "I think that's why certain people don't find what we're doing interesting: Where's the hoo-ha?"
Though their no-nonsense approach may not capture the critical imagination as it might in a less glamour-prone city—the firm relies on experimentation and intuition to arrive at tailor-made solutions that address a project's broadest physical and cultural context, what used to be known as "practicing Architecture"—the designs themselves are not averse to a touch of measured whimsy. ARO's fluorescent flagged Armed Forces Recruiting Station in the center of Times Square primps for its close-ups all day, from ABC in the morning to MTV's TRL in the afternoon; the firm's design of a grand, 7,000-sq.-ft. Soho loft, completed in 1999, shows, in its über-engineered structural glass stair, a joy in solving physical problems that elevates the mundane; their Sunshine Mesa House of the same year appears to indulge in its Cor-Ten steel cladding—until you uncover the namesake research that went into it.
Whimsy and reason and wit: Now ARO can add sensuality to their palette of discovered effects. The Qiora store and spa, which opened recently on Madison Avenue, is another study in practicality masquerading as indulgence. What happened when they stepped out to do retail, a subspecies of design that usually trades in eye candy and sleight of hand? ARO looked for a way in through materials.
The spaces of the store and the adjoining spa are flamboyantly defined by a suspended system of translucent organza panels in shades of aqua and violet. The hanging fabric blurs the distinction between permeable and impermeable boundaries within the store, and integrates the freestanding spa cabins within a unified field of experience. "One of our goals was to create a sensation of being outdoors, to impart a calming feeling that would relate to the qualities of the products," explains Yarinsky, who worked in tandem with Cassell and project architect Scott Abrahams. But this dance of veils has some body to it. Not content to work within standard retail assumptions, the firm again employed its pesky middle name. "It is always exciting for us when we can discover, during the design process, that the parameters of materials impart a clear and unique character to the project," Yarinsky says. "It was particularly exciting to work with fabric so that we could escape the inevitable limitations of other materials—mullion spacing, small panel sizes, the necessity for a lot of structure." And once again ARO has found a way to make ambiance a product of old-fashioned problem-solving. Hoo-ha!