MATERIA n.74 2012 / Replay Store Barcelona

Plant life has been an element that traditionally defined open spaces in antithesis to architecture made of hard, solid materials. Today it is becoming increasingly a building material in its own right. The growth of ecological awareness and cultural and aesthetic reassessment of “green” as a synonym of natural in the broadest sense have given rise to new unions between architecture and nature, especially within cities where there is limited space for plant life. In addition to green roofs, plant material has also overtaken the vertical realm. Green walls applied to facades are seen even on buildings’ most visible parts. Vertical gardens have even made their way into interior architecture, particularly in retail and show spaces, for which designers have discovered their great efficacy as symbols and bearers of well being. How better to express the much-requested concept of “green design” than with a green wall? The vertical garden is also part of the new store concept developed by Studio 10 for the fashion jeans brand Replay. Considerations about brand image combined with assessments of energy sustainability gave rise to an innovative store model where environmental well being is sought through a many-sided approach that is both technical and emotion-based. The special lighting concept with low-heat emission light sources creates subtle, diversified lighting while reducing energy consumption. Natural elements like air moved by fans, fireplace heat, water and plant life stimulate sensorial perceptions of cold or warmth. Material contrasts and variations (industrial and natural, light and shadow, cool and fresh) and elements of wonder such as vertical gardens and water walls set apart the brand’s architectural garb. It was first adopted in Florence and then applied in several other cities. The Flagship Store in Barcelona covers a ground floor of 19th-century building in Paseo de Gracia. It underwent and a revamping in accord with the new concept in 2011. Like the traditional gardens entrances of noble homes in the city, the green wall flanks the entrance here, creating scenic backdrops for the displays that capture passersby’s attention from the outside. The vertical garden is an introduction to the store that stretches through its depth with a series of spaces arranged along a central access route. This leads the customer, welcomed like in a private home, to two side lounges, for resting even before reaching the display and sales spaces in the interior part of the back, featuring a glass and iron greenhouse. The sequence of spaces is concluded in a small, rectangular patio that faces inwards with a second vertical garden that is a counterpoint to the one at the entrance. Both gardens were designed by Studio 10 with
the consulting of Vertical Garden Design studio of Michael Hellgren, specialized in green walls. The large vertical garden at the entrance, divided in two sections by the entrance path, covers 100m2 area on two levels. It is flanked by two iron walls on which water runs. It is a waterfall landscape recreated in miniature and expressed with an architectural approach. The natural environment of the waterfall with its rocky masses marked by irregular crevices and plant life that infiltrates them on the stone, lacking soil, was the inspiration both for its composition and the choice of plant species. A great variety of plants, including begonias, ferns and philodendron, is arranged in an irregular pattern of vertical bands, dotted by a few species with larger leaves, like Nephrolepis exaltata, Polypodium subauricolatum, Philadendron giganteum to add individual sculptural accents and dramatic effects to the installation. The plants are rooted through two layers of felt assembled on an Pvc panel, imitating the hard, moist foundation of their natural environment. Protected only at the start by a small amount of earth, the roots expand and attach between the moist textile fibers. The wall is fed with a fully automated irrigation system. A control system operates the fertilization and irrigation at brief intervals with a drip system set between the panels and the felt background. The outside courtyard’s vertical garden has the same technical features, but it responds to different environmental and design conditions. The degree of sun exposure of the southwest facing wall varies from top to bottom. The upper part is subject to intense sun exposure and the lower part is mainly in the shade. This required a diverse choice of plants to place here, with the upper part using heliophilous species, typical of the Mediterranean such as Lavandula
sp., Rosmarinus sp. and Artemisia sp., and the shaded part using sciaphilous plants like
Chlorophytum comosum and Fatsia japonica. The composition includes bulkier plants that develop more dynamically and sculpturally rather than on the surface. The plant life erupts like a liquid mass from the wall and cascades down, creating a powerful contrast in form and material with the base wall’s modular, metal surface. The spatial distribution of the rooms, some of which have no direct retail markers, and its subtle lighting, gives a private feel to this store. Selling seems as if it is a secondary aspect. The customer is drawn in and won over subliminally by this affecting microcosm that produces uses unusual pairings of materials and concepts (natural, domestic, industrial and historic, an architectural) to express the “urban casual” style of the brand.