FuturArc n.24 2012 / Replay Concept

The Replay Concept
“An aspect of contemporary culture, derived from the immediate and continuous emotional exchange between millions of people throughout the world, is the search for an end to the hostile relationship between men and nature. We have an unconscious desire to experience marvels, feel pleasure, to live in a regenerated environment, an environment that also reinvigorates us. This is a common reaction to modern urban life, living in cities that are always growing larger, hotter, more crowded, and more homogeneous: an emotion derived from our perceived imbalance in the relationship between living space and nature. Why not then allow the space to talk, permitting nature, with its fragile equilibrium, to take back the urban environment? Our belief is that in a world where man has taken possession of nature, the process can be inverted and nature can return to manifest itself across the base elements with large green walls, waterfalls, and with fire. This is the reference point for the new Replay concept.” This is, in a nutshell, what drives Roberto Baccioni, Director of Studio10, to come up with his idea of retail architecture and  design for Replay, a well-known brand of jeans. Here, we’ll look at two of the brand’s stores to see how the designers have weaved nature into the manmade world of denim.

In a traditional store, usually there is no connection with the natural environment and instead they often contrast sharply. There is no light or shadow, one doesn’t perceive hot or cold; rather, there is a constant ambient temperature and overexposed lighting. This environment principally lacks diversity. In the context of a store, the environmental conditioning is usually unsustainable. For this reason, it’s likely that some store concepts will not be realised due to the restrictions of European energy consumption regulations. Normally the traditional solution leads to high energy consumption and a lot of factors are at fault. However, some of these factors can be selectively resolved to obtain a double
benefit, both economical and social. The approach to the problem, technically and emotionally, has begun to develop in different ways. There are now systems available that deliver a lower thermal impact. Thinking again about the lighting and considering the different behaviours of these systems, the designers were able to arrive at a reduction of the heating, cooling and ventilation costs, while maintaining an extremely pleasurable environment. Thanks to the elimination of such overheating, at the Replay flagship store in Florence they installed a system of ceiling fans that spreads throughout the store, instead of the usual air-conditioning systems, which is capable of circulating large air masses. This traditional yet efficient method of air recirculation was combined with a system managed by a computer. Meanwhile, the underfloor heating system was powered by a ground source heat pump, unique in its design, which serves to increase the natural thermal inertia of the system. The idea of introducing natural elements with a strong impact, both emotive and perceptive, is born from the knowledge that human perception is linked to the other senses that are also able to stimulate sensations of hot and cold. Therefore, in response to these ideas, one finds in the store vertical garden two floors high, a fireplace in the centre of the store, a wall of constantly moving water, and a tunnel with ceiling fans. They increase, in their elemental components of water, air, earth, fire, the sensation of hot and cold. These elements are in part both visible and tactile, and they recreate the typical relationship of the natural world.

Garden Close-up
Put together by Vertical Design Garden, the vertical garden covers a 7-metre high L-shaped wall in the three-storey boutique. It was inspired by the undergrowth of a temperate forest, similar to what could be found in the lower parts of the hills not too far away from the city of Florence. Although as with any indoor garden, the plants themselves has to be mostly of tropical origin to do well in the indoor climate. The overall picture is a soft yet dense and fresh greenery, with some small-flowering plants like lanterns on top of the darker background. A picture that reminds one of the undergrowth in springtime, when it has had time to grow before the leaves of the canopy have fully developed and absorbed all incoming light. There is a base of plants with medium sized leaves, like Aglaonema, Philodendron, Syngonium, Microsorum and a few other ferns as well. Within this framework, there are solitary species with stronger characters, like Begonia, Asparagus and Peperomia, some that are flowering, others with special coloured or textured leaves. Usually, not too many solitary species are necessary to give the garden a distinct character. As the wall is used as background for displaying the brand’s jeans, hanging close to the wall, there is a limited space for using more voluminous plants. Thus, the size and growth habit were important criteria when choosing the plants. But still, as with any of these gardens, a certain pruning is necessary to keep a long-term viable  garden.

In a space at the heart of the city centre, nature has been reintroduced to the internal environment to offer visitors a moment to breathe, both physically and mentally: this is the newly refurbished Replay flagship store Barcelona in Passeig de Gracia. The commission to redesign the store followed Studio10’s successful development of the new Replay retail concept in 2009 with their first new prototype store for the brand in Florence. Part of this philosophy involves giving new life to the spaces and the existing architectonic elements, while giving full respect to their origin and history. Located in a historic building dating from the 18th century, the challenge was to deliver a modern retail space that achieves a symbiosis with the existing architectural fabric. The redesign of the 800-square metre store was therefore very delicate. At the street entrance, the visitor enjoys a view that extends all the way to the rear of the store, evoking an image of a traditional driveway used by carridges to bring the gentry to the internal courtyard. Referencing the historic tradition of noble city buildings, the entrance was conceived as a garden, with two hanging garden walls and two waterfalls at each side. Once again, the architecture firm was aided by the expertise of Vertical Garden Design who devised a planting scheme with species particularly adapted for low light conditions. In the case of the Barcelona store, the internal environment was conceived as a domestic setting; for the visitor it is a home away from home. The entrance lobby opens up to two lateral halls where people are invited to relax and enjoy the calm away from the traffic outside. The visitor is surrounded by comfortable seating, leather armchairs and sofas, and antique furniture that call to mind the language of a living room. In the heart of the store is an internal courtyard where a steel framed glasshouse plays host to the “Denim Bar”: the place where the range of jeanswear items that characterises the brand are displayed. From here one can appreciate another hanging garden in the external space at the rear of the
courtyard. The design of the courtyard wall in steel blocks becomes the stage for an explosion of green foliage.

Garden Close-up
The two-storey wall is set in a dramatic and playful environment with waterfalls, sculptures and contrasting materials. As a great place to study nature’s own vertical gardens, the waterfalls were a natural starting point for the plant design. Looking closer to the environment around a waterfall, growing conditions change with linear patterns of fissures and cracks in the underlying exposed rock, or the rapidly decreasing moisture already small steps away from the immediate vicinity of the falling water. In such a manner, like the erratic and geometric cracking of an eroding rock, groups and strings of plants were laid out in an organic pattern. The generous surface allows for many kinds of plants. Larger groups of begonias, different ferns, small (but long) aroids like the common Philodendron scandens or Scindapsus pictus, set the background for more dramatic effects of cascading fronds of Nephrolepis exaltata and Polypodium subauriculatum or larger aroids like Philodendron giganteum and P. erubescens.The outdoor vertical garden, located in a patio at the back of the store, ispartially shadowed by surrounding  buildings—the southwest-facing wall has the upper area well exposed to the hot mediterranean sun, whereas the lower part is mostly in shadow. This difference in sun exposure gave way for more typical mediterranean plants in the top, such as Lavandula, Rosmarinus and Artemisia, and more shadow preferring plants like Chlorophytum and Fatsia in the lower area. In between there are a few plants that will gain some more size, the idea being to create a strong and wild growing surface, contrasting the metal grid from
which it extends.