Reductive Retail

Play Architecture, with co-founder Senthil Kumar Doss as lead, create a delightfully different retail experience that centres around a geometric, gridded interpretation of a zen garden for Twelve AM:PM in Bengaluru.

A steel and glass garden for an apparel store! Reductivism in the design of the fashion merchandise turned the architects’ thoughts towards a Zen garden, which is replete with symbolism and serenity, for the retail prototype. The enclosed area was reimagined as a latticed volume, with information such as circulation patterns, display points, etc, superimposed and subtracted from the mother matrix to establish an interesting spatial identity.

Design is exciting when it goes beyond the cliches and the obvious… Take the case of this apparel store that takes inspiration from a Zen garden — and reimagines it as a geometric, three-dimensional matrix. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

It all started when Twelve AM:PM, an offshoot of the apparel brand AM:PM, decided to shed its ethnic identity and transform into an entity that would meet the aesthetic demands of the contemporary Indian. “The fashion designers at AM:PM consciously stripped the elements of decoration and adopted the idea of reduction and abstraction,” says Senthil Kumar Doss, co-founder of Play Architecture which was charged with translating this shift into a retail experience and creating a prototype that could be retrofitted in sites with varying conditions. With reduction, the architects’ thoughts naturally turned to Zen, and with abstraction, to Zen gardens.

“A garden is a place for all ages, interestingly planned for display, cultivation, contemplation and indulgence. Taking off from Chinese tradition, a Japanese philosopher once observed that a Zen garden can be made in places where there are no lakes and streams. If this statement is true, a cacophonous modern Indian shopping space is probably one great place to attempt the idea of Zen,” says Senthil. “Zen, or Zen gardens to be specific, share a similar idealogy of expressing nature through abstracted forms, transmitting very profound thoughts by its simplistic existence.

The space was kept as visually light as possible so that the colours and the textures of the objects on display would be the heroes.

“It is this commonality that interested us as architects and interior designers as we decided to express this strong relevance through the built form. In Zen, a piece of rock, white sand and pebbles reflect the idea of mountains and fields. At Twelve AM:PM, our intent was to recreate the idea of a Zen garden with trees and other natural elements reduced to geometrical grids, scooped and pixelated at various points in three dimension to create axis, access, movement, display and indulgence,” elaborates the architect whose experimental studio initially thrived on geometric queries affecting space and resultant forms, and has lately intensified the search, layering and exploring of structures through the digital medium.

As the architects had to adopt a specific design language to suit stores at multiple locations, the idea of 3D grids in modules sounded like a good solution. “Irrespective of the proportion of the store, these versatile grids could be easily accommodated in a variety of situations without losing the essence of the space,” says Senthil.

The space was defined by a series of grids stacked in x, y and z axes, creating an enclosed system as in a Zen garden. Then, elaborates the architect, layers of information constituting various zones, ingress and egress points, method of display, movement and pause points were overlapped to create a meandering system and then subtracted from the 3D grid resulting in an interesting spatial definition. “The series of grids provided the order and the meandering system created the strategic chaos,” elucidates the architect.

A view of the billing desk.

Steel and glass were chosen as mediums of material expression given their versatility to generate a visually hazy space creating transparency, translucency and opacity at required zones. “Using the property of steel, we could reduce the size of the sections perfectly supporting the idea of visual lightness. Also, it was simple and comparatively economical when compared to wood,” discloses Senthil. “The entire project is built out of MS box sections and glass. Maintaining the dimensions and precision was the biggest challenge as we needed to achieve perfection during the fabrication process. The highly reflective wall and floor surfaces (the latter, of white vitrified tile) further enhances the ambience. The neutrality of the space creates a gentle backdrop and allows the objects on display to take prominence.

Artificial lighting follows the system of grids and by careful configuration, generates a sense of definition and organization in the space. “We tried various lighting strategies at different stores initially,” says Senthil. “Finally, the Bengaluru store worked best as we also got in a specialist lighting designer to help us manifest our vision. A series of long LEDs at the higher level provided the required general lighting and we introduced the idea of highlighting the display in a similar language.”

Though the architects haven’t had the opportunity to talk directly to the end-user of the site, the feedback that’s gone back to them has been positive, with people commenting on the difference from a conventional retail store. And a steel and glass garden in a shop is nothing, if not unusual!

Project Twelve AM:PM International Pvt Ltd
Location Phoenix Mall, Whitefields, Bengaluru
Built-up area 562.22 sq ft
Principal architect Senthil Kumar Doss
Design team Deepak Ramadasan, Mahesh Pandian, Deepan R, Dinesh P, Periyasamy P, Prathiksha P, Seetharam G, Harish T, Prasanna P, Subashree S, Sreevanth AT, Shradha P, Niloofer K and Siddesh VH
Project in-charge Dinesh P, Periyasamy P
Lighting consultant Anusha Muthusubramanian (Lighting Spaces)
Fabrication and carpentry consultant Om Shakthi Engineering and Fabrication
Electrical consultant Parthiban (Achu P Enterprises)