The interdisciplinary L.A. architecture firm Bureau Spectacular defined the interior of the fashion boutique Frankie with a single, unexpected move: a modular, 8.5-metre-long staircase comprised of nine individual units. When the staircase is split open, each of the components fulfills a specific function, transforming into merch displays, fitting rooms, seating and a cashier area.
Designer Jimenez Lai explained to Azure in September how the staircase can be used as a bleacher for screenings and performances when wheeled together on castors. White and boxy, the components are minimalist in design, and perfectly match with the 2,000-square-foot interior’s whitewashed brick walls and concrete floor.
We love the way Lai’s staircase straddles the line between furniture and art installation. Its dynamic transformational form has turned the ready-to-wear shop in L.A.’s Downtown Arts Districts at 1129 E. 5th Street into one of the year’s freshest retail environments.
Best Cultural Space: Sala Beckett by Flores & Prats, in Barcelona
In the El Poblenou neighbourhood of Barcelona, architects Flores & Prats have turned ruins into art. Formerly the headquarters of the Peace and Justice Cooperative, the new theatre and drama school has a radically unfinished character, showcasing the many layers of the building’s history in the community.
Peeling paint, chipped tile and exposed plasterwork – some of it dating from the building’s construction in the 1920s – alternate dynamically with modern window-frames, geometric banisters and curved wooden bars and benches. Its integration of existing disrepair, juxtaposed with contemporary gestures, makes Sala Beckett one of the most original interior designs of the year.
Inside a bank in Old Montreal, local architect Henri Cleinge has created what might be one the most a dynamic spaces to work in the city. Crew, a tech start-up that caters to freelancers, brings a modern-day work ethos to a building that dates back to 1926, and without disrupting its glorious old-world appeal.
The 12,000-square-metre interior, located at 360 St. Jacques, boasts such grand gestures as a carved- and painted-plaster ceiling, inlayed marble flooring and gleaming brass accents. As with any heritage building, it came with its own set of restrictions and limitations, such as having to retain the original brass teller stands, which Cleinge used as partitions between private offices and the publicly accessible café.
The thoughtful approach saw the restoration and cleaning-up of those original elements, including custom brass light fixtures. The firm then added brass-plated steel and glass-enclosed conference cubes, which give the open space its structure. Free of any embellishments beyond those that echo history, the new insertions add a dose of modernity inside an elegant shell.
Best Office: Campari by I-V, in Toronto
The Canadian headquarters for the Italian aperitif company looks more like a high-end gallery than an office. The first thing that greets visitors is a pastel-hued bar for sampling the distillery’s impressive list of spirits that include SKYY Vodka, Wild Turkey and Grand Marnier.
Located in Toronto’s Liberty Village, a neighbourhood populated by tech companies and start-ups, the office began as a 890-square metres of raw industrial space with double-height ceilings. Local firm I-V saw its potential immediately as an ideal blank slate for creating a theatrical interior, played up with the colours and patterns of Campari’s Italian roots.
The biggest gestures include pale-turquoise rubber on the floor, all-white desking systems, coral-upholstered soft furnishings on the mezzanine level and translucent polycarbonate sheeting surrounding VIP rooms and boardrooms. For the bar, I-V designers Ebrahim Olia and Emil Teleki gave a nod to Italy’s Ettore Sottsass, wrapping its curved form in the designer’s famed Bacterio laminate. The sprightly space, which earned a profile in the June issue of Azure, feels like an office of the future.
Best Retail Environment: Sulwhasoo by Neri&Hu, in Seoul
For the Asian skincare brand’s flagship store in Gangnam, in the heart of Seoul, Neri&Hu has elevated the city’s luxury retail scene with a radical five-storey interior delineated by brass latticework. Dominating the space is a massive metallic grid that guides shoppers through the interior as though on a journey.
Round mirrors, placed within gaps between the slender brass rods, exaggerate the vastness of the ethereal structure, while wide timber flooring and stairways help offset its intensity. Sulwhasoo products are exhibited like works of art within the framework’s quadrants, as well as on wood display units topped with solid stone countertops. Delicate yet bold, the latticework steeps the store in a mysterious golden haze, and cements, once more, Neri&Hu’s reputation as creators of magical spaces.
Best Co-Working Space: Free Studio by Tom Chung Design, in Toronto
Sometimes, the most basic interventions can have the biggest impact. As an incubator for creative culture, Free Studio is the kind of start-up that thrives on flexibility to give its community of filmmakers and photographers a place to work and create. The company turned to Toronto designer Tom Chung to map out a 557-square-metre raw space into a multipurpose office and free-form event space.
Chung took a minimalist approach. Half of the floor, which was already stripped to its scuffed-up subfloor, was left as found. The other half – in the area where rental desks and glass communal tables reside – is covered in plywood.
More plywood and standard pine planks were used to build storage units and partitions demarcating the gallery area, offices, a photo studio and editing suites. Dividers that run on a drapery track system allow for the floor space to respond to diverse needs, including photo shoots, concerts and dinner parties. The material choices were mostly budget-related, says Chung, but the off-the-shelf palette is what gives Free Studio its functional charm.
The French architect’s signature combination of eye-popping colour and serene neutrals is ideally suited to an elementary school environment. For this building in the Paris suburb of Colombes, blasts of invigorating red, orange and pink are splashed across the hallways, around the gymnasium, even through the outdoor spaces, encouraging pupils to run, play, and burn off some energy before class time.
In contrast, the lesson rooms are calm and quiet: ideal spaces for concentration, with soft grey concrete and natural wood. Most of the interior spaces are carefully sculpted to draw in as much natural light as possible, an effort that is aided by a courtyard and ample glazing. It’s everything a learning environment for kids should be: whimsical, stimulating and perfectly suited to both study and play.
Best Small Footprint: Mister by Scott & Scott Architects, in Vancouver
Scott & Scott has brought its characteristic restraint to transforming what once was a loading dock in Vancouver’s Yaletown into an artisanal ice-cream shop, located at 1141 Mainland St. The focus is on the theatrical preparation of the made-to-order frozen treats, which are rapidly cooled with liquid nitrogen. The shop is continually filled with frosty smoke flowing from a row of colourful KitchenAid stand mixers.
The firm chose soapstone for the countertops, selected for its ability to stand up to extreme cold, and empty liquid nitrogen canisters function as waste receptacles. Aged brick has been left exposed on one wall, whitewashed at the front of the shop, and painted in a glossy white in the food prep area.
Douglas fir doors hide storage and a window seat is composed of an industrial metal grate positioned at table height. The barstools, made in the Scott’s own workshop, are topped with utility-grade misty-blue leather that perfectly suits the foggy interior. For more on the firm, check out our profile in Azure‘s January/February issue, now on newsstands.
Best Home Office: Stable by Studio Farris Architects, in West Flanders, Belgium
This year saw no shortage of lovely farm building conversions, but an unusual interior feature sets this project by Studio Farris apart. The Antwerp firm first restored the facade of a disused stable in West Flanders, then inserted a new concrete volume within it, to improve energy efficiency and guard against chemical reactions with sulfates present in the soil and original walls. New openings, including skylights, were created to let in natural light.
But, rather than construct a second floor, the firm added a floor-to-ceiling timber object. Made of wooden beams and stacked at alternating angles, the unusual volume creates a variety of functional spaces for the owner, who wanted to transform the stable into his home office. The layered beams can be ascended like a stairway and lead to an upper level large enough to accommodate two desks.
The ground level serves as a meeting place, while the alcoves created by the stacked beams can be used as bookshelves and storage. The object is not permanently affixed, and it can be removed to create new spaces. It’s a design move that frees the stable for another conversion in the future.
Best Restaurant: Shugaa by Party Space Design, in Bangkok
This dessert shop‘s appetizing interior is even sweeter than its menu. Occupying the full interior of a block-shaped two-storey building in Bangkok’s trendy restaurant district (61 Sukhumvit Rd), most of the design inspiration makes use of the same ingredient that dominates the food: sugar.
Local firm Party Space Design gave the interior a Wes Anderson treatment, with a candy-coloured palette complemented by marble tables and countertops. Copper accents are found throughout, including the bespoke lighting in the form of sugar cubes. The double-height ceiling is intended to mimic crystalline sugar particles, as are the translucent glass bricks that wrap around a spiral staircase leading to the second floor. It’s a near-perfect balance of playful and tasteful.