Why grey concrete is David Chipperfield’s contribution to physical retail

Montreal – ‘Good luck when you want to change anything,’ David Chipperfield jokes to client Ssense. In today’s fast-paced fashion world, the renowned architect’s contribution to physical retail for the e-commerce label’s first store is a monolithic composition of rigid materials like concrete, mirrors and steel.

Though counterintuitive, the grey-washed Ssense Montreal store takes a futuristic approach to translating the online-shopping interface into three dimensions. As more and more e-retailers are taking the surprising step of moving their services into the real world, Chipperfield creates a space that offers ‘experiential qualities’. For the opening event, Venezuelan music producer Arca created Tormenta, a site-specific installation and performance exploring the relationship between body, capture and spaces as containment. (Tormenta lives on in an online film that may be disturbing to some viewers – the physicality of the performance is evocative of the apprehension of a suspect, showcasing the Ssense space from the point-of-view of a CCTV security camera.)

The accessibility of online retail is echoed within the five-storey space through a ‘vertical lift module’ that mirrors warehouse systems for delivering and storing orders. An embedded grid system is integrated in the walls, seamlessly introducing technology to physical retail processes within the space. At the same time, ‘the building pushes back’, dominating the interactions and transactions that occur within it, instead of facilitating or compromising. A ‘normal company’ wouldn’t have gone for it, says Chipperfield. ‘This is not a sensible project.’

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