Type to search

Surf’s up at the Gallery Shop by Akin Atelier

Surf’s up at the Gallery Shop by Akin Atelier


Sydney is as renowned for its glorious beaches as it is for its Opera House, so it made sense for the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Modern building to feature some sort of homage to the ocean. Deep dive beyond the neoclassical façade and you’ll discover the Gallery Shop, the IDEA 2023 Retail winner with a one-of-a-kind bio-resin installation that is probably more familiar to surfers than to art aficionados.

Conceived as a collaboration between Akin Atelier, a Sydney-based architecture and multidisciplinary design firm, and pioneering surfboard and product designer, Hayden Cox, best known as the founder of Haydenshapesthe Gallery Shop is a jaw-dropping retail space, worthy of ‘exiting through the gift shop’.

Akin Atelier principal, Kelvin Ho’s understanding of spatial dynamics and aesthetics comes to life in this stunning retail space, which serves as a bridge between art and the urban environment. When it came to looking for a collaborator to assist him meet his vision, he didn’t need to look further than Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

After meeting through a mutual connection at Saturdays NYC (Ho was behind the design of the retail fitout in Bondi, and Cox had his boards and surf wear stocked by the brand), they discovered a mutual appreciation of experimenting with different materials and resin.

Ho was keen to test out new materials on a recent commission for the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) on the design of the principal retail space for the Sydney Modern development. None of Akin Atelier’s regular contributors would take the risk of working with unknown materials as they were untried and untested. But Cox had the confidence to dive into the project and the perfect collaboration was born.

Cox’s approach to design, characterised by his unique perspective on materiality, made him the ideal collaborator for Akin Atelier’s vision for the Gallery Shop. He lends a surfy sensibility to the space, loosening up the design with his knowledge of tough materials like bio-resin that interplay with light.

Ho says: “I knew Hayden had a deep understanding of resin having worked with the material for some 25 years. He invited us to his Mona Vale factory to talk us through his process and how he had applied the material to other architectural and interior projects.

“Hayden is this epic combination of a perfectionist, a mad scientist and designer – all of which is underpinned by a deep understanding of craft, an openness to learning, and a commitment to innovation.”

The appreciation of each other’s work goes both ways – Cox found working with Ho was a meeting of minds and materials.

“I really like Kelvin’s contemporary approach to his design work and how he blends a number of different materials around a minimal palette. I also appreciate that he is experimental and looks outside the normal parameters in terms of how something can be done or created and I think that mindset can lead you down some really exciting paths.”

The choice of bio-resin as the primary material for the Gallery Shop was informed by its remarkable ability to reflect and refract light. The hand-feel and patina of the resin are reminiscent of the old bronze handrails in the Art Gallery’s original neoclassical building.

But to take on such an ambitious project there had to be a genuine collaboration and teamwork.

Custom moulds, designed by Akin Atelier and fabricated at the Haydenshapes factory, allowed for tinted layers of bio-resin to be hand-poured daily for 109 consecutive days. This painstaking process resulted in a unique and breathtakingly beautiful resin bookshelf comprising 29 individual modules, with a combined weight of 12 tonnes.

Ho recalls the different perspectives and roles within this project underpinned a balanced approach to problem-solving on the challenges that arose.

“There was a lot about the execution that was new and unknown with a steep learning curve for everyone involved,” he says.

“This pressure combined with the cultural significance of this project created a strong sense of camaraderie. I honestly don’t think we would have achieved what we have it if it wasn’t for everyone’s dedication shared desire for the best possible outcome. It really was a case of the dream team.”

“I think the experimental nature of what we’ve created has been a huge motivation for all involved,” Cox reflects on this innovative project.

“It’s not a tried and tested concept, but more a hybrid of design, architecture, innovation, and art. Drawing on 25 years of working with resin across various disciplines, being able to truly push the application of this materiality at this scale and level was an intriguing design challenge and a privilege to realise collaboratively with the team at Akin Atelier and the Art Gallery of NSW.

“I can’t believe that it’s almost been a year since we completed the Gallery Shop project, it feels like it was only just finished! I think that in itself speaks to the impact it had, and all the heart and work that went into it throughout that two-year process. We will continue to evolve our resin projects with our furniture capsules and other objects, and I love the idea of continuing to work with great people like Kelvin Ho and the Akin team,” says Cox.

Photography by Rory Gardiner and Tim Salisbury.

Above is an article that originally appeared in the IDEA Winner’s Edition of inside magazine. Buy your copy here.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *