Phoenix from the fire

Jul 6, 2009
  • Article by Jan Henderson
  • Designer HASSELL

Jan Henderson: What was your vision for the new showroom?
Phillip Duggan: Our brief to the Hassell team was very simple – we told them that we wanted the best workstation and loose furniture showroom in Sydney. The result is a showroom space that entices designers to come and spend time with us, the idea being that this gives designers another reason to interact. We now have 13 staff in Sydney and, as part of our growth strategy, we have added loose furniture to the range. The launch of the new showroom in Sydney needed to celebrate these developments.

Matthew Blain: The vision Hassell had for the former warehouse was to create a space that engaged visitors with the Zenith products. We wanted to take them on a journey through the showroom, where the furniture is carefully curated using a series of simple displays. Our conceptual response drew its inspiration from the Zenith brand – as evidenced in its culture and business objectives. The design response creates a strong connection between the two levels of the space and works with the building’s architectural language and history.

JH: What challenges did the existing building present?
MB: One of the key challenges was working with the two levels to create a continuous journey. Another was the structural and visual challenges the fabric of the existing warehouse presented. The building had been adapted and reused in many forms over time and through its various different lives the building’s elements have varied from old to new.
PD: When we first viewed the warehouse, the space had been divided up into a maze of small rooms. Downstairs floor joists blackened from a fire provide a reminder of the building’s past. They are a great talking point and give the space great character.

JH: How is the showroom organised?
MB: The zoning of the floors was a key consideration in developing our response to the brief. The first level was zoned studio space, primarily for the arrival of guests, a work area for Zenith staff and a simple, more multipurpose space allowing flexibility to adapt and change as the business evolves. The industrial features of the building are more dominant here and include the fire damaged beams, which were purposely left exposed. The second level was zoned as the primary showroom space. Being the higher level this meant a strong visual and physical connection was required with the lower floor – giving visitors an idea of what is up there and drawing them into the space. The lower floor is therefore a large, open expanse of space with two strong design features. A backlit wall forms the backdrop for the entire space and the centrally located stair. The design of the stair and enclosing glass structure provides visual connections across the whole lower floor. The seamless detailing of the staircase acts as an anchor point, connecting the two floors and allowing the furniture to be the focus.
PD: The space had to be flexible. We will change the displays every four to six weeks, although we are tweaking things all the time.

JH: The idea of the ribbon has been explored to great visual effect. Does this device also have a more formal role in the scheme?
MB: On arrival visitors are immediately greeted by two coloured ribbons, which have been dramatically inserted. The industrial structure provides a visually exciting and dynamic contrast with the sinuous quality of the ribbons. The ribbons of grey and red are a three-dimensional manifestation of the Zenith brand. The journey of the red ribbon starts at the front door, leading visitors in, and then travels across the ceiling and up the stair void into the second floor. The grey ribbon commences as part of the stair and it too travels up into the second floor as part of the stair landing and enclosure. The ribbons are the visual focus of the showroom, playfully moving across the ceiling and back down the walls. Each has a different functional purpose in the space. As it moves across the ceiling the grey ribbon also functions as the flexible-track lighting zone for the space.

The red ribbon moves across the ceiling, masking existing building skylights, but folding down to form key product display spaces and meeting benches for client discussions. As it folds downwards it defines other smaller zones on the floor such as the client presentation area. Both ribbons conclude their journey by folding back downwards at the perimeter walls and intersecting with the floor. In doing so they create a vertical backdrop for products to be placed in front of, but they also help to hide the variously shaped windows that have been inserted into the building façade over time.

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