Hermès in fluid curves

April 2013

When architecture is the message
Two big Parisian brands, Hermès and Chanel, who have both acquired a horological legitimacy with completely different styles, are counting on their “pavilions” to convey their message, as is the Movado Group, which brings together its flagship brands under the same new roof.

Hermès entrusted the creation and implementation of its new stand – or “pavilion” – at BaselWorld to a refined architect who was inspired as much by imperial Japan’s tea pavilions as he was by the most futuristic or soft technologies. This was certainly not by chance. Because the finesse and sensitivity of the renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito seem to correspond exactly with the philosophy of the Parisian house. Even better, according to Pierre-Alexis Dumas, art director at Hermès, is that “this new pavilion is the formal translation of a shared philosophy with a universal reach. Its design shows off the values on which our company is based: artisanal crafts, an attachment to skilled manual work and the nobility of natural materials such as wood, the mastery of time, precision and innovation.” This communion of spirit between Ito and Hermès has spawned a “nomadic vessel of wood and greenery”. It is a light and airy structure, an open space, a warm, calm and welcoming place intended as a faithful ambassador for the brand.

Hermès in fluid curves Hermès in fluid curves

To the approaching visitor, the pavilion looks like a mesh of criss-crossed wooden slats that seem to move in a wave, like an ocean swell. A total of 624 slats of beech wood, flat, curved outwards or inwards, none of which are the same, criss-cross learnedly so that they look like an opaque screen to those walking past, but offer glimpses of the inner atrium and mezzanine to those who stop for a look. This skin of wooden slats, similar to the folds of a skirt hanging in the wind, is held in place by an inner framework of metal and glass. Between the skin and the framework snakes a ribbon of 167 camellia, eucalyptus, magnolia and citrus plants that form a narrow garden that rolls, splays and narrows all around the pavilion (you can recognise the interpenetration between building and nature familiar from Japanese architecture). Indirect lighting hidden in the plants further accentuates the rhythmic undulation of the pavilion, which is entered through a large corner opening, similar to the bow of a ship.

Inside, after passing through a large and calm atrium, you reach the offices, presentation rooms and you can climb up to the mezzanine level on a wood and metal staircase. The whole space is decorated with naturally-dyed fabrics whose yellow, orange and red hues evoke the Hermès colour palette and the texture of tree bark, giving the warmth and intimacy of a house (a big house, in fact, since the usable surface area is 1,040m2, comprising 25 rooms, 20 offices, 4 conference rooms, 1 business centre, all set up in five weeks and stored in 200 boxes and pallets).

And the watches? They are displayed inside bubble-shaped flowers that are growing on steel stems spread around the atrium or emerge from the wooden slats as if, like living plants, they had slipped between the waves of wood to bloom outside.

Intellectual proximity, shared sensitivities and values, a common appreciation of know-how and a shared respect for the environment lie at the heart of this accomplished work, which takes the form of a subtle and light balance between tradition and experimentation.

Hermès in fluid curves

Toyo Ito: “the quest for fluidity”
Born in 1941, a graduate of the University of Tokyo in 1965, Toyo Ito is above all the architect behind an osmosis between building and nature. His Tower of the Winds (Yokohama, 1986) is a perfect example. Measuring 21 metres in height, it looks completely white in daytime but changes into a luminous signal at night that continuously changes according to the winds. An architect of fragility struggling against gravity, Toyo Ito has, through his projects, demonstrated that the solidity of a building is based much more on its adaptation to the land rather than an excess of structure. His multimedia library in the coastal town of Sendai (2000) withstood the terrible earthquake of 2011. He was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in August  2012 for his “Home for All” installation that was a collaboration between his teams and the residents in areas devastated by the tsunami to build temporary shelters and, more recently, picked up the prestigious 2013 Pritzker architecture prize.

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Source: Europa Star April - May 2013 magazine issue