Alessi's flagship store in New York City's SoHo has settled into its new home with great ease—as if it has always existed at its Greene Street location (right). Designed by New York City-based architecture firm Asymptote, the architects faced the challenge of a tight asymmetrical site, along with the task of creating a fresh identity for the Italian housewares manufacturer, yet one that would also be in keeping with its SoHo surroundings. To that end Alessi executive vice president Jan Vingerhoets drafted a program that included retail functions for Alessi's products, as well as an espresso bar—the first in any Alessi store worldwide (see image gallery). In turn, the architects had to find a way to keep these two programmatic components, each with different hours of operation, distinct. Lighting proved to be the element that provided for visual continuity throughout the space, while allowing the coffee bar and retail areas their unique identities.

“Nine luminous stripes of light articulate the undulating space, giving it both structure and the illusion of vastness,” explains Suzan Tillotson, whose firm, New York-based Tillotson Design Associates was called upon for their lighting expertise. The successive 18-inch-wide bands of white light run vertically up the store's north wall and continue horizontally across the ceiling plane within suspended geometrical boxes of varying shapes and sizes. Coupled with a mirrored rear wall in the retail area, surface geometries are reinforced, while creating an infinite sense of space. Additionally, these “light boxes” can be individually dimmed to distinguish the functions of each space. Constructed from medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and stretched Barrisol fabric, the boxes conceal T5 fluorescent fixtures, three per vertical wall element and three per horizontal ceiling element. Rather than use dimmers, which would have exceeded the project's budget, the lighting designers set each fixture on an individual switch. Standard 37W halogen MR16 recessed downlights with custom snoots, arranged in clusters of five, four, and two, make up the remainder of the store's general illumination. “The predominant use of reflective surfaces demanded a very controlled use of pin spots to highlight the products without glare,” explains Tillotson. Over 20 individual aiming angles were plotted to respond to the complex angles of the architecture (see image gallery).

To showcase Alessi's products, Asymptote teamed with furniture manufacturer Vitra to design a modular shelving unit, with built-in accent lighting. Fabricated from bent, white-painted steel, the shelves feature a band of three, two-inch-diameter “eyeball” fixtures, each directing the light of a single 2W white LED onto the housewares (see image gallery). The architects specifically chose a cool white LED for it sparkle and bluish tone to compliment Alessi's stainless-steel-dominated product line.

The success of Alessi's SoHo flagship store illustrates the strength in a single idea's ability to inform an overall design concept down to each individual detail. In turn, light, as both a tool and a material distinguishes the space's architectural elements while simultaneously unifying them. A|L

jury comments

Takes one idea and builds the project design around it. | The project has a strong, clear visual identity. | A clean aesthetic that responds to the program and the products.


Project Location: New York Architect: Asymptote, New York Lighting Designer: Tillotson Design Associates, New York Photographer: Elizabeth Felicella Photography, New York Project Size: 1,650 square feet Watts per Square Foot: 7 Manufacturers: Bartco, Con-Tech