As a high-end shopping district, it's hard to beat New York's Soho neighborhood. The store-front spaces in the area's elegant 19th century warehouses, however, can often create steep challenges for those who seek to create emporiums for the well heeled. For Vera Wang's new south-of-Houston flagship store, the architects at Gabellini Sheppard Associates and lighting designers Tillotson Design Associates were faced with a narrow and deep 2,000-square-foot space with ceiling heights that go from 23 feet at the front to about 9 feet at the rear. The trick for the team was how to maintain the bright, airy atmosphere found at the street front all the way through to the windowless back of the store.
Like Wang's garments, the architecture is simple and refined, a minimalist composition of white surfaces that allow the clothes to take the lead. The surfaces also provide a canvas for Suzan Tillotson's tasteful lighting. Shoppers enter through a raised proscenium and are led down into the store by a wide flight of stairs whose treads seem to float on risers backlit by T5 fluorescent fixtures. Custom extruded ceiling slots unobtrusively house mechanical systems and two multicircuit tracks. One track supports motorized theatrical equipment for flexible pendular displays and the other a series of AR111 and MR16 spotlights. The fixtures are arranged in clusters of four, and allow aiming angles of 15 degrees or less for all merchandise configurations.
The stairs lead down to the first of two salons, each of which is demarcated by a 4-inch-deep perimeter trough. These troughs house T5 fluorescent and color-changing LED fixtures behind translucent resin, which cycle from plain white light to hues that complement the collection. “The trough profile, and the client's budget, kept changing,” says Tillotson, “so we had to build the trough three times in our studio to make sure of the uniformity and brightness.” Concealed fluorescent covelights and track-mounted MR16s light the back wall, creating a layered effect that maintains the bright, dynamic experience started at the front of the store.
Jury Comments: A thoroughly elegant lighting design. • The lighting speaks to the sophisticated nature of the clothing. • The lighting and architecture are in complete harmony and the space is transformed into something more than just a store.