Challenge The idea for Chanel's ritziest location in Tokyo was by no means simple. The façade would at once serve as communications media, daylighting source, and fashion icon—plus it would need to allow views between interior and exterior at all times. The design team, led by Peter Marino + Associates Architects, envisaged a 10-story-high media wall, flashing messages and patterns by means of an LED system.

Working with Matthew Tanteri, principal of New York City's Tanteri + Associates, Marino had created boutiques for Chanel around the world, incorporating innovative lighting schemes such as pixilated LED walls. For the Ginza location, Marino hoped to wrap the building in a high-tech version of the fashion house's signature tweed.

Yet this active, communicating curtain wall would be unusual both in scale and in the required level of functionality. The 215-foot-tall, 10-story façade, which encloses (from top to bottom) a restaurant, offices, exhibition and concert venues, and three floors of high-end retail—all capped by a rooftop garden. Views and daylight were priorities, but not at the expense of solar heat gain.

On top of it all, the architectural concept was to treat the building as a means of expression, says Tanteri. “The important thing it had to achieve was becoming media, rather than a fixed graphic,” he explains. “So while the façade also acts as lighting for the building, it's a communication tool with imagery, logos, and branding.”

Architectural and Lighting Solution Resolving this ambitious concept led to a mix of solar-control glazings and optical materials in a three-layer wall system with integrated white LEDs. Electrochromic glass—which changes in opacity depending on a current applied through the material—became a means to achieve the many competing functions of the illuminated walls. During the day, the glass turns transparent; at night it changes to translucent, making the building surfaces essentially a large backlit screen. A double layer of gray-tinted Low-E laminated glass provides solar control.

The textile quality of skin comes from a kind of stainless-steel mesh set within the triple-glazed wall units. The diamond-cell louvers of the metal layer provide the tweed association sought by the architect and Chanel executives. But they also offer another layer of solar shading and, even more important, serve to control light spill from each pixel of the white LED array, which lies interior to the triple glazing, just outside a motorized canvas roller shade.

Arriving at this elegant, highly integrated curtain-wall assembly was by no means easy. “We played around with numerous light effects and narrowed it down to a few materials that gave you the most functionality and depth of light effect,” Tanteri recalls. The result was a highly distilled version of several mockups and design solutions.

While the façades and the effects they produce are sophisticated, the LED array itself is elegant and simple. Tubes spanning small vertical supports contain four rows of LEDs with a mix of narrow and wide beam spreads; two are aimed up and two point down, and the combined light of 72 LEDs constitutes a single 8-inch-wide pixel. The main façade is 188 pixels tall by 98 pixels wide.

With privacy glass switched on and the shades drawn, at night the Chanel building becomes one of the largest black-and-white video walls in the world. The fashion merchant takes full advantage of the opportunity, too, mixing commissioned artistic imagery with not-so-subtle promotions of the Chanel brand.

For Tanteri, the project suggests the use of integral façade lighting in more practical and elegant assemblies. “As times goes on, skins will diminish in size yet perform multiple functions,” he explains. “Further miniaturization is possible with the tools we have, and light is a scaleless thing, so we will still get the same performance.”


PROJECT | Chanel Ginza Façade

DESIGN TEAM | Peter Marino Architect, New York City (architect); Tanteri + Associates, New York City (façade/curtain wall lighting design); R.A. Heintges & Associates, New York City (curtain wall consultant); SGF Associates in partnership with LED Effects, Rancho Cordova, California (custom LEDS and controls); Eckelt Glass GmbH, Steyr, Austria (curtain wall glass panel supplier); Josef Gartner GmbH, Gundelfingen, Germany (curtain wall fabricater)

PROJECT SIZE | 1,701 square meters (LED portion only)

WATTS | 76.8 watts per square meter (LED full on/bright white)

PHOTOGRAPHERS | Takashi Orii; Vincent Kapp, courtesy Peter Marino Architect