The new Albemarle Street shop front for Paul Smith builds on a familiar material tradition in London. Cast iron forms an understated background to the city’s streets; its railings, gratings, balconies, and lamp posts. Paul’s brief was an eclectic collection of references, images, textures and traditions, encompassing military medals, woven hats and finely drawn gold ingots alongside sharp tailoring, the soft fall of cloth, craftsmanship and delight in surprise. How these disparate influences might find the restraint needed to engage with the neighbourhood at the same time as contributing to its future identity was key, in doing so offering a rare resistance to the increasingly homogenous global high street.
The ground floor rustication of Georgian townhouses and the ornamental language of 18th century shop fronts were reinterpreted and abstracted in a sinuous pattern of interlocking circles cast into a new solid iron façade. The repetition of the typical Regency shape brought an optical complexity which, with the play of sunlight and shadow, turns the pattern into a deep surface texture. Seen obliquely it seems woven, like a fine cloth.
The surface is further enlivened by the latent makers’ marks of the casting process and the natural patination of the cast iron. A more intimate discovery is to be made in the trio of small drawings by Paul cast directly into panels scattered across the façade.
Curved windows project from the darkly textured iron as luminous vitrines, with a nod to the curved glass of the nearby arcades. A secret door of stained oak lies flush with the cast iron panels: the inverted carving of the timber recalls the mould and sand bed prepared for the molten metal.
The cast iron panels curve in to the recessed oak entrance door, a gently bowed iron step evokes worn away treads. Over time, the iron threshold will polish under foot, recording the life of the building in its material.
Architects: 6a architects and Paul Smith
Façade Specialist: Montresor Partnership
KMB: Project Manager
Rodgers Leask: Structural Engineer
Main Contractor: Rise Contracts
Bespoke Metalwork: Harrington Fabrications
Curved Glass: Cricursa
Joinery: SV Joinery
Glazing: Saper Glass