In Omotesando, Tokyo’s fashion epicenter, only the most flamboyant of buildings stand out. Concentrated around the area’s famous tree-lined boulevard, they aggressively vie for attention. But instead of competing head-on with its eye-catching neighbors, Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects’ Marc Jacobs boutique wows shoppers with understated elegance and bold lighting effects. While the building’s brightly lit, transparent base lures passersby, its translucent top beckons to the city.
Located on a side street between designer shops, including Prada and Cartier, and low-rise apartments, the site straddles commercial and residential zones. This condition legally limited the building to two above-ground stories, which inspired the boutique’s layered look. Stacked horizontally, three wide swaths of different materials — glass, terra-cotta tile, and punched anodized aluminum panels — define the exterior of the 2,800-square-foot boutique.
Inside, the architects tucked menswear below grade, enclosed street-level accessories behind a glass skin, and used terra-cotta tile to mask women’s wear upstairs. Crowning the occupied space is an uninhabitable aluminum box that nearly doubles the building’s stature. Open to the sky, the enclosure reads like a third floor but has the legal status of the roof-mounted signs that abound in Japan. “I always wanted to design a billboard,” jokes design principal Stephan Jaklitsch.
In lieu of logos, a continuous pattern of lozenge-shaped perforations adorns the box’s silvery surface, made of six rows of rectangular panels. Evocative of richly woven fabric, the intricate motif carries from panel to panel, wrapping the rounded corners. When the sun begins to set, each small dot emits a point of light from within, turning the metal box into a lantern. As darkness falls, the light intensity gradually decreases until the system shuts off after midnight.
The light source is a computer-controlled system of linear LED fixtures that line the top and bottom of each panel’s back side. Instead of shining directly outward, the LEDs face away from the street and reflect off strips of plastic fabric mounted behind the panels. An additional color filter adds warmth to the 2,700-Kelvin color temperature of the lamps.
A shadowy 20-inch slot, deftly integrated with the stratified exterior, melds the metal with the tile below. Supported by metal clips and concrete panels, the rough-hewn terra-cotta plates stack vertically — an installation that adds texture and depth by day but goes mute at night.
In contrast, the interior lighting on the ground floor radiates a warm glow onto the street via an elliptical ceiling fixture, drawing attention to the entire room. Comprising fluorescent tubes contained within a translucent nonflammable stretch material supported by a polished stainless steel frame, it also echoes the oval cash/wrap, a counter with glazed and internally lit display cases below.
Throughout, built-in shelves — in white solid surfacing or sycamore — line walls and illuminate merchandise with LED strips embedded above frosted-glass diffusers on their undersides. “Like in a theater,” says lighting designer Herv' Descottes. “Lighting the back wall gives the store depth.”
Fortunately, the lighting was unscathed by the earthquake that struck Japan in March, and the building sustained only cosmetic damage. Because of the acute electricity shortage, however, the rooftop lantern will remain dark for a while. Yet even unlit, this clever adaptation of the vernacular sets this Marc Jacobs flagship apart from the pack.
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