Laval, Québec, Canada
In 2012, the Laval, Quebec'based optical practice Duquette & Turgeon decided to recraft its image. Sporting a new moniker L'Aire Visuelle, the eye-care provider ditched its original coke-bottle branding for a logo and website with streamlined designer flair. A move to a sleek street-front clinic, completed by Montreal's la SHED architecture in March 2013, announced the revision: The shop's major organizing element is a boxlike structure inserted through the interior's long axis. Dubbed “the loop” by SHED, this orthogonal three-sided enclosure features a dropped ceiling plane, within walls at opposite ends, that demarcates the primary areas for performing optometry and optical services as it glows brightly against swaths of black.
“The white loop serves as a signal on the street,” explains Yannick Laurin, who founded SHED with Renée Mailhot and Sébastien Parent in 2009. The ceiling of the 9-foot-high insertion comprises white-painted wood lath interspersed with T5 tubes. Laurin says that the fluorescent lamps are concentrated toward the north in order to grab more attention by maximizing brightness nearest pedestrians. He adds that the glare of the T5s on the vitrines, “accentuates the sales area from the sidewalk, but does not disturb the view of the merchandise once you're inside.” Underfoot, ceramic tiles are laid in an equally dynamic running-bond pattern.
The loop runs the entire length of the new clinic, down its center. A maple reception desk overlooks the showroom; behind it, a halogen-lit stockroom and two exam rooms seem to float under the dropped ceiling plane. The design team effected this appearance by sandwiching 3500K LED light strips behind black-painted gypsum board that clads these two back areas. The color choice represents the darkness in which patients undergo some optometric testing. And placing that cladding in illuminated relief suggests that the volumes, as Laurin says, “are inserted inside the loop, and that you can slide them from front to back.”
The design team hatched the trick partly out of necessity, because a riot of structural bracing and mechanical systems crowned the raw tenant space. With the loop concept, SHED did not have to reconcile interior partitions with the mess 12 feet overhead. Instead, it painted the ceiling in flaw-hiding black and suspended PAR 30s to provide ambient light. The architects similarly nested other enclosed rooms—such as the maple-clad optical fitting studio anchoring the northeast corner—within the interior.
In SHED's hands, the volume-within-a-volume strategy became not only a style statement but also a means of controlling circulation. Running the loop down the middle of the long axis, for example, allowed the young architects to flank it with aisles. By placing the entrance alongside the showroom, they could guarantee that every visitor would interact with the glasses-filled vitrines: both patients waiting for optometry services lining one aisle, or customers needing a quick eyeglass adjustment inside a maple cube in the aisle beyond, would have to stroll past or through the boutique.
Indeed, the layout and its slick surface treatments were motivated by product sales. The client chose to move to a new space precisely because it could accommodate more inventory; patients of Duquette & Turgeon had previously sought other opticians to fill their prescriptions. At L'Aire Visuelle, good design assures that longtime patients experience the new breadth of offerings, and it captivates the interest of bespectacled prospects that include Laurin himself. While awaiting a recent checkup, the SHED partner found himself wandering the sales floor and purchased a pair of L.A. Eyeworks Sousa specs—before the appointment. Perhaps influenced by the setting, he chose frames in a largely black-white colorway.
Formal name of building:
Gross square footage:
Progress Lighting (ambient); Canlyte (downlights)
Contractor: Dorbec Construction
3,100 square feet