Architects & Firms
New York City
A bright new shop on Manhattan's West 22nd street is turning the idea of retail on its head. Normal is a custom earphones outlet where helpful staff ('ear fitters') guide customers through a process that tailors the popular devices to individual ears, then produces them'in as little as 48 hours'with 3-D printers. Designed by New York'based HWKN (Hollwich Kushner), the 5,000-square-foot space serves as the base of operations for the budding company.
Located at the base of a hefty 12-story French Gothic'inspired factory building dating back to 1910, the slick storefront is in stark contrast to the quatrefoils, arched doorways, snarling limestone gargoyles, and other embellishments on the surrounding facade.
The interior has a polished yet industrial vibe. Glass partitions divide the space into three distinct areas: sales is up front; assembly, at the loftlike room's center; and an office across the back. Light constantly bounces off the glass, thanks to a parade of dimmable 3500K T8 fluorescent tubes suspended beneath a mechanical duct running through the middle of the ceiling in front. 'It's like a runway of lights bringing you into the space,' says Hollwich. 'It's the layering of glass and reflections that makes the design not so sterile. That's where the playfulness comes in.'
The lighting also unites the dramatic showroom with the more utilitarian factory and office space, with the same linear tubes strung in four neat rows across the back. 'The lighting drives your perspective deep into the showroom, and then to the office beyond,' says Espinoza.
The walls of the retail area are lined with modular cabinets containing 3-D printers, giant spools of earphone cord, backlit signage depicting the merchandise, and quirky memorabilia from an antiques store down the street (a glass jar filled with plastic ears sits on one shelf). Stacks of glossy white blocks'essentially 3-D Tetris pieces that double as seating and tables'match the dimensions of the structural columns they rest against. 'You wouldn't know this was a factory in the middle of Manhattan,' says Normal founder Nikki Kaufman. Normal currently has 10 3-D printers in operation, with plenty of space on the shelves for additional printers if demand grows.
While transparency is ideal for encouraging foot traffic, it also reflects the company's ethos of openness and accessibility. 'We want to draw people to the space because we are proud to show how the product works,' says Kaufman, an entrepreneur in her late 20s who dreamed up the idea of 3-D printed headphones while working at another successful startup. 'We tell you everything. It's completely transparent.'
To attract a diverse clientele, the ambience of the space can change at the push of the button after hours. A Color Kinetics RGB lighting system embedded in the ceiling has different programs to set the mood for a range of functions that could take place in the space, from yoga classes to cocktail parties. (Both have happened since Normal opened in August.)
After dark, the store's bright blue glow is visible from far down the street. 'The blue light emanating from the store very, very slowly pulsates,' says Espinoza. 'It looks like a breathing robot in sleep mode.'
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Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
8,500 square feet (ground floor and basement)
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