Pan Yi Cheng of Singapore-based design studio, Produce, tells us how the team conceived an organic, multifaceted experience for the new XTRA Retail in Marina Square.

Pan Yi Cheng, Chief Creative Producer. Portrait: Mindy Tan

How did Produce conceive the design approach for XTRA’s new showroom in Marina Square? 

The XTRA space has to be one that encompasses many unique brands while allowing each brand to express themselves independently. This requires a design that is flexible but not generic.

We subtly divided the internal layout into organic cellular parcels of varying sizes, demarcated using floor inlaid brass strips and suspended metal mesh ceiling. This provides XTRA with the flexibility of determining and curating the brand mix within these cells, forming mini stores within the showroom. Within each cell, the brand can freely design their mini store to express their merchandise; the flooring can be carpeted and the mesh ceiling allows the hanging of lighting and decoration.

In order to allow each brand to showcase their seasonal features or new arrivals, we gave each brand a share of the shopfront. The shopfront is designed with a series of “pop-up” stores that serve as an extension to the mini stores within. These pop-ups break down the scale of the long shopfront and give the impression of a bazaar-like street within Marina Square.

Is there an underlying formula behind how each mini store was devised?

The sub-division of the plan is adapted from a technique of partitioning space called the Voronoi pattern. Each brand is given a centre point and the floor demarcations are simply lines formed in the middle of two points. These lines are then connected to form cells.

XTRA, Marina Square. Rendering courtesy of Produce

How will the Herman Miller store-in-store experience sit within the new space?

The Herman Miller store-in-store occupies the largest cell within the XTRA store. Herman Miller is a 93-year-old brand that is better known for its two distinctive range of products – the classic range, characterised by the Eames moulded plywood furniture and the ergonomic work chair range, characterised by the innovative use of material and advanced geometry to mould around the human body.

In order to design an envelope that encapsulates the essence of the Herman Miller design philosophy, as evident in their two important product ranges, we decided to combine the two key characteristics of Herman Miller design; the use of Plywood as the primary material and shaping it using experimental geometry and technique.

Version 1 of Herman Miller store-in-store at XTRA, Park Mall

This follows the design of the Herman Miller envelope at XTRA’s previous showroom in Park Mall. [The design was completed under P.A.C, whose Design Director was Pan. It won ‘Best Retail Project’ at the 2012 World Architecture Festival.]

While the envelope in Version 1 was shaped using a mesh geometry, which stitched together an array of differentiated triangular plywood panels, Version 2 resolves the shaping of plywood using a tailoring technique called darting. Originally used to shape fabric to fit the human body, we exported this technique onto plywood to shape the Herman Miller space.

The darts and their respective dart angles on a flat piece of plywood determine the corresponding curvature of the skin when the dart is closed. Circular cutouts are used at the converging point of the darts to provide allowances for the plywood to bend and to avoid tears on the plywood. When assembled, it forms a naturally undulated surface, much like the ruching of fabric.

The most challenging part of the process is the translation from flat pattern drawing to three-dimensional modelling, and vice versa. We had to employ a number of new computational techniques for computer simulation as well as physical trial-and-errors to arrive at the desired curvature. The elasticity of the plywood material is also a major factor in the shaping of the envelope. The dart angles have to be recalibrated when there is a change in the type and constitution of the plywood during the course of the experimentations.

Tell us about your material palette for the entire store.

Certain finishing products carried by XTRA are specified in the design to showcase the potential and character of the products. A selection of colourful Bolon flooring is used to clad the interiors of the shopfront pop-ups. Dark Ash Oberflex veneer laminates are used to clad the exteriors of the pop-ups. The flooring of the store is completed in cement screed with grey terrazzo accent.

What is the experience that you hope to create for customers? 

We hope that customers approaching the new XTRA store will be able to browse the featured products along the pop-up stores at the shopfront, which gives them a preview of what to look out for as they enter the store. In the store, customers can browse from cell to cell, exhibits to exhibits.

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