The Armani Center was conceived as a multi-use complex, bringing together the various collections associated with the Giorgio Armani label. The 107,000-square-foot development occupies three levels of a 1947 landmarked building on Via Manzoni and Via Montenapoleone in Milan, Italy. In addition to the designer’s Emporio and Jeans lines, and a newly debuted Home Collection, the Center includes a Bookstore, Florist, Café, and Nobu Restaurant.
The commercial components of the Center surround an internal public street whose cruciform plan is reminiscent of Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele. The Center’s softly lit, translucent ceiling panels eddy around two, three-story skylit atriums, creating a coherent public environment that is animated by dynamic color walls; a flexible, tensile display system based on notions of lightness and suspension; and large-scale LED screens that provide supportive visual graphics for the Armani collections. These elements extend into and articulate the boutique areas, highlighting the distinctions between the unique elements of each line, while conceptually integrating the entire project.
Occupying the majority of the first level, the Emporio Armani boutique naturally divides around the galleria into its three components: The Women’s, Men’s and Accessory boutiques. Sliding translucent acrylic screens at both the exterior storefront and galleria provide a changing luminous backdrop to the collection while directing views throughout the boutique and beyond.
Structured by existing irregularly spaced columns, the boutique is divided into smaller room-like areas reinforced by both the lighting design and merchandising layout. Backlit ceiling planes fabricated from translucent plastic fabric float below a ceiling of American walnut juxtaposed with lines of spotlights highlighting merchandise below. Translucent acrylic pod fitting rooms lit brilliantly from above act as glowing lanterns within the space. Suspended walnut hangbars and delicate cantilevered shelving pieces gather around these light elements forming an intimate but fluid space with multiple centers and focal points. Changing light walls that are signature elements throughout the Armani Center subtly tint translucent surfaces, lending a dynamic quality to the environment. A floor of pietra sarnico stone panels is a neutral backdrop to the activity of the boutique.
Armani Jeans, a new casual brand with the Armani label, required a youthful and energetic design concept that accommodated high density merchandising. Gabellini Sheppard Associates’ concept is based on construction site scaffolding, employing a custom universal joint as the basis of a ‘kit of parts’ idea. Located on the first level of the Center, the space revolves around an offset core element wrapped in backlit overlapping acrylic sheets and slim horizontal lines of shelving stacked with Armani Jeans.
The enclosing walls of the space feature an identical lining of backlit panels that provide a radiant boundary to the space. Fabric fitting rooms reminiscent of tent structures float on vinyl mats and act as protagonists around which lively display fixtures are arranged. A neutral floor plane of poured concrete resin and a ceiling highlighted by graphic lines of fluorescent light strips are horizontal planes between which slender sandblasted nickel hanging and shelving fixtures constructed of simple bent planes and rods create an animated and vital environment.
Gabellini Sheppard Associates provided for the highly diverse and evolving program of the Armani Casa Collection by conceiving the project as a mutable stage, easily reconfigured to realize various merchandising conditions. The Home Collection, which occupies a long and narrow space the entire width of the Via Manzoni block, can be subdivided through the use of flexible fabric and opaque graphic screens into room-like settings having the scale of a domestic environment. Large display platforms constructed of pre-cast concrete panels float above the poured concrete floor, bringing theatrical focus to each mis-en-scene. Regular lines of recessed slots with accent lights have the capability to dramatically highlight individual merchandise items or to provide a glowing fabric enclosure to a furniture arrangement.
Simple stainless steel hanging fixtures and rotating display tables of sandblasted aluminum and white corian articulate the space, gently directing customers through the fluid environment. Opaque aluminum and translucent acrylic floating panels with contrasting shelving are dynamic graphic display walls that wrap solid core elements in the space. Backlit translucent glass walls with changing color fields are luminous backdrops to a flexible tensile display system exhibiting a lightness and suspension seen throughout the Center.
Gabellini Sheppard Associates designed the haute vegetarian cuisine restaurant in close collaboration with Giorgio Armani and the restaurant operator. The 3,500 square-foot Cafe required a casual bar space for coffee service and light lunch as well as a more formal 80- seat dining area.
The Café occupies a two level space on the corner of Via dei Giardini and Via Croce Rossa on an important public plaza, enjoying high visibility and urban views through a full height glass storefront. The main entrance to the café from the plaza opens into a double height atrium space that connects the ground level bar area to the first level restaurant suspended above. A long stainless steel bar with a floating curved glass counter extends between the atrium bar space and a more intimate seating area below the suspended floor above. A backlit translucent glass corner invites the customer to a walnut staircase winding discreetly around a soft blue corner element to the restaurant area above.
Three sides of the restaurant seating area are wrapped by sliding blue and white acrylic translucent panels that form a horizontal light band around the space. Transverse light slots in the ceiling accentuate the sleek horizontality of the space, projecting views towards the atrium space and the public plaza beyond. The double height atrium wall pierces the restaurant level, dematerializing at its edge to allow views into an open kitchen through a suspended clear glass corner. An American walnut bench with flexible cushions provides perimeter seating while custom carved corian café tables with elegantly curving bases appear to spring from the poured concrete flooring.
The Nobu restaurant involved an interesting collaboration between the two business partners, Giorgio Armani and Nobu Matsuhisa, and Gabellini Sheppard Associates. The 7,500 square-foot restaurant includes a large lounge and sake bar, a sushi bar and a 130 seat dining area.
Occupying a discreet corner of the Center primarily dedicated to service activities, Nobu’s public façade is on the interior overlooking the Galleria Rotonda. Its corner location on the Rotonda occupies both the ground and first levels, allowing its interior façade of taut clear glass panels and stacked stone piers to conceptually penetrate the galleria floor and have a double height expression. The glass walls are lined with sliding translucent panels that provide varying degrees of visibility and luminosity based on position and lighting conditions.
The ground level, with entrances on Via Pisoni and from the Galleria, features a large lounge area with various custom seating arrangements including a communal bar table, built-in bench seating with flexible cushions and custom tables and chairs. The chairs and cushions were designed in collaboration with Vladimir Kagan. An intimate lounge environment is created through the use of natural materials and various subtle lighting techniques that bathe the area in warm ambient light: Soft sunset-like light emanates from ceiling slots subtly tinting translucent panels; glass shelves lit with neon highlight elegant glassware and a brilliantly lit full height glass wine cooler lined with horizontal bands of closely spaced saki bottles on glass shelves punctuates the bar area. A floor of closely spaced pietra serena stone slats folding onto stone piers, American walnut wall panels and furniture, natural plaster walls and ceilings and bronze details provide a rich palette of materials.
The main restaurant, located on the first level, is accessible through a double height atrium lined in walnut panels enclosing a floating walnut stair. The main focus of the restaurant is the sushi bar constructed of walnut, bronze, clear glass and translucent onyx panels that emit a welcoming glow. Sliding translucent panels offer the option to subdivide the space for private dining.