The new Herman Miller Shop-in-Shop at XTRA’s new flagship store at Marina Square, Singapore, is a massive and intriguing structure.
Occupying a 20m long by 7m wide space, the continuous surface stretches across the entire site like a sail of tensile fabric, leading the viewer from the low 3m entrance to the lofty 8m glass curtain wall at the other end. And yet, this structure is made of plywood!
It is lightweight and features very little framework, and is symmetrical and takes on the proportions of the iconic curves of the Herman Miller logo.
The minimal surface, which reminds one of German architect and structural engineer Frei Otto’s soap film experiments, contains a series of arches that frame the entrances and connections to the rest of XTRA, the street and the adjacent café.
Pan Yicheng, Design Director of PRODUCE WORKSHOP and the designer of the space, has coined it “Fabricwood”.
Being an established multi-brand furniture retailer in Singapore, the idea of a Shop-in-Shop is a response to XTRA’s desire to showcase a comprehensive range of Herman Miller products in a space with “flagship” capacity.
After researching into Herman Miller’s main product range, chairs, Pan found inspiration in their structural and material innovation – the use of moulded plywood produces light and elegant furniture; and their study of comfort and ergonomics in their work chairs resulted in an elastic mesh material that is stretched at the back of the chair to create a doubly curved, frameless suspended surface, that supports a full range of seating postures.
To reflect the Herman Miller image, the lightness and warmth of the plywood material with the geometric rigor and technological innovations of the work chairs have been combined. And learning from the key products and their design processes (which combines formal, structural and material innovation), the solution seeks to develop a soft and porous “skin” for the Herman Miller Shop-inShop that is “moulded” to its host.
This is Pan’s second effort at an XTRA’s Herman Miller Shop-in-Shop. The former Version 01 was executed for the previous XTRA Park Mall flagship store in 2012 when Pan was Design Director of P.A.C, and the design won the prestigious World Architecture Festival retail category award for 2012.
While Version 01 was shaped using a mesh geometry which stitched together an array of differentiated triangular plywood panels, Version 02 shapes the plywood using a tailoring technique called darting – which is more demanding to conceptualise and prototype.
Originally used for shaping fabric to fit the human body, Pan exported this technique onto plywood. The darts and their respective angles on a flat piece of plywood determine the eventual curvature when closed. Circular cut-outs are used at the converging point of the darts to allow the plywood to bend and avoid tears. When assembled, the structure forms a naturally undulated surface much like the ruching of fabric.
The most challenging part of the project has been the translation from flat pattern drawing to threedimensional modelling and vice versa. A combination of computer simulation (with new computational techniques) and physical modelling helped to achieve the desired curvature. The elasticity of the plywood played a major factor in the shaping of the skin, and the dart angles had to be re-calibrated to accommodate any changes in the type of the plywood material.
Compared with conventional design and construction techniques, this component-based design process demands greater continuity and simultaneous planning across all stages of the project.
Like the Version 01 grid shell structure, the new Fabricwood structure pushes the boundaries of plywood construction. This is a project that is not just about the completed structure but also the entire experimental process to arrive at it.