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When Fashion meets Architecture

G-Star’s massive new headquarters near Amsterdam designed by OMA brings together 4 separate offices under one roof. The hangar-inspired space is entirely customised for and by G-Star right down to the office furniture. 

By Jeanne Tan / 03-04-2014

Instead of sending masses of internal email to each other or shuttling between the 4 different offices previously spread out in Amsterdam, employees at G-Star can now physically meet their colleagues from different departments simply by walking to another part of the building, bumping into them in the corridor or having lunch together in the canteen. 

It’s a different working environment that is transparent and open instead of contained, and allows “ideas to spread through the building”. Two main requirements determined the brief to OMA: flexibility to grow and change i.e. future-proof, and an environment that would stimulate creative interaction. For a company that does everything in-house – and by everything, this means everything from marketing to material research – this new consolidated, open set up also aimed to encourage more direct communication between colleagues. They’re also likely to get fitter in the process of walking to meet each other through the 140 metre-long, 19,000m2 industrial ‘hangar’ of concrete, glass and steel. “I definitely spend less time writing emails and less time in the car driving between offices,” says Pieter Kool, Art Director 3D Design who also in his role as a ‘connector’ deals with spreading ideas and connecting people within G-Star. “Now I spend most of my day walking through the building; I’m never at my desk,” he laughs. On a regular day in the new office for example, test shots done in the in-house photography studios in the basement can be immediately reviewed with the PR department upstairs or the chemists can share their work much easier with the material specialists. “I love the sense of freedom in the building, and how it doesn’t limit you but instead makes you feel like you can do more,” Kool continues.

Standing on the third floor mezzanine overlooking the void that spans most of the building, it’s an impressive view that pretty much sums up the new office. If a hangar – “dedicated to the informal processes” according to OMA’s Reinier de Graaf – was the starting point, then here, it feels closest to that inspiration. The rawness in the steel construction and concrete befits the industrial heritage of the brand and furthermore, allows open, flexible floor plates. In this transparent core of the building lies the creative heart of the company, surrounded above and below by various support functions and offices. On the elevation, this reads as a long horizontal glass facade surrounded by a frame of black concrete, part of this concealed beneath the vast plinth on which the building sits. In this core, the openness of the space is clearest, where split-level floors and double and triple height spaces allow cross views and visual connection between departments. Glass balustrades throughout accentuate this openness further. Facing the plinth and freeway beyond, the extensive shifting glass façade opens up the entire front elevation in the creative core. The glazing permits subtle northern daylight into the building which is more ideal for viewing dark materials like denim than harsh southern light – one of the specific functional requirements from G-Star. Along the front elevation is the RAW space, a multifunctional event space that can be easily converted for indoor and outdoor use by sliding the enormous façade-high glass doors in true-hangar style - this shifting façade forms part of the building’s identity. Visitors enter at the western end of the building – sheltered by an enormous cantilevered glass box with showrooms inside – and get a controlled glimpse of the inner creative workings once inside.

While the spaciousness of the open plan is visually impressive at first glance, the hidden spaces and customised interior details take time to be discovered. The basement houses a warren-like series of spaces for support functions. Requiring no windows, the 4 photo studios and immense archive are located here – the latter to accommodate eventually 25,000 articles from all G-Star collections and samples of mostly utilitarian clothing. Downstairs is also the mock-up shop set up like a real shop for testing retail concepts. It also functions as an additional showroom. Here, the in-house furniture, retail and fashion designers collaborate to find the best methods of display – for instance to highlight the 3D structure of men’s jeans without any visible ‘body’ parts.

While the entire architecture was customised for G-Star, the interior was customised by G-Star. The furniture was a joint effort between G-Star, the Prouvé family and Vitra. Some were part of the existing Prouvé RAW collection 
designed by Jean Prouvé re-issued by Vitra and new pieces were designed in collaboration with the Prouvé family and produced exclusively by Vitra for this project. This includes furniture in the workspaces, conference rooms and canteen – the only exception being the amorphous reception designed by Marc Newson, a long-time G-Star collaborator – to all the office furniture. Internal partitions in the workspaces that avoid the use of walls were custom-designed, black steel rectangular volumes that vary in depth depending on their use for storage or as a partition. Finding office furniture that fits a particular aesthetic is often a challenge for the design of any workspace environment. Here, G-Star just designed their own, with an industrial look using tubular steel, wood and leather inspired by Prouvé but fulfilling contemporary needs e.g. tables with cable gutters and office chairs on wheels. Custom producing the entire office furniture for more than 650 people is no small feat; this intense level of detail gives a whole new definition to the idea of integrated design.

The building was the result of a close dialogue between two (Dutch) companies that were working together for the first time. G-Star regularly collaborates with other companies that share similar values – the Crossover collection is the result when G-Star meets companies like Leica, Land Rover or Cannondale. The crossover with architecture here is no different (well only on a bigger scale). Reinier de Graaf: “Both companies share a similarity in mentality about how we work and what we produce.” Rem Koolhaas continues: “The interiors were designed by G-Star. This meant a withdrawal from OMA during the process, but we welcomed this situation as it produced an end result that is truly a hybrid of authorship.”

G-Star Collaborations https://www.g-star.com/en_nl/featured/collaborations/index.jsp
OMA http://www.oma.eu/projects/2012/g-star-raw-headquarters

Main image: copyright OMA
All other images courtesy of G-Star

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