The artistic director for RDAI, a Paris-interior architecture firm, speaks to Canvas about the new Hermès store, which recently opened at The Galleria in Abu Dhabi, and its connection to the sea and nature.
Canvas: How is the Hermès Abu Dhabi store different to other locations that you’ve worked with?
Denis Montel: Compared to the other Hermès stores in the region, the space in the The Galleria, Abu Dhabi has a particularly organic shape, so we used this as the starting point for our design. We introduced natural forms through dynamic movement in the layout, as well as through light and structure. It’s going to be a unique experience, not only in terms of design but also atmosphere: the store is going to be very colourful, with lots of textures and a dramatic shimmering effect created by the long panel across the glass façades.
What do you take into consideration when creating a new space within an already existing location?
In this case we had a lot of freedom because the space was quite large. The process usually begins with understanding the context of the city or location, in particular asking what is specific to this space? What is an interesting aspect to highlight? In this particular store there is a long glass façade and the presence of water, which prompted us to explore the connection further, especially in terms of its relation to the context of the city.
How did you embrace that connection?
The shape of the layout is very fluid and we began to play with patterns and colours specific to the sea. The idea was to design a store inspired by the environment of the site. Abu Dhabi is very interesting in this respect because there is not only the coral and the sea, but also the desert. We wanted to work with this contrast and explore it through the materials we used. You can see this in the terrazzo, in the carpets inspired by the colours of sea urchins and seashells, as well as in the shimmering panels. The store’s soft shapes also echo the mineral character of the nearby sand and salt crystals, as if sculpted by the wind and sea currents.
Did you experiment with materials?
We developed different techniques to help reproduce the organic feeling we wanted to achieve. For example, the surrounding walls have coral-like stucco and the panels are made of stainless-steel mesh, which looks like fabric. These panels are scattered along the façade and carved in different directions to resemble seaweed in motion. The colours are inspired by various natural elements. The lounge area, for example, is adorned with special handmade wallpaper that uses a radial pattern, in a warm champagne shade, reminiscent of glistening shells.
Does the mood change between different sections of the store?
As you go from one room to another, the materiality and the colours change, such as when going from sandy tones to light blues. There’s a different experience in each space, but always a clear and continuous link.
How important was lighting?
We were very lucky to have a huge glass façade to work with, so during the day there is this beautiful natural light. In most of the stores we design, we embrace the natural light whenever we can. The panels also help create an atmosphere, and you can feel the difference throughout the day as the sun changes position and generates different shadows. At night, we have lighting focused on emphasising the objects in each space. There’s also recessed lighting in the ceiling, which creates ‘islands’ with curved shapes and layering. The plan of the space is also inspired by pebbles or stones on the sand, so the lighting follows the same idea.