Ann Demeulemeester’s flagship store is in a corner building on Leopold De Waelplaats in Antwerp – the square to which the fashion designer contributed with a circular bench. The building is part of a prestigious row of houses and looks like an upper-middle-class house, but was designed and is used as a workshop. During the redesign, the ground floor was cleared, although the workplace character was preserved: the rough wooden floors, the iron pillars, etc.
An open staircase leads to the first floor, which is equally large and open. The architects’ intervention is, so far, very safe and minimal: they made the room clean and free. The other functions – service entrance, office and storage - have been pushed to the furthest corner of the building, around the old light shaft. The forgotten and unusable rear side of the corner building has been converted into a small patio that functions as a cosy centre for the service areas and changing rooms: two changing rooms on the ground floor, office and storage space on the intermediate floor, and two changing rooms on the top floor. Each of the spaces is closed off on the shop side, but they all give out on the patio. In the changing rooms especially, which are unusually large and let in light quite subtly, intimacy is created along with a sense of openness. These chambres séparées – their size, bright- ness, whiteness and modesty – are so beautiful that one involuntarily remains standing on the threshold, simply to contemplate them.
The same subtlety characterises the renovated downstairs windows and the main door. The inner walls of the shop have not been plastered over or painted, but covered with large uneven panels of canvas. That only becomes clear, and meaningful, when we look into the shop from the street. The new wooden windows with their semicircular upper half have the size and shape of the altarpieces that are preserved on the opposite side, in the Museum of Fine Arts. When one looks into the shop through these ‘paintings’, one sees the edges and the rear sides of the wall panels, which sometimes corbel nonchalantly, so that one sees the edges and the nails with which the canvases were stretched. The window becomes a painting that has been opened, or a painting of which the canvas has been turned away. The shop is – almost literally – a ‘pictorial space’. The perfection lies here – and in the shop as a whole – not in the details, or in the mastery of the material execution, but in the precision and care with which the design releases meaning and experience.
Text by Bart Verschaffel - Original Publication: Bart Verschaffel, “Architectuur voor de stad: Robbrecht en Daem in Antwerpen”, in Cultureel Jaarboek Antwerpen (Antwerp, 1999), pp. 48–9.
Robbrecht en Daem architecten
Flaship store Ann Demeulemeester
Paul Robbrecht, Hilde Daem, Asli Çiçek, Brigitte D’hoore, Lara Kinds
BAS (Dirk Jaspaert)