The new Albemarle Street shop front for Paul Smith builds on a familiar material tradition in London. Cast iron forms an understated background to the city’s streets; its railings, gratings, balconies, and lamp posts. Paul’s brief was an eclectic collection of references, images, textures and traditions, encompassing military medals, woven hats and finely drawn gold ingots alongside sharp tailoring, the soft fall of cloth, craftsmanship and delight in surprise. How these disparate influences might find the restraint needed to engage with the neighbourhood at the same time as contributing to its future identity was key, in doing so offering a rare resistance to the increasingly homogenous global high street.
The ground floor rustication of Georgian townhouses and the ornamental language of 18th century shop fronts were reinterpreted and abstracted in a sinuous pattern of interlocking circles cast into a new solid iron façade. The repetition of the typical Regency shape brought an optical complexity which, with the play of sunlight and shadow, turns the pattern into a deep surface texture. Seen obliquely it seems woven, like a fine cloth.
The surface is further enlivened by the latent makers’ marks of the casting process and the natural patination of the cast iron. A more intimate discovery is to be made in the trio of small drawings by Paul cast directly into panels scattered across the façade.
Curved windows project from the darkly textured iron as luminous vitrines, with a nod to the curved glass of the nearby arcades. A secret door of stained oak lies flush with the cast iron panels: the inverted carving of the timber recalls the mould and sand bed prepared for the molten metal.
The cast iron panels curve in to the recessed oak entrance door, a gently bowed iron step evokes worn away treads. Over time, the iron threshold will polish under foot, recording the life of the building in its material.
Each cast iron panel type was digitally modelled and the patterns CNC carved from blocks of dense Polyurethane. The patterns were then used to form traditional sand casting moulds in the foundry. The panels were sand cast in Spheroidal Graphite Iron (SGI), then allowed to rust. Once the orange Iron Oxide coating had formed on the surface of the panels, Hammerite Kurust was applied to the surface of the iron, forming a rich black patina of Iron Tannate. An additional coating of Hammerite Paint was applied to the back of the panels to ensure additional longevity. Hooks were cast into the back of the panels to allow them to be hung directly onto Halfen horizontal Stainless Steel cladding rails. Each of the panels incorporates a series of lap joints to conceal the cladding substructure whilst allowing for thermal expansion and ventilation.
The curved windows are entirely bespoke fabrications, incorporating a laser cut galvanised steel plate primary structure, a stainless steel carrier frame to which the curved glass is structurally bonded and a weather tight brass shroud. The windows are thermally broken using continuous nylon blocks. The windows are designed so that the glass units can be replaced without structurally bonding the glass on site. The curved glass was bent to extremely fine tolerances in Barcelona by Cricursa and structurally bonded to the stainless steel subframe in the UK.
The fire escape door to the offices above is set flush with the surface of the cast iron, and the inverse of the circular pattern CNC carved into the solid oak boards. A language of joinery drip details provides a final level of embellishment, and the oak is finished with a dark oil to match the surrounding iron. The main entrance door is also fabricated in oiled oak, and the glass is flush silicon bonded into the frame.