Prada in Tokyo, Japan by Herzog & de Meuron, 2003

Soon to join OMA's store in New York's Soho district, the undertaking by Swiss architect's Herzog & de Meuron for the new Prada store in Tokyo is almost complete and ready for public scrutiny. Though the store will probably not garner as much attention as Rem Koolhaas' supposed $40 million-plus space that opened two years ago, it is notable for being the second store completed, of a planned six, that will increase Miucca Prada's ever-growing stamp on the world. With stores in the works for Los Angeles and San Francisco, Tokyo's store is also important for its presence in Asia, a presence that Prada needs for its focus to extend beyond Europe and North America.

Resembling a crystal or a child-like representation of a house, the form is an important element of the design, both luring shoppers to its interior and affecting the same interior through its skin. Composed of rhomboid-shape glass panels, the skin wraps in a diagonal pattern that covers each exterior surface equally. Variation in this skin is achieved by selectively locating panels with convex, concave and flat surfaces that affect both the exterior and interior through the reflection and refraction of light. The by-product of the building's form and surface, two conflicting gestures, is a simultaneous sense of the known and the unknown, the old and the new. Herzog & de Meuron developed the form over time after determining the store, which also contains offices, should be vertical, creating a public plaza at grade and giving the building a presence in the Aoyama neighborhood.

Early models of the interior illustrate how the idea of the skin extends through the building, with horizontal tubes extruded from the rhomboid shapes acting as structural, spatial and display elements. In the first case, these elements brace the building from horizontal forces; in the second, they are occupiable containing dressing rooms and other functions; in the third, the exterior faces allow display opportunities. It remains to be seen to what extent these pieces were executed and how successful their presence becomes, though their potential is great because they alleviate the character of the interior as merely slabs and columns set within the exterior shell.

Together the exterior form and skin and the interior spaces attempt to give the building's identity an "oscillating character", in the words of the architects. This character is achieved through the use of the three glass profiles outside and the relationship of the visitor to the horizontal tubes and vertical supports inside, as well as the view out through the windows. The glass acts as an eye between the city and the store, and vice-versa, sometimes distorting and sometimes focusing the view. The intended oscillation is most apparent through the concave and convex panels, each creating an effect different than the typical flat glass. 

As touched upon earlier, the building's form and surface create an unsettling combination, though this does not appear to be an accident. The form alludes to the familiarity of the domicile, a typology expressed by a hip roof above a square, or rectangular, base. At Prada, the lack of differentiation between wall and roof through materials and openings contributes to this unsettling feeling. This uniform surface articulation, analogous to partially-popped bubble wrap, combines with the bowed glass to create a unique character for the building, based on the time of day, weather, observer's location, and other variables. Overall the skin is the building's most important element, and the most relevant to its purpose: a place for fashion, an "artform" based on skin, surface and their articulation to create a unique character. 

Architecture and fashion are two compatible fields, increasingly brought together by the growing importance of image and the popularity of buildings that look at surface similar to fashion, of which Herzog & de Meuron play no small part. Witness magazines like Wallpaper* which blur the lines between fashion spreads and building profiles, placing waifish models posing in the latest Tadao Ando building. It's all about image. Much as fashion designers use material and form to create a unique image, so do architects. Also each selectively covers and reveals. In Tokyo, the store is revealed in a glass veil, an ever-changing glimpse into the world of Prada.