Page D2.2 . 18 October 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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    Bust a Pipe


    Another part of the skateboarders' culture is a love of technology — the latest in board gear aids in poking the envelope. And like many artist communities, it's a closed club to the outside world, helping to stoke the image of skateboarders as "outlaw dudes."

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    Skateboarders Confront History

    The new showroom occupies a two-story, cast-iron-front building on Greene Street, in the heart of SoHo. This part of New York is chockfull of cast-iron-front buildings, which flourished as products of the Industrial Revolution, aided by the engineering and architectural visionary James Bogardus (1800-1874).

    Bogardus was fascinated with how technology transforms architecture, and his cast-iron buildings were at the cutting edge in his day. Assembled from prefabricated iron sections that bolted together, his buildings showed how architecture could be created from standardized, factory-produced parts made of the latest materials — this at a time when most buildings were handmade of wood and stone.

    Putting a tech-savvy skateboard accoutrement shop in a more-than-a-century-old cast-iron building is just right: new technology housed in the husk of a once-radical building.

    The design is a collaboration of Conrad J. Roncati of Architectura in Edgewater, New Jersey; Xavier Llongueras of Studio X in Hollywood, California, who was responsible for the custom furniture and the showroom interior; and Gilles de la Pointe of Sole Technology, who was the client's representative.

    The two-story cast-iron facade was preserved while the rest of the building was completely gutted and fitted with new structure and finishes to create a sleek environment of light and reflection. The three levels of basement, first floor, and second floor are modest in size — ranging from 1,800 to 1,920 square feet (170 to 180 square meters) — so the design was kept open to bring in as much light as possible. From the street, you get the sense of an artist's loft space that has been transformed into a boutique.

    Inside etnies

    The ground floor is dedicated to retail space dominated by large display cases that run the length of this narrow but deep building. The glossy white display cases have an iPod family resemblance — a perfect esthetic for etnies' clientele.

    Exposed air ducts, pendant and high-intensity lighting, and white-painted brick walls are rendered with a studied casualness — again, fitting for the SoHo fusion of chic and shed.

    In the back end of the first floor, through a delicately detailed glass wall, are funky orange and beige tent-like structures that are an inspired alternative to the mundane office cubicle.

    The basement is devoted to exhibit space showcasing a timeline that documents etnies' 20-year history and skateboard artists, sort of a pantheon of skate notables, that dovetails with SoHo's reputation as a gallery district. Brick walls are painted white and the concrete floor is left in its natural state.

    The second floor is devoted to executive offices and lounge space, with a huge built-in couch overlooking Greene Street and a table with a glass top supported by skate wheels. It continues the light esthetic of the first floor and basement.

    Although this is not a LEED-certified project, materials and finishes throughout were chosen with an eye for sustainability and good indoor air quality. For instance, the gypsum-board walls are 95-percent certified recycled content, and the paint is low-VOC. Bamboo flooring is a quick-growing, renewable material. Some of the seating is made of recycled cardboard, while display tables and shelving are made from wheat board, oriented-stand board, scrap wood, and nontoxic adhesives.

    Maybe the best space at etnies is outside. The 1,500-square-foot (140-square-meter) roof deck is contained between the white-painted brick and stucco walls of the buildings on either side. There is a space with bench seating for informal parties, and on one end the white wall sports a graffiti-inspired mural courtesy of artist Jon One.

    But right in the middle is a composite-wood skate ramp, braced against walls of the neighboring buildings. As the city rolls around them, etnies' patrons can spin, jump, and slide in the heart of SoHo.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.



    ArchWeek Image

    The new etnies showroom in SoHo.
    Photo: Michael Ian

    ArchWeek Image

    Glazed entry to etnies.
    Photo: Michael Ian

    ArchWeek Image

    Funky chic, designed to appeal to skateboarding customers.
    Photo: Michael Ian

    ArchWeek Image

    View from rear to front of store.
    Photo: Michael Ian

    ArchWeek Image

    Tent-like office "cubicles."
    Photo: Michael Ian

    ArchWeek Image

    Basement level, before the skateboarding history exhibit was hung.
    Photo: Michael Ian

    ArchWeek Image

    The visually open spaces maximize daylight in the long narrow building.
    Photo: Michael Ian

    ArchWeek Image

    Executive lounge space on the second floor.
    Photo: Michael Ian


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