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Alchemist | Notes of Interest

More than just a boutique located on the fifth floor of a building, this unique setting has much to do with the inspiration and central thrust of its design. This ingenious and sparkling glass box of retail is situated on the fifth-floor edge of a parking garage, yet somehow conquers impossible challenges: integrating the shop into the aesthetic of the parking structure and establishing connection and dialogue with the pedestrian environment below.

What makes this project such a tremendous success is its ability to captivate both the store patrons and those meandering the streets of Miami Beach. It achieves this effect through a variety of tactics. First, the enclosure’s composition of twenty-two foot high Starphire Glass allows for expansive, crystal clear views into the space, allowing the play of light both inwardly and outwardly. Second, such haunting transparency gives the project the appearance of being perched calmly, like a radiant cloud or jewel box above the city. The choice of such light and unobtrusive materials also provides a peaceful, fitting relationship between the shop and the larger parking structure.

In addition to this transparent glass, reflectivity comes into play to draw a connection to the outside world. A complex system of mirrored walls and ceilings not only allows a glimpse of the boutique to onlookers below, but subtly captures the street goings-on in reflective views for the patrons. Such dialogue achieves a connection more attune to a street-level shopping experience than what one would expect from a fifth-floor retail operation. Finally, the reflective ceiling provokes even more intrigue through interactive mirrors, operated on sensors which ripple in sync with the occupants' actions within the shop. The ceiling morphs and "mimics" the motion of the patrons, stopping its motion when they stop. Such interaction furthers the boutique’s absorbing performance viewed from street-level as well.

The complex kinetic mirror installation is composed of forty-four mirrors, ranging in size from 15”x 6” up to 33”x 28”. There are two adjacent bands running a length of forty-three feet along the west edge of the ceiling. The mirrors are attached to a sub-structure with individual pistons calibrated for each mirror. The pistons allow each mirror to rotate along a hinge independently and are actuated by pneumatic lines fed from a compressor connected to a computer. The movement is generated in two separate ways: by the occupant via motion sensors, or by preset animations designed for periods of time when the store is closed or holds no shoppers. Additionally, the shop’s floor layout is designed in tune with the ceiling, and mannequins or clothing racks can be maneuvered to various positions for diverse effects in this interactive commercial experience.

Additional Credits

  • General Contractor: Aaron Builders & Development
  • Engineer: Vidal & Associates (MEP Engineer); Optimus Engineering (Structural Consulting)
  • Lighting Consultant: Brand Lighting
  • Kinetic Mirror Installation: rAndom International
  • Photo Credit: © Michael Stavaridis


Jury Comments

The design is respectful of the site’s architecture but manages to shed the trappings of the conventional store by making its presence known in a subtly elegant and sophisticated manner.

The application of different types of glass—transparent, translucent, and reflective—serves to de-materialize the space in deference to the larger goals of the parking structure project, while skillfully allowing visibility between the shop and the street below via the complex technology and materiality use.

2011 Institute Honor Awards for Interior Architecture Jury

  • John Ronan, AIA, (Chair)
  • John Ronan Architects
  • Chicago
  • Jaime Canaves, FAIA
  • Florida International University-
  • School of Architecture
  • Miami
  • Margaret Kittinger, AIA
  • Beyer Blinder Belle Architects
  • New York City
  • Brian Lewis
  • The Capital Group Companies
  • Irvine, Calif.
  • Brian Malarkey, AIA
  • Kirksey
  • Houston

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