G-Star Raw HQ
By Ulf Meyer
In 1989, a small designer clothing company was founded in Amsterdam, which soon went on to become Europe’s most iconic raw denim company. Originally named Gap Star, the firm is now known as G-Star Raw. Just like the denim that made the company famous, the notion of raw surfaces is also at the core of their new headquarters, designed by Rem Koolhaas and his Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture.
A lot has been said about contemporary architecture’s role in developing physical manifestations of brand identities for large fashion houses, and it is often debated whether the architecture actually ends up enhancing or conflicting with the company’s ‘brand values’. In the case of Rem Koolhaas and the Dutch jeans company G-Star, however, the combination seemed like a natural fit, seeing as a distinct aesthetic of raw industrial chic lies at the core of both firms. G-Star defines their own corporate identity as “unfiltered, unprocessed, crude, naked and harsh” – and the same could arguably be said about a lot of OMA’s work.
The site for the new G-Star Raw Headquarters is a non-descript industrial area along the A10 motorway near Schiphol airport in the Zuidoost (southeast) district of Amsterdam. Most people see the building from the nearby highway, so the architecture is designed to be ‘read’, while passing by at high speed. Both the size and scale of the 140 meter-long building – adorned with a giant company logo on its front facade – reflects that. The 20 meter-long G-Star logo turns the whole building into a billboard or a piece of American style ‘highway architecture’. The building is experienced while in motion, so the architects made the slab as long as possible, to maximize driver’s visual exposure of the headquarter building.
In his ground-breaking study “Learning from Las Vegas”, American architect Robert Venturi coined the phrase ‘duck’ for buildings that want to find literal expressions of what they contain. The new Amsterdam building is an architectural version of “raw chic” and can thus be seen as such a Venturian ‘duck’. As a physical manifestation of the G-Star Raw brand image, the building wants – as Koolhaas puts it – “to look vulgar, like the jeans designed inside”.
A glass-enveloped hangar
The entrance is located on the plinth underneath a cantilevered glass box and the visitor facilities offer framed views into the building’s creative areas. A black concrete shell envelops a row of glass boxes that appear to slide past each other containing the company’s creative departments. At either end of the building they rise up, creating a bridge-like space above the ‘creative nucleus’ at the center.
This creative nucleus comprises of staggered floor plates, double-height spaces and an area for large fashion shows or parties. This 20-meter-high space is fronted by sliding glass doors that allow it to be opened up to the outside. This airy studio is connected to the rest of the building through split levels.
The 27,500 m2 building consists of the nucleus enveloped by a ring of office space and supporting facilities. Black concrete was used for the office ring, while the creative core has hangar-like glass façades. Diagonal steel trusses zig-zag through the rooms.
Inside the offices and ateliers, felt-lined walls ensure well-balanced acoustics in the otherwise hard-surfaced rooms. One cube shoots out in a dramatic cantilever towards the road. The departments of finance and fashion, as well as the pattern-cutting and showrooms, have floors made of aluminum and white resin. The façade is loosely held together with exposed brackets and bolts. A row of four-storey high glass doors lines the highway. A sliding screen can be drawn back for parties or fashion shows in the front-facing court. The façade is bolted on to the structure with clunky brackets – Koolhaas justifies his disinterest in proper detailing with his aim to create a sense of “casual elegance”.
OMA has always been interested in the power and unique appeal of advertising and have often sought to blur the lines between architecture and advertisement – but the G-Star Raw HQ in Amsterdam is perhaps their most extreme attempt at creating a physical manifestation of a corporate identity. With its stark materials and bulky volumes it is an overt example of ‘architecture parlante’ – one that makes you hope that G-Star’s stone-washed denim look is not going to go out of fashion any time soon. In the meantime, however, their new HQ embodies the rough-and-ready aesthetic of the brand exceedingly well.