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Design Decoded

By Der Spiegel Canteen, Donato Salon + Spa, and Neo Derm The Centre

A close look at problem-solving strategies behind three IIDA Global Excellence Awards winners.

DESIGN DECODED: Der Spiegel Canteen
WHERE: Hamburg, Germany
DESIGNER: Ippolito Fleitz Group, Stuttgart

When Spiegel Group (owner of news magazine Der Spiegel) commissioned Ippolito Fleitz Group to design the cafeteria in its new Henning Larsen–designed headquarters, the firm was given the option to reuse the client’s former eatery: Verner Panton’s landmark 1969 Spiegel-Kantine. Although the team concluded that its modular, squared-off design didn’t jibe with the building’s polygonal floor plate, a question remained. “Do something Panton-esque, or depart from him?” explains principal Peter Ippolito. The firm opted for a novel design that nonetheless channels its antecedent via a kindred emphasis on modularity and bold geometry. But the subdued finishes—white terrazzo, satin-finished aluminum, whitewashed oak—add up to a more restrained scheme than Panton’s immersive orange and violet confection. “We wanted something with the same impact, but that was more timeless,” says Ippolito.

Challenge: The copious glazing and paucity of solid walls didn’t leave many surfaces to play with.
Solution: The ceiling plane was exploited as the primary design gesture. “When the room is filled during lunchtime, the ceiling is the only surface you can really see anyway,” says Ippolito. It’s covered in 4,230 aluminum disks, each 1 foot in diameter and suspended from a steel armature. Canted 4 degrees off horizontal and angled in different directions, they create a shimmering effect that mirrors the water view. Triangular slivers of space between the disks allow room for speakers, light fixtures, sprinkler heads, and other mechanicals.

Challenge: Glass walls plus hard flooring—multiplied by a few hundred diners—equals a recipe for cacophony.
Solution: The aluminum disks are micro-perforated and laminated onto noise-absorbing backing. The ceiling above is also treated to an acoustic absorber, painted black so it’s invisible. In addition, the few solid walls are clad with “curtains” of whitewashed oak whose undulations help break sound.

Challenge: Keeping a 7-foot-wide circulation zone clear without having the space look empty.“The canteen is part of the emergency-exit route from the adjacent atrium, so we had to keep pathways open,” Ippolito explains.
Solution: Sinuous black lines embedded in the matte-white terrazzo floor annunciate paths of egress while ensuring that tables don’t encroach on those walkways. Reinforcing the exit routes are scrims of plastic rods, which hang from hooks so they can be easily cleared for large events.

Combat loftiness and create layering without compartmentalizing the room.
Solution: The design team again turned to the ceiling, installing bowl-shape yellow painted–steel canopies that lend scale and dictate the position of tables so they don’t get repositioned. Below them hang dimmable pendants that combine up-lighting and a spotlight directed to the center of the table. Black-granite tabletops are laser-etched with a gradient pattern that’s densest where the spot hits to softly diffuse illumination.

Challenge: To accommodate a variety of events, not just the noontime lunch rush. “The whole staff congregates there for assemblies,” says Ippolito. “They also use it for parties, readings, and other business events.”
Solution: In addition to incorporating hidden audio-visual technologies for meetings and presentations, the space is can be subdivided via a removable partition made of double-sided mirror. During the day, when light floods the space, the glass is transparent; at night, when lights are turned off in the main space, the surface becomes reflective so you can’t see through it. “In the evenings, when less people use the canteen, they sit in the smaller front area to feel more enclosed.”

Where’s the Panton’s Spiegel-Kantine now? After the Spiegel building was sold, the landmark cafeteria found a new home. Elements of it were installed in the fifth floor of the new Henning Larsen–designed headquarters, where it’s used as a small snack bar. The remaining modules are now in the permanent collection of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, where it’s open to the public.

DESIGN DECODED: Donato Salon + Spa
WHERE: Toronto
PHOTOGRAPHY: David Whittaker

Canadian hairstylist John Donato had been in business for 25 years when he tapped II BY IV to conceptualize his new Toronto flagship. The project’s overarching goal, explains firm principal Dan Menchions, was to put a fresh face on the brand—and to usher the salon/spa typology into the future. For ideas, Menchions looked to boutique hotel lobbies, an inspiration evident in the ebony-and-ivory palette and the 22-foot-long check-in desk lit by glittering crystal chandeliers. The luxe vibe belies the project’s tight budget and dense program.

Challenge: Maximizing the modest 5,600-square-foot layout. “The client wanted twice the amount of styling stations and spa-treatment rooms that we knew could be accommodated,” Menchions explains. “I said, ‘We can give you more—but your space won’t allow it!’”
Solution: In the salon, an enfilade of side-by-side styling stations spans the length of the space. In lieu of bulky cabinetry, which would eat up a large footprint, the stylists work at slim, shared countertops—a sort of hospitality-design version of an office benching system. The oversize mirrors double as commodious storage cabinets.

Challenge: To keep that long run of stations from looking too repetitive.
Solution: Using niches to bracket clusters of four or five stations creates a sense of scale, which in turn makes the space appear larger. “The portals pause your gaze, stopping it from going straight to the back of the space,” Menchions notes. Niches are painted black for that same reason: “The black pulls your eye to the more intimate nooks.”


Challenge: To devise a lighting scheme that sets the mood, supports the task at hand, and flatters patrons. “There’s not a lot of daylight in the space; it was more about creating drama,” Menchions explains.
Solution: A carefully calibrated mix of downlighting, ambient light, and front lighting (via the mirrors). “Proper illumination is essential when cutting, so stylists can see the layering,” says the designer. “And color technicians need color-corrected lighting; they have to see how the hair will look in varying conditions.”

Challenge: Given the abundance of hard surfaces and close proximity of styling stations, acoustics was an issue.
Solution: The space is drywalled and insulated. Plus: “Salons pump in a lot of music!” says Menchions. “And you’ve got your cast of characters. People appreciate the noise and activity because hair salons are all about the gossip.”


Challenge: Choosing cost-conscious finishes that telegraph luxury and withstand myriad anta-gonists, including bleaches, colorants, and other chemicals—not to mention slush, sand, and salt during colder months: Donato is located on the ground level of an outdoor shopping mall down-town, meaning foot traffic is directly off the street.
Solution: Work surfaces and transaction counters are either durable natural stone or non-porous quartzite composite, which is impervious to staining. Flooring is super durable through-body porcelain in a chic faux-wood print that stands up well to wear and tear. “At the front of the space, we installed it in a herringbone pattern to elevate the look,” says Menchions.

Challenge: To boost sales of the client’s makeup, hair-care, and skincare lines. In Donato’s other locations, product was squashed into a small footprint. “They weren’t selling much because the display was so congested.”
Solution: This scheme devotes a lavish 1,000 square feet to retail, locating it prominently near the entry in a dramatic nook that also functions as a beauty bar for getting makeup applied. “The color of the packaging pops against the otherwise black-and-white backdrop,” says Menchions. “The idea—which has proven successful—was less product, displayed on shelves, curated in categories, and replenished constantly,” says Menchions. The base of the beauty bar houses additional inventory.

DESIGN DECODED: Neo Derm The Centre
WHERE: Hong Kong
DESIGNER: PTang Studio, Hong Kong
PHOTOGRAPHY: Courtesy of PTang Studio

One of the biggest challenges the studio faced in designing this luxury spa and medical aesthetic center was the tight timeframe. The space, located on the 35th through 37th floors of a mixed-use high-rise in central Hong Kong, has an extremely high rent; to keep costs down, the client wanted to minimize downtime between lease-signing and opening day. “We were given three months to renovate all three floors,” explains principal Harvey Tsang. “In that period, we needed to design, test, and produce all the custom finishes.” Equally important was unifying the sprawling aerie, which encompasses 90 treatment rooms and myriad function spaces. An ethereal palette, show-stopping central staircase, and abundance of curves go a long way to achieving that aim—and establishing a space age–y vibe.

Challenge: The designers chose a white-on-white scheme as a device to communicate modernity and cleanliness. “All-white feels tidy, which gives confidence to the customers and patients,” notes Tsang. The hue also amplifies the abundant natural light that floods in through the window wall. But keeping pale surfaces pristine is a perennial conundrum.
Solution: Deploying high-impact but low-maintenance finishes. Walls in public areas are covered in crystal glass or emulsion paints; treatment rooms feature wipeable wallpaper. Flooring throughout is veinless white marble, with a polished but slip-resistant finish that makes cleaning easier and thwarts staining.


Challenge: Keeping copious square feet of white space from looking boring or monotonous.
Solution: A wood accent wall warms each treatment room, while nautical blue touches in public spaces keep the mood fresh. The designers also mixed finishes and used varying shades of whites. “We spent months researching paints and gloss levels, and applied them to different materials to test the effect,” says Tsang. “That was the biggest challenge we faced.” The use of glass and acrylic panels also injects shimmer and reflectivity.

Between the pale palette and shiny finishes, the look could have veered too slick or overly clinical.
Solution: Exploit texture—note the metal trims and rippling side walls. “Knowing that the gloss surface on the wave wall would effect the overall design, we worked with a lighting consultant and did mock-ups on-site to get the right effect,” Tsang explains. Although the wave walls are a recurring feature, the designers altered the pattern throughout.

Challenge: The three floors were united by two straight-run staircases slicing through a gaping, squared-off void. “We thought it read too hard-edged and commercial,” says Tsang.
Solution: The firm demolished it and built a custom feature stair that’s become the signature of the space. The swooping glass-wrapped staircase creates continuity between levels, coaxing patrons down from the 36th-floor lobby to lower-level treatment rooms, or one flight up to the lounge, classroom, meeting rooms, and surgeries.

Challenge: The stair’s sinuous form was tricky to execute. “With construction time so limited, we used the most common materials to build it: steel and wood,” says Tsang. “It’s extremely difficult to use wood to make such organic forms.”
Solution: The designers worked out the details on-site, building a full-scale mock-up to finesse the finer points. “We revised the dimensions many times,” notes Tsang. By using this process, 10 workers were able to erect the loop-de-loop stair in a speedy five days.

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