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Serene in the City

By Ashley DeVecht

Step into the More North gallery in New York and the hustle and bustle of city life will likely feel worlds away. White concrete floors, which give off the feeling of freshly fallen snow, guide visitors through this unique gallery, retail space and children’s playroom. Florescent light peeks through the thin metal walls, piercing the eyes the same way the winter sun might. And sleek birch trees, which shoot up through the space, make it seem as though you should snowshoe home, instead of hopping on the subway.

This wintry, Scandinavian ambiance is appropriate for a gallery of this kind; More North presents the work of Nordic painters and sculptors and also sells Scandinavian furniture, glass, ceramics and textiles. The space is intended to be a calm environment that reflects the timeless beauty and simplicity of Nordic design.

The concept for the project was born in 2007, when the three principal partners and gallery owners — Monika A. Heimbold, Lena Biorck Kaplan and Linda Nordberg — decided to create a new Scandinavian art space in New York. To make their vision a reality, they turned to KOKO Architecture + Design, a small New York-based firm owned by husband and wife Adam Weintraub, AIA, and Mishi Hosono, AIA.

“More North was very clear about the overall concept for the gallery: ‘A new showcase to feature all aspects of Scandinavian art and design for downtown New York,’” Weintraub says. “[We] began at the end of a hot summer, and we were convinced that we wanted to create a Nordic landscape in the middle of Tribeca.”

INTERNATIONAL EYE

KOKO won the 2009 Interior Design Magazine and IIDA Will Ching Award, which recognizes and rewards talented designers working in firms of five or fewer employees, for their More North design. The award encourages new ideas and techniques in the design and furnishing of commercial spaces.

Along with Weintraub and Hosono, KOKO employs three other architects and boasts a unique array of international experience.

Weintraub attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., for prep school where he was surrounded by the designs of Eames, Saarinen and Bertoia. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, he was awarded a traveling fellowship that allowed him to study architecture for children in parts of Europe, including Finland, Sweden and Denmark. Following her attendance at the Seisen International School in Tokyo, Hosono received an undergraduate and graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Their diverse experience came in handy for the More North design, especially after the KOKO team was allowed a sneak peek of the gallery’s art. “There is an unusually strong connection between Scandinavian and Japanese design,” Hosono adds. “Both share an approach
to nature and abstraction.”

And since the gallery had a limited budget for the project and a short time span for completion — six months — the agile KOKO team seemed like the perfect fit.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS

That attention to detail is exactly what caught the eyes of the Will Ching competition judges, including Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir, Associate IIDA, AIA and Principal at Minarc; Suzanne Tick, President of Suzanne Tick, Inc.; and D.B. Kim, Principal Designer at D.B. Kim Inc. The panel was unanimously impressed with the elements of the More North design, including the creative lighting choices, the use of unique materials and the simplistic color palette (see sidebar on page 33).

“The gallery’s interiors follow a very consistent color scheme, which is enhanced by a series of texture contrasts,” Ingjaldsdóttir says. “And an unexpected use of materials gives the project a special appeal.”

Tick says that she, too, was moved by the sense of cohesion throughout the space. “I was taken by the overall consistency and detailing throughout the space. [More North was] a clean, sophisticated backdrop to Nordic Art,” she says.

WEAVING WORLDS TOGETHER

The biggest challenge for the design team was how to effectively incorporate the three distinct purposes of the space — gallery, retail and playroom — into one fluid progression of rooms. The gallery space is used as both a display for Nordic artists and a retail space for other Nordic designs such as furniture and ceramics. Artists needed to know that their work would not be overshadowed by either the design of the gallery or the retail space.

Downstairs, the space transitions into a playroom where children can amuse themselves with toys, such as blocks and trains, all made by Scandinavian designers, while their parents peruse the artwork upstairs. By erecting a cluster of 25-foot birch trees from the play level up through the gallery level, KOKO was able to weave the two areas together.

The team aimed to create a mature, simplistic playroom that allowed young visitors to use their imaginations.

“Every architect jumps at the opportunity to design an art gallery, but I think the lower level children’s space is what makes More North truly magical,” Hosono says.

Weintraub and Hosono say they have the gallery owners to thank for their success. “We were able to experiment with new materials and unusual features not often incorporated into typical gallery design,” Hosono says. “I think being a small studio enabled us to gain the trust of the client much more intimately.”

And Kaplan agrees. “We had total confidence in [KOKO’s] creativity and their detailed way of carrying out the design,” she says. “The vision was simple, and KOKO immediately got it.”

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