Collaboration, Design and Opening Parties

During the last Clerkenwell Design Week, Marazzi have officially opened their first London showroom at 90-92 St. John’s Street designed and managed by Marcel Mauer Architecture and delivered by ISG – Realys.

The opening party gathered almost 500 people among them architects, distributers, press and, of course, many Clerkenwell Design Week visitors. The event was a true success and the project was featured in more than 30 online and offline publications.

Somehow the success was apparent. What is less known, and perhaps more interesting, is the process behind the outcome. And, once more, it is a story of collaboration.

In November 2016 Marazzi International, a global leader in high quality architectural ceramics, invited Marcel Mauer Architecture, a architecural design practice based in London and Reggio Emilia (Italy) to take part in the closed design competition for their first London Showroom. The invitation followed Marazzi’s visit to Marcel Mauer flagship project, the 6 years long and €5m worth conversion into a mix-use social hub of two grade II listed former military warehouses in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

At that point Marcel Mauer Architecture had no experience in high-end retail design and therefore bragging about CV was not really an option. Necessity is the mother of invention and the British-Italian design studio focused their bid on analysing the brief to identify a number of alternative objectives. Criticising the briefing is never an easy bidding strategy but in this case it was clearly the winning one.

As better explained in a Marcel Mauer post linked here, the design concept suggests a substantial shift in the approach to material products exhibition. Where most interior designers display products as objects to rise their visibility like a self-referential art piece, Marcel Mauer engages with the product and create spaces, both functionally and symbolically charged: a monumental entrance trilithon, a public theatre, a collaborative design atelier and an underground vault. The product communication value is increased as the material is not only displayed but also used to create something useful, beautiful and mindful of key archeological archetypes. One could perhaps call it physical branding.

The critique of the briefing did not only propose to re write part of the design brief but also to change the entire the procurement strategy. Marcel Mauer knew that the lack of specific CV was their weakness and, through collaboration, the weakness became a strength. Marcel Mauer brought in ISG to be part of the delivery team under negotiated D&B procurement with the design lead excluded and kept by the architect. From the initially envisaged JCT traditional contract, client risk dropped overnight whilst Marcel Mauer gained the driver’s seat. Because Marazzi is a huge client and Marcel Mauer a young SME, failure or client disappointment were simply not a possible outcome. Equally for ISG there was a genuine interest to establish a healthy relationship with an architectural practice on the rise and to pave the way for an alliance with an established global client.

Works for the 3,000 sq. ft. fit out started in early January and reached handover in little more than 6 weeks, leaving time after completion for final touches ahead of Clerkenwell Design Week in May. All along the month and a half of around the clock collaboration Marcel Mauer and Realys (the interiors delivery arm of ISG) worked together to manage changes, find solution and prevent delays. When litigation is not an option, solutions can be found in no time.

The 500 guests opening party was the perfect cherry on the cake to celebrate another win for collaboration between Italian design and British delivery.

Antonio Pisano is  co-founder and director of Marcel Mauer Architects in London and formerly co-Chair of G4C