Barbie Shanghai

Architype Dialogue presents

James Slade and Hayes Slade

What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?

Converging the design quickly enough to meet the schedule while collaborating effectively with the client was the biggest challenge. This challenge was particularly onerous as the store was the unique flagship expression of the Barbie brand and the opening was scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the doll. Even typical retail work has a demanding schedule but the challenge was intensified in this case.

Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?

We had the opportunity to design fixtures and furnishings down to the smallest scale, including custom tile patterns, dishes in the restaurant, etc. It was a fascinating exercise to translate a design concept through so many scales: from building façade as a unique object in the street scape down to dishes on a table.

The opportunities afforded by mass customization and new technologies are instrumental in this shift for architects and designers across scales and the work at Barbie Shanghai is a good example of this.

How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?

The fact that we are a small NYC-based design firm that completed a project in Shanghai for a client in Los Angeles is a testament to the strength of collaboration and interrelationships possible through modern communication technology. We had weekly phone calls, daily photo streams from the construction site. As a result we were required on site much less than normal but still had an effective dialogue with the site during construction.

Many of the materials and fabrication techniques would also not have been possible in the recent past. There was a tremendous amount of customization from small items to very large pieces (for example the interior façade panels are molded custom polycarbonate panels that recall decorative elements /picture frames/lockets).

In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

When we teach design studio we tend to have an extended research phase. This research will ideally be the catalyst for the student’s concept and guide the development of their project/design. The Barbie project involved extensive research about the brand as well as the local context in Shanghai and China. In addition, we benefit from the growing role of technology, particularly digital production and fabrication, within the curriculum of most institutions.

Architype Review thanks James Slade and Hayes Slade for their interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.

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