Galeria AirMaster

Project Description

Galera AirMaster, located in the Puerto Nuevo Designers District San Juan, is the flagship store for the AirMaster brand, Puerto Ricos largest and oldest producer of aluminum windows and doors, and a local curtain-wall specialist. The company, a third-generation family-run business, which originally specialized in ready-made products for hardware stores, wanted to expand into the high-end custom market. AirMaster had developed a solid reputation for reliability through their ubiquity at the islands Home Depots, and had also cut its construction teeth as the Caribbean provider of Kawneer architectural products. Nevertheless, it wasnt widely regarded as a premium brand, nor was it the first choice for architects dreaming of complex building-envelope solutions, a perception they needed to change in order to compete in the budding upscale regional market, which in addition to Puerto Rico serves the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, and Panam. Thus, in the spring of 2008 AirMaster asked us to help revamp their profile, and design a concept store that would allow their clients to visualize the possibilities of their product line in an instructive, and contemporary setting.

The client had previously purchased two properties to develop the new facility: a two-story, 3,000 square feet structure that used to house an art gallery, facing the main thoroughfare, and a partially demolished house in the rear lot, which would serve as staging area for the main construction project, and later to be converted as parking. The architectural brief called for maximum showroom space throughout the building, and for ancillary administrative uses including office space, a studio-like work area for their sale staff, and a conference room. The client also requested that the showroom space be able to easily convert for gatherings and seminars, without requiring major effort.

Our design scheme peels away the old faade and roof of the original building, and transforms it into an architectural mannequin for the manufacturers products. The intervention is based on the abstraction of a louvered window, the companys first product 40 years ago as evidenced by their logo. The archetypal window, brought to a billboard scale, was segmented vertically, transformed horizontally with transparent and opaque elements, and folded backwards, becoming the premise for the buildings new glass and aluminum faade-roof. The re-skinning strategy not only brings natural light into both floors, but literally raises the roof on the second story which previously stood at 710, creating a new atrium for their design and sales staff. Programmatically the project is divided into showroom space in the first floor, and administrative space in the second. The retail area is characterized by its display mechanisms oversized, movable steel frames suspended from the ceiling for presenting their door models, and operable wall nooks with pivoting aluminum cases for displaying their windows and entry-door products, while the administrative area on the second floor is defined by a massive curtain-wall which folds into a double clerestory ceiling that illuminates the interior space.

Business Case

In the late 1990s Air Master transitioned into a new leadership who wanted to transform the brand. The company had cultivated market recognition as supplier to developers and contractors, and as wholesaler, but its branding was antiquated and uncharismatic, missing real cachet, and mostly based on hardware-store omnipresence. Equally, the maker lacked a proper showroom, relying on a small store at their plant, and display areas at home improvement stores. Ironically, the manufacturer, whose product-line had obtained hurricane resistance certifications from the Miami-Dade County, had recently developed a new but un-marketed premium range of doors, windows, and curtain-walls, with improved environmental performance, superior glazing, hardware and finishes, and a more contemporary styling. Additionally, Air Master had incidentally been providing ancillary products for construction projects, such as glass balustrades, partitions, bathroom enclosures, aluminum gates, and trellises, presenting market opportunities to expand upon, but for which a new showcase and a revitalized image were needed. Moreover, the recession in the speculative construction market brought a heightened sense of urgency to re-focus the companys direction.

The new management had dabbled into partial rebrands through the decade, but a corporate makeover only galvanized in 2008 with the decision to create a new experiential showroom, as described by company president Nicols Megwinoff, in which customers can see, play, feel and learn about our high-end collections as aspirational works of art, and as real products they can utilize in their own projects. Unusual for a bottom-line businessman, but inline for a company that manufactures building products, they invested in design because we need a building thatll fuse our product with its architecture, inside and out, in a persuasive and creative manner; we need a landmark that will invite the passerby to come in, and our clients to dream.

The showroom quietly opened in late August of this year, with a formal opening at the end of September, yet its market effect began to be felt a couple of months before it opened, with the installation of the custom signage pole next to the half-built curtain-wall, which brought an immediate spike of product requests as people started identifying the project with the brand. Once finished, the project, which was partly prompted by Air Masters desire to diversify from their hardware store image, not only exceeded the companys expectation, driving a 70 seasonal sales increase, while requiring additional sales-force recruitment, but lead to a parallel spike in sales at their Home Depot outlets, even though the product lines offered at the two venues are completely different. According to Natalia Megwinoff, Marketing VP, before the store, most of the custom-work orders originated directly with clients, who came in largely looking for good deals or price-matching, with design issues being secondary; now, with the showroom boutique price requests come evenly from customers and architects, and are always preceded by conversations about form and style. By the end of 4Q2010, their high-end market-share had grown by 35, and in just 4 months after its opening, the new boutique, built using the manufacturers aluminum and glass repertoire, has transformed the maker from a stodgy vendor to an architectural brand. Air Master originally asked us to design a showcase for their products, yet together we built a structure that demonstrates their capabilities as a total fenestration company, rather than just a windows and doors supplier.

Sustainability Notes

Air Master showroom boutique, an adaptive reuse project, recycles 85 of the previous structures building envelope, and 92 of its total concrete and steel.
The underlayment for the posterior parking area was constructed using demolition rubble, and all new concrete walls were specified for a minimum of 20 recycled fly-ash content. The building uses a high-efficiency air conditioning system, and a combination of natural and low-energy illumination throughout all of the interior spaces, except the restrooms and the kitchenettes, are naturally lit. The structure captures rainwater for sanitary drainage and landscape watering, while the custom curtain-wall-roof system, based on Kawneers 1600 PowerWall, is wired for photovoltaic panels as a test-bed of solar technologies Air Master is currently conducting trials on different building integrated photovoltaic modules for application in their own product line. The lumber flooring and plywood cabinetry was manufactured using FSC-certified wood, and finished using water-based, zero-VOC coatings. All the bases for the custom work-desks and tables were manufactured using surplus steel channels from shipping crates of aluminum stock.

2010

Project Type

Address

Avenida De Diego 258, San Juan, 00907,