The new Louis Vuitton store at Ginza Namiki-dori designed by Jun Aoki, Peter Marino, and A.N.D.

Louis Vuitton has just unveiled its new store in Ginza Namiki-dori. The incredible building, inspired by rippling water, was designed by the Japanese architect Jun Aoki. The American architect Peter Marino and the Japanese architect Ryu Kosaka and A.N.D. were in charge of the interior design. This is the second Louis Vuitton's store to house a café after the Osaka flagship opened last year. The water metaphor recurs in the entire building: on the glass façade - treated with a dichroic coating - and on the interiors. Here, a giant jellyfish welcomes the customers together with spiral staircases and curved furniture resembling watery elements.


All Photos: ©Daici Ano / Louis Vuitton


With this project, Louis Vuitton confirms its continuous commitment to architectural research and quality design. The global trends in luxury are going towards "glocalization" and bespoke design, after a long period when luxury mainly was related with exquisite replication. Adopting a glocal approach design means embedding the site's specific characters and reconnecting the place with its history through architecture. In a recent interview, Michael Burke - chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton – stated: "We think that architecture and luxury work hand in hand, and our clients expect us to make an architectural statement today when we open in a location as iconic as Ginza. […] Japan is reconnecting with its past, which is all about uniqueness and bespoke. And that's what we're doing with our stores. Every single store is a very unique exercise".


Like other luxury brands (Armani, Bulgari, and Prada, for example), Louis Vuitton is working to enrich the means of engaging with its clients, especially by offering "experiences" and enhancing its partnership with creatives such as architects, designers, and artists. Accordingly, the new store includes several artworks, as well as a café and a chocolate boutique.


The renowned Japanese architect Jun Aoki is one of those creative figures that partnered with Louis Vuitton to enhance the customer's experience through innovative design. Aoki designed in the last twenty years several boutiques for the French luxury brand. His unique style and the original concept of "unstable ornament" became in the years a signature for Louis Vuitton's stores worldwide. I had the chance to ask the Japanese architect a few thoughts on his recent project in Ginza.


Interview with Jun Aoki

Matteo Belfiore: This project – together with the one completed in Osaka last year - represents an example of cultural dialogue between star architects. Your office designed the building, the façade, and the office's interiors on the 5th floor. Peter Marino was in charge of the other floors' interiors, except for the café on the 7th floor, designed by Ryu Kosaka and A.N.D. I am interested in how the three teams achieved to coordinate the interior and exterior design seamlessly, despite the distance and your diverse style and design philosophy.

Jun Aoki: Since the design study and actual construction of the building itself and its exterior takes a considerable amount of time, the research begins before the interior design. Thus, when the exterior and the facade are designed, the interior is only at the study's zoning and layout stage. Therefore, interior design begins with the exterior and facade design's primary direction as a source of inspiration. Afterward, the study is fed back to the exterior design in a dialectical process. While the exterior "thesis" and interior "antithesis" have entirely different vectors, they are integrated as a whole "synthesis".


Matteo Belfiore: Ginza Namiki façade is realized with a doubly-ply glass structure treated with a dichroic coating. It resembles waves of water and exquisitely reflects the light and the surroundings, changing colors depending on the lighting. Every time you look at the façade, you see a different image. It makes me think of Zygmunt Bauman and his concept of "liquid society." I am interested in your thoughts on the role of architecture in liquid modernity.

Jun Aoki: About the "liquid society," I am not pessimistic, unlike Zygmunt Bauman. I have a hypothesis that liquid preceded solid and that liquid is more inherent. For example, when I started my work about thirty years ago, the first theme I advocated was "circulation body." Human behavior is not divided into bundles of desired actions but much more fluid and amorphous. I tried to create an architecture made of "linking space" rather than "rooms to be linked," where architectural space also carries a purpose and is a place for achieving that purpose. I want to create architectures that are places for people to connect. I like architecture to contribute to human freedom, so I aim for a direction where architecture can move and diffuse into various actions, rather than being fixed and converged to a specific purpose.



Matteo Belfiore: Your long-lasting collaboration with Louis Vuitton started more than twenty years ago. So far, you have designed twelve boutiques in Japan, Hong Kong, and New York. Louis Vuitton is the brand that translated trunks into fashion. How did you translate Louis Vuitton’s values in architecture with your projects for the brand? How did you achieve to decline the same brand values in ten diverse architectural concepts?

Jun Aoki: As with any brands, if you peel back the skin to find the core of the brand value, new skin will appear, and finally, there will be nothing left. It's like an onion. In other words, brand value cannot be grasped to any extent but can only be viewed as a dynamic whole with such fluidity and indefiniteness. Each project is a search for a suitable form, and the result is a piece of skin to be peeled off endlessly.


Matteo Belfiore: I remember an interview of Designboom where you described your style and your aim to create an "unstable sense of the ornamental." A decade later, I got precisely this feeling when visiting your project in Ginza. This is probably your signature. I am thinking, for example, of the White Chapel or the Louis Vuitton store where you played with the moiré effect. Can you clarify your idea of "unstable ornament"?

Jun Aoki: The word "ornament" has a nuance of something added to an entity or body rather than an essential part. But I don't apprehend ornament in that way. Instead, I would say what we see is only the "surface," and in fact, there is only the surface in this world, and the essence or substance is only in our imagination. If that is the case, everything we see is a "surface" and an "ornament." And even if you peel it off, what appears is only the surface, which is still an ornament, and even if you peel it off again, what emerges is only another surface. I see the relationship between body and decoration as such an onion-like world.

A Japanese philosopher named Kiyokazu Washida wrote: "Do not assume the substance of nudity behind the clothes. Even if we strip off our clothes, what emerges is another set of clothes. The garment is neither the outer skin nor the covering of the body". In other words, we recognize that there is only a layer of surface=ornament in our world.

The word "unstable" refers to the fact that the surface=ornament is not fixed to a unique meaning but diffuses into different meanings for each viewer and experience. You could say that it is the liberation of signifiant from signifié.


Matteo Belfiore: This project is a manifesto of the incredible potentials of glass. Nowadays, almost any shape is possible with current glass techniques. However, I can imagine your team faced many trials and several challenges before achieving this astonishing effect. Could you tell us the process of creating this futuristic façade?

Jun Aoki: There is a painting called La Grenouillère by Claude Monet. This artwork's water surface is painted using pure-color juxtaposition, which is very different from the image's optical fixation. In other words, the artist is trying to create the idea of the natural water surface directly in the viewer's mind rather than on the screen. The attempt here is to bring such a two-dimensional experiment back to the three-dimensional world. The glass surface's undulation had to be very limited because I did not want to lose too much interior space. In fact, the depth of the unevenness is only ten centimeters. To create a rich undulation in that shallow wave, I decided to use a technique called pure-color juxtaposition, developed by expressionists. In other words, instead of a simple mirror, I needed something that would reflect the light in two complementary colors, which led me to dichroic coating. To ensure that the paint would emit the desired turquoise blue, we tried different deposition methods to get the best specs. We also wanted to avoid foreign objects such as sash frames to achieve a smooth, continuous curved surface, which is challenging to do in earthquake-prone Japan. We developed a method of supporting the doubly-ply glass by inserting an aluminum edge frame into the adhesive surface between the glasses.


I would like to sincerely thank Jun Aoki for dedicating his precious time to this interview and Kyoko Kawahata for her kind collaboration.