Birkenstock Box — A mobile retail experiment
When you buy shoes, they usually come in a box. It’s the same with sandals — while this might be the most basic association that comes to ones mind when hearing about the “Birkenstock Box”, the new temporary space is something different.
Shiny silver on the outside and covered in birch from the inside, the Birkenstock Box is a mobile container that is about to stop in various locales around the globe, including Seoul, Los Angeles, and New York. The box design adapts to each individual locale. Its official launch is taking place at Potsdamer Straße 81 in Berlin, in the courtyard of Andreas Murkudis. Created by Judith Haase and Pierre Gonzalez, the architects of Andreas’ stores, the inside showcases a curated selection of labels from Yohji Yamamoto to Kolor and Aspesi, to complement the “Andreas Murkudis x Birkenstock” Arizona Sandal special collection.
We had a conversation with architects Gonzalez Haase AAS about retail design, the box, and their special relationship with Andreas Murkudis:
What is good retail design?
JH: Good retail design shouldn’t simply present the merchandise. The space should give a frame to see the merchandise better and not be subsumed by it. Lighting plays an important role, because without light there is no space.
PJG: A good retail space should be one you don’t get bored of when you come the second time, something that rarely happens. In reality only few places are thrilling enough to be worth a revisit. Andreas Murkudis’ store works that way: you can come and come again.
Is it the first time you designed mobile architecture? Was it a new challenge for you?
JH: Yes, for us it is the first time. I don’t think it is the mobile architecture that is the challenge, but more the fact that it is a non-permanent installation in an existing rough container structure, the inside of the container will change with every location it travels to. We had to change our usual way of working, because it is more about the idea than having perfectly defined details. PJG: Yes and no. We also do set design, for example. Set design is not what you would call “mobile”, but somehow it travels and adapts to every venue. The approach to the construction is similar to working with specialised constructors that have their techniques and systems that are not easy to change.
Andreas’ shop is huge, while the Birkenstock Box is rather small. How does size effect your work? Do you see it as a restriction or creative opportunity?
JH: Our approach is always related to the given space. Size makes no difference — it is about the space.
PJG: We like the contrast we have created for this project. In the AM store you are free to move closer to the installations, while in the Birkenstock Box you are restricted to one single path and have to avoid the installations. We have designed it with this in mind.
Does the design of the Box reflect the design of Andreas store? Do they complement each other?
JH: We mirrored the space conceptually inside the box container. The terrace became the axis, and the two window fronts face each other. Both spaces have just one front window with three closed sides. This combines them at the most fragile and transparent part.
PJG: In addition, the box’s chrome outer captures the urban environment. By putting the box on the city, its shiny surface feels luxurious and gives an idea of what Andreas Murkudis is about.
What was the main inspirational influence for the box?
JH: The idea of mirroring Andreas’ store influenced us the most. The three closed sides of the container mirror its surroundings, so that the box almost disappears on-site and becomes a reflection of what you see around it.
From the inside of Andreas’ space, you have a full view into the container. There is a circulation through the space from the store — it’s a closed ecosystem. The container becomes a temporarily connected piece. Both spaces together complete the circle.
Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with Andreas and what it is like to work with him?
JH: We’ve known Andreas since 2003 and have been working with him ever since. We speak the same language and there is mutual confidence, which is fundamental when working together. If the client has confidence in your work then you can really go the extra mile.
Clients like Andreas are unfortunately very rare. We highly appreciate his character and talent for finding and supporting design and art.
PJG: Andreas gives us a total carte blanche for almost all projects. We start working on our own, then have a discussion where he fully considers our initial ideas and heightens them. He is always smiling and trusting — it’s a perfect way to work.