We spoke with Allday Director of Architecture and Interiors, Todd Fenton, about our most recent project for Red Bull Studios New York — The Gift Shop. Todd came up with the inspiration behind this peerless design and blew out the concept.
Read below about Todd's vision, the challenges that this project raised, and the collaboration process to figure out an appropriate solution.
Tell us about the final design of The Gift Shop: how does it look and feel?
It’s hard to say what it looks like. It almost has the feeling of what a designer in the 60’s or 70’s would have envisioned a room of the future to look like. To that end, I would say it has elements of the 1960’s Italian architecture firm SUPERSTUDIO's project “The Continuous Monument” but inverted. Rather than being infinite and marking itself against an existing landscape, it brings nature indoors in the form of the single tree, crowns it with light, and measures the natural object against the grid. It fetishizes nature in that regard.
“It almost has the feeling of what a designer in the 60’s or 70’s would have envisioned a room of the future to look like.”
How long did the project take you from concept to production?
Red Bull really pushed us to try and imagine what that space could be—what could we do to really impress someone visiting the gallery. Something that would stand by itself and not depend on a theme. The final round of designs dealt a lot more with larger architectural concepts like light, nature, structure, and exhibition.
How did you come up with the idea of incorporating a tree in the space?
The idea of the tree came from a couple sources. When we first visited the space in August, Red Bull Studios had a plant wall installation under the sidewalk grate in the lower level. It was interesting in that the space felt both indoors and outdoors at the same time and was a bit unexpected. We were all immediately drawn to it. At the Allday office, we have a roof deck that is full of plants, fruit trees, vegetables and for most of the year you will find any number of us working from that location. There’s something primordial about being close to nature. We were thinking about simple yet big moves that would be impactful for The Gift Shop and would in some way have that natural element. Bringing a tree into the basement and building the space to support and frame it just sounded like an idea that we all wanted to see become reality.
Finding the tree was a pretty tough process. We worked with the same plant designer, Teresa Herrmann, that had installed the plant wall, which at that time was being removed as the exhibit it was part of was coming to a close. We really wanted a tree that would offer that surprise that we were looking for. If you could see the number of emails that we were sending to Teresa pleading to look everywhere to find a citrus tree you would think it was bordering on harassment. She contacted many, many, nurseries and ended up flying to Florida to visit a few of them first hand. After a bunch of options we finally found a tree that we were all happy with—albeit not in the Citrus family. It was called a Ligustrum and it had taken a couple months to locate the right one. We contacted the nursery in Florida to have it shipped to New York and found that the nursery had just been inspected and was no longer able to ship plants over state lines due to some infestation that had just been found in some of their plants. We were getting down to the wire so we had to scramble a bit. Teresa reached back out to a few of the other nurseries that she had been working with and we secured another tree from one of them. It’s a hard process to find a tree that will adapt to indoor grow lights and the low humidity of New York in the winter.