Melbourne based design studio, Ryan Russell was recently named winner of Viridian ’s 2010 Vision Award for Creative Use of Glass in an Interior Application - Commercial, for its design of Aesop Chatswood.

Located in an inner Sydney shopping centre, Chatswood Chase, the store is part of a retail group that sells premium quality skincare products made from the best scientific and botanical ingredients, and is the third Aesop store that Ryan Russell has designed.

While each store is instantly identifiable as part of the Aesop group, they also have their own individual characteristics, for example, Aesop Doncaster features wall tiles laid in a brick pattern that subtly shifts in plane and texture aiming to create a sense of movement within the space, metaphorically echoing a breeze through gum leaves. This is reflective of its Melbourne’s eastern suburb surrounds.

Conversely, when contemplating how to inject a sense of Sydney into Aesop Chatswood, the designers were inspired by the riparian conditions inherent in the city’s culture.

“Essentially, we examined the effect of sunlight as it dances across the waves on Sydney Harbour, the movement and tactility of sailing and the discreet process of swimming and bathing. The store relies on customer movement to subtly shift the action of light on the material surfaces of the exterior and interior to represent these conditions,” says design studio Director, Ryan Russell.

Russell also notes how the materials palette, lighting, washplane and shopfront are the main conduits for Aesop Chatswood’s riparian theme. “The soft materials palette of limed marine plywood, off white colouring, coir flooring and aged brass throughout the store provides a subtle reference to yachting and boating, as well as complementing the signature Aesop dark brown bottles for display,” he explains.

“The limed ply gives a warm hue to the space, which is also enhanced by the coir flooring. All lights in the front of the house area are halogen, also enhancing the ‘sun’ effect.”

The custom washplane of aged brass in the testing area, combined with carefully positioned and discreet lighting, sets s stage where the customer engages with the product and water directly, an element designed to amplify and remind the individual of the joys of bathing as it casts the hands and face of the tester in a soft golden hue when products are tested. This is also a direct reference to sunrise and sunset across the harbour, the times when the process of bathing generally takes place.

“Aesop products are sumptuous in their stimulation of the senses, but simple and pared back in presentation and philosophy. The material detailing and lighting in the store is designed to reflect this,” says Ryan.

Aesop’s shopfront continues with the riparian theme, with a façade of floor-to-ceiling vertical glass blades, manufactured from Viridian VFloat Clear, that create reflections that flicker as customers approach the store, subtly echoing the dance of light across the waves of Sydney Harbour.

While the vertical glass blades were chosen primarily for aesthetic reasons, they also provide two key functional advantages. The open nature of the façade enables the centre’s fire detection system to operate at all times, even when the door is closed, while also permeating the scent of Aesop products into the centre.

“Our approach to all materials is to try and use them to both dramatic and functional effect. With 70mm of space between each piece of Viridian VFloat Clear glass, the design has the add-on effect of allowing the products’ scent to waft into the shopping centre. In an environment where stores are competing furiously for a slice of shoppers’ attention, this is a significant benefit,” says Ryan.

Ryan Russell worked with structural engineer, Abbot Design P/L to ensure the suitability of the vertical glass blades. Concerned about the glass potentially bending during the toughening process, it was decided to toughen each piece individually.

“While it was a minor possibility, any warping would’ve deviated from the linear form and been detrimental to the overall design. Toughening each glass blade individually ensured the best possible and most consistent outcome,” says Ryan.

With the shop positioned on a corner within Chatswood Chase, Aesop enjoys a second, less prominent frontage. Three 1200mm wide, floor to ceiling Viridian VFloat Clear toughened glass panels provide uninterrupted views into the store.

“We specified VFloat Clear toughened glass on this aspect as well, due largely to its high light transmission and clarity,” comments Ryan.

Ryan says the feedback from the client has been fantastic, with the whole team being blown away by just how effective the Viridian vertical glass blades are. "They provide a unique element, while their simplicity ensures they don’t overshadow the whole design," he says.

As well as winning the Viridian Vision Award, Aesop Chatswood received a commendation in the retail category of the 2010 Interior Design Awards.