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Lieutenant & Co. upsizes to new brutalist store

Below a 1970s brutalist apartment building and accessed from Liverpool Street, the below ground level shop front is easy to miss.

Formerly a comic book store, an institution since the 1990s, it provided the right ‘bones’ and space, almost double the size (76 square metres) of Lieutenant & Co.’s former address.

The store is now spread over two levels, with a mezzanine at the rear that overlooks the internal courtyard of the apartments.

It must be one of the best examples of a ‘borrowed view’, with an established Ginko tree adding to the Japanese aesthetic (think of the courtyard gardens in the retail offerings at Aoyama in Tokyo).

“Previously the back area was used for storage. It was important to build on this outlook, as well as bringing in the eastern light,” says architect Michael Huynh, director of Geselle Architecture.

With the hoardings removed, there’s now a surreal quality when entering the store.

Owner Davy Zhu’s brief to Huynh was firmed up over a number of dinners where concepts were discussed at length.

Although the former fit-out had almost a ‘museum’ quality, this design was mooted as ‘retro futurism’.

“I wanted the 1940s to be acknowledged as a time when people appreciated craftsmanship and quality, I wanted to also move into the present and beyond,” says Zhu.

The store’s ‘bones’, including concrete floors, chunky structural columns and vermiculite ceilings, also suggested a brutal honesty to the store, something that reflects in the clothing on display; from labels such as ‘Rocky mountain Featherbed’ by Kinji Teramoto, to WearMasters, both emanating from Japan.

Other influences, such as the Nakagin Capsule Tower by architect Kisho Kurokawa, also came into the mix.

“That building (circa 1972) exudes a certain optimism and bravado,” says Huynh, whose concrete point of sale bench, with circular relief, can be traced to this iconic tower.

Keen to build on Lieutenant & Co.’s past, as much as its future, Geselle Architecture loosely conceived the fit-out in two parts.

The ground level features something of the former store, with two-toned painted walls in cream and military green.

Furniture, such as army office desks from the 1940s are crowned with Zhu’s collection of miniatures depicting the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberties.

The two levels are ‘bridged’ by two change rooms, one on each level, with reeded glass creating privacy between the two.

“I like the idea of creating something beyond, whether it’s a silhouette of a person or, as in this case, into the courtyard of these apartments,” says Huynh.

Although Huynh could have exposed the view of the courtyard to the east by simply removing a few walls, he framed the eastern floor-to-ceiling window with steel mesh backed by mirrors.

This not only accentuates the view into the lush courtyard, but also serves as a means to reflect views within the store itself.

There’s now unimpeded sight lines throughout the store, creating a sense of walking through a totally unique retail environment.

Whereas before the focus was purely the 1940s, now there’s a touch of the 1970s, when optimism, represented by the Capsule Building in Tokyo, was inspiring architects and designers worldwide.

This optimism is also displayed in the Life Magazines displayed in the store, showing man’s fascination for space travel.

“It’s certainly Davy’s vision, but I hope others find something in this store that makes them think both about the past as well as the future,” adds Huynh.

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