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Despite being an activity that is performed several times in one day, the sensory process of washing one’s hands can feel blissfully ritualistic, never diluted by repetition. In designing several retail stores for Aesop — an Australian-born brand of luxury body-care products — Snøhetta forged mesmerizing sinks that celebrate and draw attention to this ceremonial practice. We spoke with Peter Girgis, Senior Interior Architect at Snøhetta, to learn about their partnership with Aesop and the design processes that led to the stunning custom sinks housed within Aesop Oslo.
Snøhetta is a transdisciplinary office that has been driven by the symbiotic relationships between humans and natural landscapes, and interiors and exteriors, since its inception. After winning an interview competition between several firms, Snøhetta has designed five retail stores, which include Aesop ION, Aesop Grabenstraße, Aesop Raffles City, Aesop Berlin and Aesop Oslo. Aesop Oslo is the company’s 100th store worldwide and the creation that lives at the helm of this case study.
Exterior image of Aesop Oslo by Snøhetta
Like all of its work, Snøhetta approached this project by considering and reflecting upon the retail location’s immediate context and its natural environment. The architects deeply thought about the principles of Scandinavian design, harnessing light and character to create a grand experience centered on washing. In its final execution, the retail space conjures up the illusion of encapsulating visitors in a dreamlike universe that could come to life at any moment.
For the vaulted ceilings, Snøhetta drew inspiration from natural ice formations, which are inversely reflected in the shape of the sink basins.
Snøhetta began by designing the store’s ceiling and then transitioned down to the sinks, which take on the inverse shape of the cloud-like vaults above. Because both the vaulted ceilings and walls were built with plaster in a whitewashed tone, Snøhetta sought to create sinks that had a similarly smooth and natural-stone feel.
Process images of Snøhetta custom-made sinks for Aesop Oslo
Completely custom-made, each sink basin is cast from glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) and was created using CNC-milled molds. Girgis remarks that the final form grew out of extensive experimentation and study into what shape and basin-depth would best dull the effects of splashing. Not only does this create a smooth customer experience, but it also keeps the countertops spotless so that they may be used as a display area for Aesop’s stunning product line. Additionally, because Aesop’s products contain lots of natural oils, Snøhetta sealed the GFRC with a protective coating in order to minimize any unwanted stains.
Inspired by altars in Italian cathedrals, Snøhetta’s custom-made sink asserts a strong presence in the center of Aesop Oslo’s store.
Aesop Oslo’s sinks were inspired by altars in Italian cathedrals and fountains and were symbolically placed in the center of the space where the in-house consultants could aid each customer in the indulgence of various Aesop products. “You often take for granted basic and standard principles in our everyday sinks,” Girgis said. “But when washing your hands at an Aesop store, the experience should be exceptional and memorable. The materiality of the sink should be robust and have a sense of timelessness. When possible, they should be generous and spacious.”
Including the basin, faucet and drain, Snøhetta custom-designed and manufactured every element of Aesop Oslo’s sinks.
Snøhetta extended such precise detailing to every other aspect of the design. The brass drains, which glisten in the center of each basin, were custom-designed and manufactured at Snøhetta’s in-house model shop. With each faucet, the architects experimented to uncover the ideal length of overhang in order to create a comfortable area for washing one’s hands below. “Considerations of the height of counters, the distance of the tap to your hands and the flow of water are all functional considerations to keep in mind,” Girgis said.
Finally, one of the most challenging features was to create a plumbing system that would emit a premixed water temperature every single time. In order to achieve their ideal results and ensure that they were properly educated throughout the process, the architects worked in close consultation with a plumber.
Interior of Aesop Grabenstraße
While there are clear continuities between the stunning minimalist designs of all of Snøhetta’s Aesop locations, each one, along with its enclosed washing area, flourishes with a unique design concept that draws on local motifs. For example, located in Düssseldorf, Aesop Grabenstraße features a similarly composed GFRC sink while boasting aesthetic components that are notably more grand. Reminiscent of an outdoor market or plaza, the design draws customers around a massive monolithic sink, which is meant to mirror a public fountain or sculpture where people may gather.
Interior of Aesop Homansbyen
Aesop’s second Norwegian signature store, Aesop Homansbyen, harnesses meticulously crafted three-dimensional oak panels to create a warm residential feel. Located in a 1940s apartment building, the architects drew inspiration from the previously existing timber detailing and a woodworking technique called intarsia, which uses various shapes, sizes and species of wood to create the illusion of depth. Lit beneath the soft-glow custom lighting fixtures, Snøhetta used off-the-shelf wall-mounted faucets by Vola, which are finished in natural brass.
Snøhetta’s meticulous Aesop stores result from the marriage of two practitioners who are unequivocally committed to well-considered design. Not only do these sinks possess exceptional materiality and functionality, but they go so far as to create an unforgettably gratifying experience for each user.
All images courtesy of Snøhetta
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