Aesop has made a reputation for itself by doubling down on design in its retail outlets around the world—it is almost as well known for its collaborations with famed architects as it is for its merchandise. So when the Australian purveyor of bath and beauty products decided to open its 100th store, in historic central Oslo, Norway, it remained true to form and sent out letters of intent to three locals, including Snøhetta.
The site was set when the firm interviewed for the job: a former lingerie shop just off the main shopping promenade in an area that is being converted to a pedestrian-only streetscape. The façade is landmarked but the interior was fair game, and the only rule was that there were no rules. Each Aesop store “is individual and contextual,” says Peter Girgis, senior interior architect at Snøhetta. “That freedom loosens you up.”
The design team developed three schemes using different materials as the project’s core identity, but the clients were drawn to the series of glass-fiber reinforced gypsum domes that now shape the ceiling plane of the store. “It is a very Nordic material,” Girgis says. “It’s like a reversed hill landscape of snow.” The coffers might have been too much for some markets, but “we can be daring and risky in Oslo,” Girgis says. “The city can handle something a bit experimental.”
The domes were designed in Rhino, with algorithmic modeling in Grasshopper. But there simply wasn’t time for the digital fabrication process that the team envisioned—the firm won the project in July, and the store opened in December. So Girgis turned to a local fabricator, Byggimpuls, which had done plaster work on Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House and other projects, but always in flat planes. The craftsmen took the 3D digital design and built it in an analog fashion: “They created two half-spheres, and they cast the sections onto them. They made 85 to 90 sections that were lifted into place,” Girgis says, adding that the team worked with a 1:1 copy of the ceiling plan laid out on the floor so that they could center each dome.
Gypsum was also used to cover the existing brick walls, and the interior fixtures and displays (which Girgis says were “very much co-created” with Aesop’s Paris-based design team) are formed from glass-fiber reinforced concrete. An antique-style, though modern-make, mirror lines the back wall, creating the effect of a much larger retail space; it also conceals a small office and storage. But the biggest surprise, though anticipated to an extent, about the completed space is its acoustics: Each dome becomes a tiny whispering gallery that reflects muted sound differently with each person—a quality that makes this store vividly contextual and distinctly unique from the 99 that have gone before it. As Aesop would want it to be.
Project: Aesop Store, Oslo, Norway
Design Architect: Snøhetta, Oslo
Plaster Work: Byggimpuls
Woodwork and Custom Cabinetry: Henriksen Snekkeri
Lighting: Concept Design
Size: 66 square meters (710 square feet)