Founded in 2003, SSENSE is a Canadian online fashion platform and clothing e-tailer with a global presence. For their first store ever, founders Bassel, Firas and Rami Atallah chose their hometown Montreal with the intent to open a cultural, social and retail venue for the city, which could also physically represent the diverse nature of this digital retailer.
Interpreting the need of enhancing the urban ecosystem without simply imposing a new architecture, the project turned a derelict mid-nineteenth century building in Vieux-Montréal into a space to experience. In this unconventional shop customers can meet, try on and wear the goods that they have preselected online as well as participate in cultural programming related to fashion and the arts. The SSENSE store is indeed thought and designed as a place of encounter and interaction. It strengthens the connection within a community that goes from the online to the offline and back.
Led by the concept of designing ‘a box within a box’, the refurbishment took the direction of preserving and restoring the historic brick and stone façades, while a new five-storey building has been inserted within. Therefore, following an approach respectful of the urban heritage, the existing façade is maintained and acts like a primary box, while the new façade and the secondary box fill the building’s inner part, creating a play of duality and generating a double layer of perimeter walls. This addition/integration also provides structural stability for the old building shell. Minimising the structural elements, the concrete cores create two main rooms on each level that provide a simple space suitable for hosting a range of programs. The distinguishing spaces of SSENSE Montreal are the double-height entrance lobby on the ground floor and a glazed rooftop café on the top floor.
Pure, neutral materials are inserted into the renovated building, underling the physicality of the spaces that are reductionist rather than minimalist in nature. Boxes of black sandblasted concrete, cast in-situ, form each room across five levels. Into these boxes a display system of lightweight wire-suspended elements are added, striking a balance between materiality/concreteness and immateriality/abstractness. The steel cables can easily be installed and dismantled, according to the necessity, communicating a sense of impermanence, in line with the concept of rapid change at the core of SSENSE. In 2022, additional freestanding elements were introduced, which can therefore enlarge the display possibilities, independently from the architectural grid.