Slade Architecture aims to convince clients that high concept doesn’t have to undermine function. Whether it’s a stair wall made entirely of plastic cells for hundreds of Barbie dolls, or another of magnet-friendly metal for the founder of Ricky’s drug stores, Slade manipulates perception and scale to make meaningful connections for both public and private users of a space. And the approach is working in projects from Coney Island to Inner Mongolia for husband-and-wife team James and Hayes Slade. “There’s always that relationship between the occupant and the artifact of the building, and that relationship is always at the heart of what we’re trying to investigate,” said James.
Founded in 2002, the firm has completed a wide range of projects and, since its inception in 2004, has been selected for New York City’s DDC Design and Construction Excellence program. Their first project with the DDC, the renovation of a library at the Montessori Progressive Learning Center in Queens, went beyond the initial goal of book storage to include an assembly area for students.
Overseas, Slade has applied their connection-centered design to Mattel’s House of Barbie in Shanghai. “It’s a mix of cultures and times,” said Hayes of the six-story, 35,000-square-foot flagship prototype. “Barbie has a long history and many associations, but she’d never had a space to represent who she is.” Using architecture to anchor Barbie to fashion and design, the space aims to speak to females of all ages by folding historical references into a head-spinning contemporary aesthetic. In the cafe, acrylic chairs are screen-printed with the silhouettes of more classic seating, while the mosaic tile floor riffs on the herringbone pattern of the original doll’s bathing suit. The emporium is, of course, permeated by a heavy dose of pink that seeps through to drench the lighting of the glass facade, as well.
Selected to design a home for the Ordos 100 development in China, Slade opted to elevate locally ubiquitous brick through a simple geometric mechanism that, when repeated, creates a pattern and texture that constantly changes as light strikes over the course of a day. The volumes of the home are arranged to look longer or shorter from different points of view, using perspective and angularity to give simple architecture a more complex sculptural quality.
Recently, the firm has been involved in two cultural projects in New York City. The first was a building for a new shark tank exhibit at the New York Aquarium, where Slade’s penchant for interactivity and boundary-stretching played out in the form of an immersive landscape that would also serve as the entrance marker for the Aquarium on the Coney Island boardwalk. (Though Slade's design was much admired, the project has since been redesigned by other architects.) The second project is a masterplan for the Staten Island Zoo. In both cases, Slade has pushed to redefine the role that architecture can play. “It’s one thing to understand the goals and obvious requirements,” said James, “but we really want to take it as far as we can beyond that.”