Djao-Rakitine creates monolithic street furniture for London's Selfridges

Landscape architecture practice Djao-Rakitine has erected a monolithic marble drinking water fountain and bench outside London's Selfridges department store.

The sculptural street furniture is located directly outside of the store's new eastern entrance designed by David Chipperfield Architects.

The boulder-like furniture was commissioned by Selfridges as part of the Duke Street public realm project, which seeks to upgrade the overall streetscape experience, including the quality of street lighting, paving, furniture, pedestrian comfort and traffic.

Made from Italian marble, the drinking water fountain and bench are intended to create a focus point in front of the new Selfridges entrance, while providing a place to rest, meet and rehydrate.

"Together with the wider and renewed pavements, we developed the idea of a plaza, a sense of place in front of the new entrance and within the streetscape, including four feature trees as well as two sculptural elements – the marble bench and fountain," the Paris- and London-based firm's founder Irène Djao-Rakitine told Dezeen.

"The idea of the drinking fountain was initiated by Selfridges and is in direct relation with their Ocean project against plastic bottles proliferation," she continued.

"It was initially planned to be inside the department store but it quickly became clear that the drinking fountain should be public and located in the public realm."

The sculptural marble bench has four different sized and shaped seats that are designed to cater to different people.

"It started with hand sketches," commented Djao-Rakitine talking about the development process.

"I then modelled and sculpted the elements with clay. Many times, with many variations. When we – Djao-Rakitine, Selfridges and David Chipperfield Architects – were all happy with the aesthetic, proportions, functionality and complementarity of both objects, we 3D scanned the models and started to refine the details digitally."

"The digital 3D models were then used to cut the stone blocks with a CNC machine," she continued. "Finally, I worked on the hand finishes of the sculptures with Dorel Pop, a very skilled stone mason and Lorenzo Carrino who assisted on the fabrication process which was all done in Toscana at the stone manufacturer Henraux."

The marble street furniture is placed alongside four new feature trees that are planted in tree pits with custom made tree grilles. The grilles have been developed to optimise tree growth in the cluttered underground environment while tree species are selected considering the different constraints of the site.

As well as respecting the Westminster bourough's palette of materials, Djao-Rakitine said she wanted the project to offer passersby an original and unique moment in Mayfair's public realm and increase the quality of one of London's busiest urban environments.

"Choosing this expressive green and white marble with strong geological movements was a way to evoke water, rocks, topography, mountains," said Djao-Rakitine.

"The marble we used –Verde Luana – is extremely dense and was formed around 25 million years ago in the Apuan Alps, Toscana, where we went to choose the perfect marble block that we would then carve to create the bench and fountain."

Djao-Rakitine collaborated with David Chipperfield Architects throughout the project to make sure there was a strong dialogue between the building and the public realm.

Framed by two black precast concrete pillars, David Chipperfield's grand new entrance is set back slightly from the facades of the existing buildings.

"Selfridges has a deep understanding of the architectural heritage and urban presence of the department store, as well as a clear vision for the future of luxury retail," said David Chipperfield.

"Our task was to unite the elements while stitching together various buildings along Duke Street."

Project Credits:

Client: Selfridges Retail
Landscape Architects: Djao-Rakitine (Initial concept design: Vogt Landscape)
Architects: David Chipperfield Architects
Civil Engineers: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff
Djao-Rakitine Team: Irene Djao-Rakitine, Povilas Marozas, Charles Dujardin, Chun Wing Fok, Hortense Blanchard, Marzia Vanzati, Federica Terenzi.