Aston Martin enters 2006 with 125 dealers in 27 countries around the world, the results of an ambitious expansion led by a strong brand identity, with the emphasis on design and attention to detail. The company’s dealership presence continues to expand, with new showrooms recently opening in Sandton, South Africa, Queensland, Australia and Osaka, Japan. Major projects are currently under construction including Nagoya Japan, Towcester, UK, as well as Newport Beach in the US, Hong Kong, Bordeaux and Milan.
Architecture and design are very important to Aston Martin. The company's award-winning headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire, is a low-lying structure clad in natural buff sandstone. Designed by the Weedon Partnership, the Headquarter's broad curving stone wall, crisp façades, light-filled internal courtyards and display spaces are the perfect showcase for Aston Martin's advanced model range, with their combination of fine craftsmanship and high technology. The new showrooms build on Gaydon's success, as well as looking to the work of influential modernist architects like Mies van der Rohe, Mendelsohn and Chermayeff.
The Retail Design Programme is ongoing and diverse, ranging from new build pavilions to the conversion of a classical building in the centre of Munich. Others include spaces for entertaining and events, like Aston Martin Dallas, which houses a private owners' club lounge, or the new Johannesburg dealer, which is beneath a new restaurant and has a glazed partition overlooking the dealership's workshop, making it a fascinating space for the enthusiast to visit. The coffee bar which debuted in the striking twin-level Brussels showroom, has subsequently evolved into a central feature of recent dealerships, encouraging casual visitors.
Aston Martin has worked closely with design consultants Imagination on the Retail Design Programme to ensure that each new location is a unique structure, reflecting Aston Martin's tradition of craftsmanship and bespoke service. Each location shares a number of common design elements, combining the modernist simplicity of the Gaydon HQ with individuality and suitability for each site. 'The design has evolved a great deal over the last four years,' says Aston Martin's Retail Brand Manager Jenny Jones, who collaborates closely with Imagination on the programme.
The architectural components are refined, combined with elements more normally associated with luxury ‘designer’ hotels and boutiques than car showrooms. Dr Ulrich Bez, Chairman and CEO of Aston Martin, notes that, 'our customers will be shopping in stores on Bond Street, via Montenapoleone and Fifth Avenue. Why would their car dealership be any different?'
Extensive research into materials, furnishings and architectural features has resulted in dealerships that resemble elegant modernist structures, varying in scale and layout but sharing a core design identity. 'We can adapt the concept according to each individual requirement,' says Imagination's Senior Designer Abigail Grummitt. Where possible, the key visual components are the low, pavilion-style height of the building and a rigorous metre-squared floor grid and half-metre wall grid that ensures proportions remain harmonious throughout. Internal walls are carefully positioned to break up the space into a series of smaller, more intimate spaces, with different floor levels and low ceilings making further divisions.
Simple, clearly defined materials, including glass, aluminium, pure white render, cast concrete and specially selected slabs of Italian travertine marble, mirror the careful and logical use of natural materials in Aston Martin's luxurious and tactile car interiors. The showroom's matt finish marbled floors contrast with the functional surfaces used in the workshops. The exteriors are equally important, with cantilevered roofs that appear to float above the building and clear floor to ceiling glazing that unites inside and outside space. Where possible, recessed water features or pebble gardens and simple geometric planting accentuates the crisp geometry of each dealership, while concealed lighting enhances the architectural features once the sun goes down.
Architecturally, the long-slung structures, with their emphasis on linear planes, draw upon classic modernist architecture, notably the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, an iconic design that was reconstructed in 1986 and still retains its contemporary feel. 'The whole showroom has a very design classic feel - with Le Corbusier Grand Confort sofas and Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs used in the public areas,' says John Muirhead, Aston Martin's Brand Communication Manager. 'This conveys a timeless classic feel, like an Aston Martin itself.'
Modern furniture icons and rich materials add to the feeling of exclusivity with each new building fitted out with products specified from a core team of leading manufacturers. The chairs, with their combination of chromed steel and leather, form architectural elements that break up the spaces, giving them a more domestic and intimate feel. The showrooms also showcase modern furniture designed by Charles and Ray Eames, Norman Foster and Harry Bertoia.
Each dealership displays a select few examples of Aston Martin's model line-up; V8 Vantage, DB9 and Vanquish S, as carefully positioned as a piece of sculpture presented in an intimate, gallery-style space, a world apart from the conventional motor showrooms that often flank the pavilion. Displays for Aston Martin's select range of merchandise are integrated into each dealership in "jewellery boxes" and display cases that convey a boutique-like feel.
There is also space for displaying works from the Aston Martin Meets Art series, a collection of fine art photographs by René Staud depicting the Aston Martin model range alongside iconic and evocative works of contemporary art, sculpture and installation. Staud's lens combines the vision of the original artists with the flowing dynamic lines of the car, creating a unique and dramatic collection of original images.
Aston Martin depends on creating and building one on one relationships with its new and existing customers. Many dealerships have a separate lounge with a wall of paint and trim samples, allowing potential customers privacy and space to specify their car. No detail is overlooked; even the washrooms are designed to equal the look and feel of an upscale hotel suite, with clean, modern lines.
Aston Martin's new dealerships are welcoming spaces, neither aloof nor exclusive. The success of the company's approach was recently demonstrated by the announcement that the Cheltenham dealership has won a prestigious 2006 Civic Society Award for its architectural contribution to the historic Regency spa town. New dealerships will continue to open throughout 2006, blending modern design and innovation with traditional materials and iconic furniture.
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