words Ashmi Thapar
Thirty-six aluminium silver birch trees, reaching up to eight metres in height, populate the ground floor and surrounding pavement of the Hermès store on New Bond Street in London, allowing passers-by to become “caught in the forest”, says David Hills of architects DSDHA, who is responsible for the installation together with partner Deborah Saunt.
The trees, some of which weigh up to 240kg, seem to grow straight out of the concrete pavement. They have been cast in aluminium from real silver birch trees and only partially polished to give a more bark-like finish. “We would have made them entirely out of silver if we could have,” says Hills. Holes had to be drilled into the pavement to fix the trees to the ground, and clamps from the first-floor windows of the listed building lend further support.
Hermès has always collaborated with artists and designers for its displays, but this is the first time it has worked with architects. The brief was clear: no religious connotations, no baubles, no garlands, no Christmas trees. Instead DSDHA’s inspiration came from a historic map from 1720 that reveals the location of the store at the very edge of the city, surrounded by a royal park and its woodland. This gave rise to the idea of creating a silver birch forest and “recollecting something that was there before”, says Hills.
In addition to the trees, DSDHA coated the store windows with a reflective film. “This way the depth of the forest is constantly changing,” explains Hills. During the day you can barely see in, but by the evening it is a faint reflection and you can’t see out of the shop windows. To further capture the imagination of passers-by, the sound of birds in a forest and horses’ hooves galloping in the winter snow escapes from two birdhouses hanging from trees at either side of the entrance. “We wanted to do something that would make people just turn around,” Hills adds.
What will happen to the trees once Hermès makes room for its next creative display? “I would like it if the forest had a new home,” says Rebecca Cocks, creative director of windows at Hermès. “The natural idea, them being silver birch trees, [would be to place them] in a silver birch forest. It would be quite magical.”
images Andrew Meredith
top image DSDHA’s silver birch forest on New Bond Street
The trees are cast in aluminium
Birdhouses with inbuilt speakers
The original 1720 map that inspired DSDHA’s installation ©DSDHA