In Conversation with Robin Williams
Australian architect Robin Williams has a list of accolades to his name which precedes him. His most acclaimed residential architecture is his own residence, Villa Marittima, on the Mornington Peninsula, which won numerous architectural and design awards across Australia before being recognised internationally at the World Architecture Awards in Berlin.
But within the RATIONALE fold, Williams is best known as the creative mind behind some of our most recognisable spaces.
Having been connected with RATIONALE for more than 13 years, both professionally and personally in his close friendship with Founders Richard and Greg Parker, Williams is responsible for developing some of the original design features which have become undeniable signatures of the brand today.
To celebrate the opening of our Brisbane Flagship in its new James Street location, we’re taking a look back at the beginning of RATIONALE’s Flagship story—starting with the conceptualisation and creative design which went into establishing the first, and now iconic, RATIONALE Flagship.
“I first met [Founders] Richard and Greg when we became neighbours in Fitzroy North, where they still have a home today,” Williams recalls. “They are both very design conscious, and are very articulate about their strategies, direction, and important issues. We became architecturally involved when they asked me to assist in designing their first office space in 2007, also in Fitzroy North. I later worked on their newer, larger headquarters in Cremorne, and I’ve had some input in the design of their own private house over the years.”
“A great working relationship and friendship developed through these projects, and I was thrilled when they asked me to develop design concepts for their new retail spaces.”
This was 2012, and up until this point, RATIONALE had been available exclusively through Doctors and Dermatologists within medical practices. Branching out into Flagship spaces was a new frontier for the brand, one which Founder Richard Parker felt was particularly imperative in order to reflect RATIONALE’s dedication to individualised results: “We decided that we needed to allow the Client to experience the brand in its purest form—combining not just the skincare expertise that they were used to receiving from Doctors who prescribed RATIONALE, but also the level of personalisation, time, care and service that we believed our Clients deserved.”
Starting with the first Flagship in Toorak, Melbourne, Williams recalls that the goal was to establish a retail presence throughout Australia, and that with this came the need to create strong design elements which could be reproduced across multiple spaces and locations.
“Each retail space would have varying dimensions. In general, they would be single-fronted premises, all in beautiful and popular retail precincts. There were several key features which were important to include in order to accurately represent RATIONALE at every touchpoint.”
“The first impression should be that you are entering a beautiful, elegant, light-filled space, with a soft colour palette and glow that reflected RATIONALE’s signature luminosity.”
“Secondly, the eye needed to be drawn towards a visual focus at the rear of the space. I felt that the packaging of the Essential Six formulations was beautiful—so dynamic in its varying sizes, colours and visual forms. Creating a full-height, full-width wall of these designs reminded me of a classic mosaic wall.” This design signature, later christened the ‘Codewall’ by Richard, is now an essential inclusion in every new space we enter.
Fractal patterning is another feature which recurs throughout each Flagship, transposed in a number of ways to unify the space and the formulations themselves. “The fractal nature of skin cells had already been cleverly utilised in packaging design, and I felt there was scope to develop this concept further within the physical space.”
A subtle watermark version of the fractal design appears on the walls. The glowing pods found in each retail space and treatment room also drew their inspiration from the same motif.
“The fractal image has well-defined geometric shapes, but with irregularities,” says Williams, “and when designing the pods, I found the common thread in the simple form of a cube. If a cube is tilted and rotated, it produces a number of interesting faces. When these cubes were sliced, the largest face became the horizontal surface on which product could be displayed. All surfaces referenced the fractal image in their geometric dimensions, while also retaining that element of irregularity or randomness. Each pod was topped with a sheet of translucent acrylic so that they could be lit from within, creating a subtle glow around the formulations.”
As the number of stores increased rapidly—from one to 15 in a matter of six years, the complex task of producing each Flagship became the job of an expanded in-house team, all working closely together to reproduce these design elements that were originally established by Williams. “The RATIONALE Design Team, with Richard at the helm, have a very strong design code which flows through all product and spaces. I am delighted to see the results of this project as the Flagship network continues to expand.”
Today, Williams’ work includes a passion for projects where heritage considerations are present. Williams has also most recently been part of the design team for RATIONALE’s exciting and monumental new Headquarters in Kyneton, regional Victoria, which is due to begin its construction later this month.
Interview by Caroline Thomas