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Wednesday, Mar 20, 2002


"Koolhaas has suggested that to avoid "the Flagship syndrome: a megalomaniac accumulation of the obvious," Prada should create a series of "epicenters," or super-sized stores, each a distinct work of design. This seems sensible enough. A company that has based the aura of its brand on cutting-edge design might be well advised to think in terms of a cutting-edge environment. Alas, however, the first of these new stores, the Prada shop at 575 Broadway, in SoHo, is not a staggering reinvention of the retail environment, no matter what Koolhaas and his followers claim. The enormous new store, which cost somewhere in the neighborhood of forty million dollars, combines some hard-edged late modernism with some fancy technology (glass-enclosed dressing rooms that turn translucent at the touch of a button), and comes in a package that, like a lot of Koolhaas's work, mixes roughness with sleekness in a way that never manages to avoid seeming self-conscious. The architectural centerpiece is a set of zebrawood steps, like bleachers—what Koolhaas calls "the wave"—which descend from the street-level entry to the main selling floor, one level below. This creates both selling space and performing space, since the steps can be used as seating. But most of the time they are covered with shoes. What the wave does best is disguise the fact that most of this spectacular store is actually in the basement."