Cadillac House, NYC

Gensler's creative director talks to us about designing the new versatile community space in SoHo

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Cadillac House is one of the brand’s most public-facing initiatives and a signal that they’re serious about being part of its new home in NYC. We got an exclusive look at the experiential space with John Bricker, a Partner and the Creative Director at Gensler, who has worked with Cadillac for the last several years to rethink (and bring to life) their dealerships and new NYC HQ.

Cadillac has a few goals: to actively engage with NYC’s cultural scene and be a part of their west SoHo neighborhood. Of course, they want to attract new people to the brand too, and see Cadillac House as a means of creating a dialog with them. There’s a coffee bar, a retail space for up-and-coming designers, a gallery supporting artists with their less commercial work, frequent programming and a place to hang out or work. Melody Lee, Cadillac’s Director of Brand Marketing, says that “While Cadillac product will be featured prominently, Cadillac House is more about placing the brand at the heart of art, fashion, design, film and community. It’s about Cadillac finding points of intersection for the brand with our customers’ passions and interests, and being the brand that helps them pursue them.” Taking its “Dare Greatly” messaging to heart, the brand sees Cadillac House as a way to live that. Nathan Tan, the Associate Director of Brand Partnerships and Experiences, adds “…Cadillac House is our commitment to substantively investing in and shaping culture rather than just co-opting it for our own gain. Cadillac House is a statement of intent that brands can and should be producers of culture, not just advertisers.”

Gensler has worked with Cadillac for several years on facilities around the world, including their new NYC headquarters, which is located in the same building. The Gensler team started developing this experiential space nearly two years ago. Bricker says it was “serendipitous” that the brand was able to find the size and type of street front and office space in the same building, allowing employees to have meetings downstairs in the casual lounge spaces or one of the conference rooms, and to be closer to the cars and the people who may be interested in them. “It needed to have a heroic feel, but still optimistic, accessible. We used those as foundational elements to start developing iconic components that would be used throughout (the brand’s spaces)—whether it was in the office or here in Cadillac House or in the new dealership model we’ve developed,” he says.

Gensler recommended that the front part of the building be recessed, creating a raised veranda and a set back entrance. It’s unusual, and it demands attention from people walking or driving by. Having a vintage Cadillac parked there is a nod to the brand’s long history, but placed in a very modern setting, with glass and mirrors and video screens inferring that what lies inside isn’t about what used to be. Bricker says “Cadillac House is called ‘House’ because it isn’t about a shop or a showroom, it’s a place for people to socialize as one would in a house.” He adds, “Using product sends a message that this is a destination that’s unique. We’ve interrupted the façade of this industrial manufacturing building from turn-of-the-(20th) century and punched it out with modern sensibility with this great street presence.”

It’s also a challenging space architecturally—12,000 square feet with most of its windows above people’s heads, and filled with columns. Clean, new boxes are easier to work with of course, but good architects rally at a challenge. “When you have what could be considered a lemon you make lemonade,” Bricker continues. Gensler and Cadillac cleverly leveraged the space between the columns to create a runway, the first thing you notice when entering the space. Neon illuminates it from above. Screens are mounted the height and width of the columns, with mirrors on their backsides and a large screen at the end creating a unique and theatrical space that can house the brand’s latest cars one day and a fashion show the next.

You imagine if the cars go away you could do a long table with 60 people sitting there for dinner; you can change the content on (the displays) and have a more neutral zone of ambient light. The neon is dimmable so we can adjust the lighting in here, and for a first impression it’s pretty cool

Cadillac House will host shows for brands during fashion weeks. A lot of time was spent developing a display system that could be easily and quickly updated by the staff to both keep things fresh but to also take advantage of how it can support the various events and installations that will be held in the space. Gensler and Cadillac worked extensively with AV&C to create the system. Bricker adds, “You imagine if the cars go away you could do a long table with 60 people sitting there for dinner; you can change the content on (the displays) and have a more neutral zone of ambient light. The neon is dimmable so we can adjust the lighting in here, and for a first impression it’s pretty cool.”

Opening the door to the space you notice leather wrapped handles. Bricker says “That’s another signature element, much like the leather-wrapped steering wheel, that sensibility of touch. I should also point out the storefront is done in a modern way but with this vertical mullion system that carries into more of a gridded system which is a nod to the industrial buildings in SoHo in a contemporary way. When you walk in there’s a concierge desk so people are greeted, invited to stay, have a coffee. It’s a good way to monitor traffic. You’ll see with these materials we used wood in a sparing way, not in an overused way.” It’s hard to miss the large marble coffee bar with the big wood slab, home to the newest Joe Coffee shop. Bricker says that partnering with a local coffee brand is “important for Cadillac’s authenticity and relevance,” and that wherever they have a House “there will always be local partnerships to resonate with the consumer they are focusing on, the creative class.”

There’s a mix of American and European furniture and lighting—including CSYS floor lamps by Jake Dyson, NERD bar stools by David Geckeler for Muuto, mitt lounge chairs in leather by Claudia and Harry Washington for Bernhardt, and Rudi Loop 3 lights by Lukas Peet for Roll & Hill, to name a few favorites. “There are alternate seating groups so that the people can socialize or be on their own. The goal is to have people come here that live in the neighborhood; to stay and hang out with free Wi-Fi, have a coffee, have a meeting and socialize,” Bricker adds.

Past the runway and the coffee shop are Cadillac House’s most unique elements—a Retail Lab run with the CFDA and a gallery curated by Visionaire. Lee says that these are important initiatives for the brand, adding “Our existing partnership with the CFDA gave rise to the Retail Lab, which gives fashion designers a chance to open their own store—a dream that many of them have told us they have. Not only do we give them 800 square feet in Cadillac House, we support them with a $75,000 grant, the equipment and materials needed for the store and most importantly—mentorship from the fashion industry’s most experienced creative directors, designers, retailers and consultants. Our partnership with Visionaire will bring an acclaimed artist’s work to New York for the first time. The art installation allows the artist to explore and experiment without the commercial pressure that usually accompanies the commissioning of art. When we say that Cadillac wants to be a “patron of the arts,” we are serious, and we mean it in a 21st-Century way. New artists and installations will cycle in on a quarterly basis.”

Bricker notes that the gallery space was designed for film screenings as well, and that the building’s courtyard can be accessed through the gallery too, a perfect place to enjoy coffee while pondering the installation inside. There are meeting rooms and a space that may soon include a VR lab. With its location and flexibility and the brand’s promise to support the creative, fashion and art communities, we’re expecting some great things to happen there.

Images by Josh Rubin