different patterned glass panes in the façade

john lewis department store

In the competition for the design of the new John Lewis department store, Foreign Office Architects (FOA), London, won out with a fresh and radical proposal: a shimmering, reticulate curtain – at night backlit in 256 changing colours – surrounding this 25,000sqm major new development. With the idea of giving the building a transparent, finely patterned all-glass façade, they delivered an unusual architectural response to Leicester’s multicultural urban environment. At the same time, they gave John Lewis a showcase for the origins of this venerable company: the global trade in goods. The highly reflective ornament with an oriental appearance is based on materials from the 18th century that had been carefully preserved in archives.

  • This ornamental design has an order of its own, but nevertheless possesses a somewhat confusing aspect. It comprises a double-skinned façade whose two layers are nearly 80cm apart. Both are imprinted with the ornament, and at first glance are the same; but different printing techniques were used. The pattern applied to the exterior façade using the sputtering technique is highly reflective, offering protection from the sun and privacy. Superficially the same but in enamel paint, the ornament rests on the inner layer of insulating glazing. Depending on the viewing angle and distance, the two layered patterns present a confusing spectacle of colour, or provide precisely framed views from inside to outside and vice versa. The use of nearly 3,000 printed glass panels, each different in size and pattern, posed an enormous logistical challenge.

    Timely delivery and error-free mapping were the crucial parameters. Starting from the roof level, the façade rises slightly upwards and quickly gives way to a view of the sky at the horizontally glazed crown. It was assembled in virtually the same order. Starting from the top, the panels were fastened to steel flats spanned vertically downwards, with point mounting and jointed horizontally with structural silicone. The stainless-steel fasteners discreetly add a delicate pattern to the otherwise serene façade surface, which is merged into a huge tapestry. This unusual façade solution drew most attention, but seele performed other interesting work on this project, including the adhesive and screw technique used on the “John Lewis” lettering on the façade, the glass walkways and the drop ceilings in glass and stainless steel.

    Images: © seele / Matthias Reithmeier


Client Shires GP Ltd.
Main contractor Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.
Architect Foreign Office Architects
Date of completion 2008
Scope of seele supply
  • Façade with 3,000 different ornament glass panes
  • Glazed Walkway
  • Parapet, secondary support, glazed capping and walling
  • Stainless steel soffit – Level 1 East Elevation
  • Walkway soffit – Level 2 East and North Elevation
  • Single glazed screen and doors