Sibling studio’s retrofuturist interior for Melbourne concept store, Dust

Published:  March 7, 2016

Sibling is a young multidisciplinary studio in Sydney and Melbourne quietly producing clever spatial strategies and outcomes across retail, hospitality, exhibition and cultural spheres.

With a team comprising architects, landscape designers and graphic communicators, Sibling’s work often provokes an experimental journey, challenging interaction through a hyperawareness and harnessing of connectedness.


In the retail world, the team at Sibling has designed spaces for local labels Perks and Mini (PAM) and Kloke, as well as concept stores like the Now + 4Eva gallery-cum-listening-space-cum-retail space for pop band Architecture in Helsinki.

Down a flight of stairs in Melbourne’s CBD, the studio created a fitout for local concept label Dust, a project that turned heads and scooped a slew of awards for the collision it facilitates between online and physical retail experiences.

Here, the Sibling team gives their account of the Dust project, from the initial brief to the final fitout.

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Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

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Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

The brief

The client wanted a retail space that was somehow able to fold the experience of an online brand presence into that of a traditional bricks and mortar store. So integrating a sense of the digital into the physical space was always intrinsic to the brief and to our design process.

We approached this idea from a number of different angles; for example, the dematerialisation of the physical (we’ll go into this in a minute!), and an emphasis on sensory distortion and the distortion of physical space. We were also designing specifically for online distribution systems and on-site digital production systems, so we were helped by the fact that the retail model itself was adopting integrated digital ideas.

We also incorporated a few cinematic references into our design – the brooding black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as the diffused backlit panelling that features in the post-consciousness phase of the movie (also referenced in Tron).

Perhaps the strongest angle where you can see the digital and physical senses folding into each other is in the formal application of a three-dimensional grid through the space – drawing on the retrofuturist aesthetic we explored previously in our alumni exhibition in the former Wunderlich Gallery at the University of Melbourne. The grids we used in the Dust fitout evoke the promise of utopianism offered by early digital technology, radical 20th century architecture groups such as Superstudio from Florence, and manifestations of the world wide web.

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Research and development

In the 12 months preceding the opening of the Dust store, we explored a whole range of potential sites and contexts, as well as a series of temporal happenings that would start to build up the identity of the Dust sensibility prior to the store opening. We did a lot of work investigating state change – how could we dematerialise the physical in a range of different ways? We designed pools of vapour, toyed with mist curtains and suspended clouds in mid-air.

Lighting was especially important to the project, particularly considering how it could be used to impart a sense of temporality or responsiveness to a space. We researched fabrics embedded with LED lights, replicated sunsets, experimented with ultraviolet light and splitting white light into RGB/CMYK. We looked into emerging technologies and their corresponding potentialities for impacting our spatial environments. Our research involved a lot of physical prototyping. It’s all very well and good to say, ‘We want to be able to walk on a cloud’, but this involves a lot of testing and working with a whole range of fabricators and technicians with whom architects don’t conventionally deal.

Over this 12-month period we further refined our technical abilities in relation to infinite reflection, and worked on spatial design from the point of view of other senses, using sensor-based scent dispensers that allow a user to explore spatiality through smell, for example.

We could go on – there were so many ideas explored!

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Dust retail interior by Sibling. Photography by Peter Bennetts.

Design principles

For the aesthetic direction of the store, we drew heavily on the Dust brand identity, developed in parallel by visionary founder Brett Gronow and his in-house design team. Reflective surfaces and the overexposure or absence of light is probably the best way to sum up the material palette.

It’s tricky to pinpoint the principles that guide our approach to an empty space – it could be considered that a space is never ‘empty’, it always comes pregnant with its own sets of constraints, with the dreams and aspirations of its owner, with the legacy of what came before and the possibility of its future potential. We try to synthesise these elements and incorporate some of our own agenda; i.e. to encourage socialness, to explore and critique the digital and its spatial ramifications, and to embed agency into the design so that users have a very present role in the design outcome.

Outward looking

We feel very lucky to live in Australia and in Melbourne in particular. We are surrounded by such a rich community of other thinkers and creators who contribute to a broader culture of design. It is very nurturing and supportive. We also have strong international networks from time spent overseas working, studying and adventuring, so we feel that we are able to maintain a relatively global perspective. We have noticed a continuing high standard in retail design here in Melbourne, whether it’s in a suburban shopping centre or down a laneway in the CBD. There has been a recent influx of international brands entering the Australian market, which inevitably results in a higher level of design as companies vie for their market share.

Australia is quite lucky to be an ‘early adopter’ within the global context, and this has a trickle-down effect, allowing a sense of experimentation and innovation to be encouraged in retail design. We also believe that enhanced connectivity allows for a new label in Melbourne – or a new retail design in Sydney – to be discovered and celebrated on the other side of the world, in a quiet, almost local way.

Physical space and specific geolocation will become more and more important in creating retail experiences to augment the ubiquitous online experience. We see a range of opportunities for smaller entities to craft user experiences that are not necessarily driven by or restricted to an app platform, but can occur within a physical space, making clever use of Arduino technologies to create ‘real’ situations. We have technologies at our disposal to produce outside of the traditional manufacturing industries. At the same time we have a series of connectivity-based platforms to ensure there is a critical mass aware of and supportive of what we are trying to do. It is a very exciting time.

See more work from Sibling.

This article first appeared in the February / March issue of desktop.

Update: Dust is now closed.

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