It is nowadays less and less unusual for architecture firms to specialise in designing a certain type of spaces. Buildings from scratch not being among customer’s demands as it was during less economically challenging times, have turned architects eyes to specialization areas sometimes involving interiors, occupying pre-existing buildings and also specializing in certain building typologies such as commercial buildings. And retail surfaces.
When it comes to firms and brands selling a certain type of product, the image associated to the brand can be more determining for buyers, than the product to be bought. In such a visual culture as ours retail branding and visual merchandising is gaining more and more importance, in order to raise a brand’s exposure to the public. This is more often than not wrongly limited to shop window and showcase design, forgetting about everything happening inside and around the store, as well as many important design decisions, which are not made to be that easily perceived by the general public. One of the goals of visual merchandising beyond the exterior of the shop is for instance to keep buyers inside the shop as long as possible. Architecture comes into play in order to reach this.
Beyond features like brand name, signage and logo, more related to marketing and communication, although equally involving graphic design, other factor are determinant in order for a certain image to be associated with the brand. Many brands, having stores in most capitals and bigger cities, look alike worldwide: similar distributions, similar colour scheme, lightning and product display strategies. Even other senses, pursuing an aim beyond literally catching customers eye’s might be involved through: same music or same smell, made characteristic of a certain brand or store. Nevertheless there are other strategies, when implementing a brand in a certain location, or if a site is particularly attractive for a certain brand. Different firms
more and more establish Flagship stores, easily associated with luxury fashion brands, regardless if related to the fashion industry. The term is borrowed from shipbuilding instead of retail: Flagships are considered the ships leading the fleet or moreover, ships easily associated to a certain fleet, with outstanding characteristics among its others.
The same association is made with flagship stores among other stores o a chain. Selling
products becomes a subsidiary goal in this kind of stores, while selling a certain image associated a certain brand becomes more important. Architecture plays an important role on the design of these kinds of stores, on the inside and on the outside. Beyond having carefully designed interiors, baseline architectural conditions are also to be
taken into consideration, due to the fact that sometimes existing building are occupied. Often, emblematic buildings, which are located in most touristic main streets, are chosen to house this kind of stores. Sometimes building of site-specific traditional architecture are chosen, others outstanding architecture among site-specific traditional buildings.
Sometimes, this kind of flagship stores become a touristic attraction, instead of a buyers
preferred choice, due to the fact that they are sometimes located in a street crowded of them. Take for instance New York’s 5th Avenue. I myself, as an architect interested in retail architecture have visited many of this street’s stores, although knowing my budget is not enough to think of buying a product of the brands these stand for. However, these therefore succeed in selling a striking image of the brand. Sometimes it is renowned architects, who are chosen to design concept and flagship stores. Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, for instance designed Armani’s 5th Avenue concept store, in 2009, with the central staircase leading visitors through the brand’s collections.
However Prada and the name Rem Koolhas is most likely to ring a bell in if talking about
architects fighting for its own place in the fashion industry. Prada in fact, is one of the brands that have drawn upon the work of many renowned architects for their store design with the establishment of the so called: Prada Epicentres. The first such store is in New York Cities Broadway Street, designed by OMA, but others came afterwards in the cities of Tokyo or L.A., being the second one designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron. Prada Epicenters, differ from the classical idea of concept stores due to the fact that these aim to enriching the shoppers experience and are considered vehicle of experimental shopping experience and laboratory of innovation beyond product display, since media and cultural diffusion content also come to show in this stores. Given the fact that we are probably in the times of growing online creative communication, and marketing strategies within social media posts, the physical shopping experience also needs to evolve, being this evolution inevitably linked to technology.
Nonetheless, speaking of new technologies: although retail architecture is often associated to the fashion industry it is not always fashion brands which necessary have the strongest retail design strategies: The best example for this case is probably BCJ: standing for Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. If the name doesn’t ring a bell in everyone’s ears, the work surely does, due to the fact the BCJ is responsible for 5th Avenues Apple store
and more than 30 other stores of the brand. Other renowned architects, such as Foster + Partners, are also responsible for some of the brands iconic stores. As in the Prada stores, the customers experience is not limited to shopping. Apple stores are as carefully designed ad the products that the company sells, being minimalistic design and clean geometries associated to the brand, as well as elegant materials. Attention to detail comes to show in all apple store design processes, together with customer experience while visiting the store. Apple stores are hence designed as a place to shop, but also communicate, gather and interact with each other and the company’s newest products, which easily relate to how shopping is becoming more and more a social experience.
Alba Calabozo is an architect, design and arts enthusiast having recently graduated from the University of Navarra in Spain. She is specialized in the field of architectonic restoration and rehabilitation. Writing about architecture is her way to share some food for thought while looking for her next career step beyond a traditional career path of an architect.