Retail therapy: projects that transformed retail design into an immersive experience

Best of 2022: STIR looks back at seven retail stores of the post-pandemic 2022 economy, transfiguring principles of retail design into artistic experiences of stories and brand ethos.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Dec 15, 2022

From the first department stores that popped up in Paris in the 19th century to the 21st century digital stores in the Metaverse, the retail experience is ever-evolving. However, for some people who love to shop, to run their hands through the drapes of displays, feel the texture on the bag, see the sparkle of jewellery in the retail lighting, the joy of going into a store and experiencing the rollercoaster of emotions, never fades. Perhaps it is this experience of in-shop purchases that make retail stores survive, in an online shopping era. However, the lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic forced a dependency on offline modes of shopping and so over the course of time, retail spaces have had to transform themselves to cater to social trends and public necessities. In the post-pandemic world, retail design has had to probe deeper in order to bring its consumers back, and it delivered. The year 2022 brought us some exceptional projects that transfigured retail design into an immersive experience.

As 2022 comes to an end, STIR looks back at seven such projects that shifted the flow of retail from mundane displays of consumerism to spaces narrating stories, presenting experiences, and imprinting memories.

1. Coalbrook showroom by Holloway Li
Location: London, United Kingdom

  • Holloway Li created a surreal space, which breaks all expectations of what a showroom should look like | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    Holloway Li created a surreal space, which breaks all expectations of what a showroom should look like Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The showroom is designed around a series of industrial ‘casts’, used to display working products | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The showroom is designed around a series of industrial ‘casts’, used to display working products Image: Nicholas Worley

Holloway Li, a British architecture and design practice, conceptualised the interiors of bathroom brand Coalbrook's new experiential showroom and co-working space in Clerkenwell, London. This unique space reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution, is called the Market Building, and is inspired by the forms and materiality of the revolution—the chimneys that towered the skylines of cities, the heat of the furnaces and engine rooms, and roughly chiselled quarries. While the showroom has a grungy industrial design aesthetic, the co-working section has a mid-century modern feel with a pastel colour palette.

Keeping in mind Coalbrook’s design identity, Holloway Li studied the history of industrial forms and processes to craft a distinctive space, exhibiting the brand’s narrative. The showroom is designed around a series of industrial ‘casts’ that are used to display working products, depicting the designers’ philosophy which borrows from the 'world-building' practices of theatre and cinema.

2. Giorio Casa Store by Wang Zhongli
Location: Xuzhou, China

  • The Giorio Casa store is designed to give an impression of a person's opulent mansion | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The architecture of the store invites guests to have a unique spatial experience Image: Jin Weiqi
  • The architecture of the store invites guests to have a unique spatial experience | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The architecture of the store invites guests to have a unique spatial experience Image: Jin Weiqi

An exhibition and sales centre crafted for luxury Italian furniture brand Giorio Casa by Wang Zhongli, chief designer of the design firm Catanian, raised many speculative eyebrows on its revelation. Showcasing an aesthetic red brick building with a dramatic white staircase, the store is situated in Shenghui Furniture Mall in the city of Xuzhou in China. The retail store design reflects Giorio Casa's Italian roots with ancient Roman architectural elements. The new exhibition centre, intended to be a calming presence with an atrium at its core is inspired by the ancient squares prevalent in cities of the Roman empire, with the atrium design of the store bringing about a sense of serenity.

The Giorio Casa store is designed to give the impression of an opulent mansion. The new two-storey space featuring an atrium in the centre is surrounded by interconnected rooms that exhibit the brand’s elegant furniture design and adorns a white immaculate staircase design. The atrium houses two square water bodies made of black fibreglass with the ponds offering a sense of tranquillity and making the space seem larger than it is. From the central atrium, a striking, spiral staircase and European-style, arched openings provide visitors access to all directions. With this one-of-a-kind retail space that brings the outdoors inside, and imparts a sense of peacefulness, Zhongli hopes to alter shopping habits as well.

3. PAN AM flagship store by NiiiZ DESIGN LAB
Location: Seoul, South Korea

  • The newly opened PAN AM's flagship store is also presenting the design concept reinterpreted for the regional characteristics of Seongsu-dong | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The newly opened PAN AM's flagship store is also presenting the design concept reinterpreted for the regional characteristics of Seongsu-dong Image: Jae Sung Lee and Tak Hyun Kim, Courtesy of Studio Gothic
  • The metal frames composing the walls are often overlapped, misaligned, or sometimes used as the element connecting the spaces | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The metal frames composing the walls are often overlapped, misaligned, or sometimes used as the element connecting the spaces Image: Jae Sung Lee and Tak Hyun Kim, Courtesy of Studio Gothic
  • The new space takes shapes in rudimentary finishes of the past and the permance of modern materials | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The new space takes shapes in rudimentary finishes of the past and the permance of modern materials Image: Jae Sung Lee and Tak Hyun Kim, Courtesy of Studio Gothic

Finding a home in the 'Brooklyn of Seoul', PAN AM opened its new flagship store in the bustling neighbourhood of Seongsu-dong in South Korea. Conceived by South Korean architects NiiiZ DESIGN LAB, the new store occupies an old factory that used to manufacture tapes. Reflecting on the area's industrial character and the brand’s signature blue and white colours, the new space takes shape in rudimentary finishes of the past and the performance of modern materials. Presenting the design concept, reinterpreted for the regional characteristics of Seongsu-dong, the architects aimed for a harmonious blending of the past and present.

In the 310 sq.m retail space, the flagship store accommodates five display zones, presented through the polished minimalism of industrial design. The bar counter at the end of the store adopts an air-ticket counter design. In a unique approach by the designers, a significant source of lighting is directed from the floor and not the ceiling or walls. Keeping alive the imprints of the old factory, the flooring design adorns the sticky residue of tapes on the floor. These residues are covered with tempered glass flooring to balance the design concepts and functionality. Amid the ’borderline of the ordinary and extraordinary,’ the PAN AM flagship store presents a new face of the fashion retail experience.

4. Notabene flagship store by Norm Architects
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

  • With a clash of style, form and tactility the store is a dynamic space that tells a new story of a traditional shoe brand | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    With a clash of style, form and tactility the store is a dynamic space that tells a new story of a traditional shoe brand Image: Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, Courtesy of Norm Architects
  • One of the key ideas of Notabene’s retail experience is about ‘buying less but better’ | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    One of the key ideas of Notabene’s retail experience is about ‘buying less but better’ Image: Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, Courtesy of Norm Architects

Described as a holistic flagship store for the Danish shoe brand Notabene, the concept store is located in the heart of the old city of Copenhagen in Denmark. The high-end retailer’s flagship store opens its doors not only to the shoes themselves but to a world of shoemaking and is designed by Danish architectural studio Norm Architects. The entire retail experience has been reformatted to create a hub where all things surrounding shoe design and shoe care are unified in a big industrial space comprising a retail area, a shoeshine bar, and a creative lab.

The store's spatial experience was conceptualised to showcase and highlight the brand's collection of Italian handmade shoes as delicate icons. Displayed on clay podiums and stark aluminium shelves, shoes are displayed as artefacts to be admired rather than objects to be bought—creating an impression of longevity and desire. This particular display modality is in line with the brand's desire to create lasting designs that tap into the needs and trends of Copenhagen women. Relaxed, refined, and luxurious at the same time, the space encapsulates everything that the brand stands for.

5. Tiffany & Co. by OMA
Location: Paris, France

  • The temporary store transforms from a retail space to an immersive journey across history | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The temporary store transforms from a retail space to an immersive journey across history Image: © Benoit Florençon, Courtesy of OMA
  • The temporary store resembles a physical manifestation of a diamond’s brilliance | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The temporary store resembles a physical manifestation of a diamond’s brilliance Image: © Benoit Florençon, Courtesy of OMA

Hoping on the bandwagon of luxury houses collaborating with architects to create retail spaces that are a testament to storytelling is the OMA-designed pop-up for high-end luxury jewellery brand Tiffany & Co. in Paris, France. Narrating Tiffany’s past, and exhibiting designed collections dating as far back as the company’s inception, the store on eighth arrondissement in Avenue Montaigne is a boutique, an exhibition space and a lounge, all at once. Drenched in a contrasting palette of royal blue and sand gold colour themes, the spaces host designs from 185-year-old collections to the most recent pieces. With a gradient blue carpet spread across the space, it comprises three distinctive areas—a rectangular room for high jewellery appointments, an octagonal space set in subtle gold interiors displaying Tiffany's current collection and the blue rotunda with highlights from Tiffany’s jewellery archive.

Along with the long history of Tiffany's, OMA seems to have also reflected the various other creations of the company which hold as much significance in the spaces as the celebrated jewellery. Throughout the immersive experience of shopping, the customised furniture and jewellery are set in a contrasting backdrop to attract visitors to experience the brand ethos. Through the interiors that dive into the brilliance of a diamond and the exclusivity of the brand, the design becomes a physical manifestation of the facets and cuts of precious stones.

6. XC273 by XCOMMONS by dongqi Design
Location: Shanghai, China

  • The new fashion and art hub is designed “to break the rules of retail experience” | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The new fashion and art hub is designed “to break the rules of retail experience” Image: Raitt Liu
  • Enhancing the physical presence of the void in the atrium, a water pond in the middle engages with people and with the space | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    Enhancing the physical presence of the void in the atrium, a water pond in the middle engages with people and with the space Image: Raitt Liu
  • The renovation philosophy is followed in the fixtures and lighting design as well through customised designed products by the architects | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The renovation philosophy is followed in the fixtures and lighting design as well through customised designed products by the architects Image: Raitt Liu

The artistic exposition of the 21st century fashion industry aren’t limited to the runways and shows. Marrying experiential design to immersive art, retail found a niche that transforms shopping into a memorable experience where retail stores become an embodiment of the brand’s ethos. In XC273 by XCOMMONS’ new space in Shanghai, China-based dongqi Design reimagined a historical ruin into a retail store. In the heart of Shanghai city, the old factory was refurbished to present itself as a "new fashion and art hub that is going to break the rules of retail experience."

Retail architecture seems to be an effective tool in transforming stories and anecdotes of the past into a building helming the future, as is evident in the case of XC273 by XCOMMONS. An underground tunnel-like entrance followed by a ‘sound tunnel’ and reflecting pond introduce the immersive experience of the retail store to the visitors. Expressing the design as “a kaleidoscope of identities,” the architects mention, “In order to increase this sense of the journey as if one was exploring a forest, mirror finish was applied to walls and ceiling to disorient the visitors so that every single corner can become a moment of surprise, as described in Stendhal’s syndrome.” While reflecting on the history of an old factory in relation to the contrasting realm of retail fashion, the designers brought forth the interesting narrative of how time and space in design can overwhelm the user in transforming a function into an experience.

7. The Brick Bond by Renesa Studio
Location: New Delhi, India

  • The aim was to create an immersive space that celebrates the very material that it is made of—bricks | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The aim was to create an immersive space that celebrates the very material that it is made of—bricks Image: Niveditaa Gupta
  • The display section, which is evocative of a brick kiln, is the highlight of the space | Experiential Retail Space | Multiple | STIRworld
    The display section, which is evocative of a brick kiln, is the highlight of the space Image: Niveditaa Gupta

Titled ‘The Brick Bond', Renesa Studio's 51 sq.m store has been designed for Jindal Mechno Bricks, a leading brand that retails modular bricks. For this project, the architects aimed to create an immersive space that celebrates the very material that it is made of—bricks. Emphasising the birth of bricks from their clay forms, the interior design of this experiential centre is a modern dive into the chambers of a classic brick kiln. The earthy colour palette and symmetrical patterns allow the bricks to take centre stage in the store. The design of the space is an ode to the Jindal Mechno Bricks' five decades-long legacy as well as the versatility and adaptability of their products.

Situated in the heart of the construction material nucleus of New Delhi, India, this distinctive retail store exhibits a novel design identity for the brand. This new identity in brick architecture begins with the striking façade of the store, which serves as an introduction and sets the tone for what to expect. The humble and uniformly punctured façade made of bricks welcomes guests to a one-of-a-kind retail space where bricks play the dual function of showcasing and being showcased. The project is an honest flag bearer of sustainability and an environmentally conscious approach towards conceiving spaces.

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