Posts tagged with "Retail":

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Amazon may have canceled its NYC headquarters, but its footprint is everywhere

For many of the people opposed to Amazon establishing a second headquarters (HQ2) in Queens, New York, casting the company into total exile was never the point. At its heart, opposition lay with the terms of the deal that wooed the company—its massive tax incentives, the process that had created the deal (without input or oversight from the New York City Council or local communities), and the dramatic impact such a real estate development project would have on the city's working class, especially by aggravating its gentrification and displacement crises. Facing a groundswell of local opposition, Amazon announced that it had canceled its plans for a new Queens campus on February 14, just three months after announcing its selection. While HQ2's optics and scale made it a legible enemy to rally against, Amazon's less splashy development projects have already become part of the fabric of many cities, including New York. Taking inventory of Amazon’s existing physical footprint in the city, one begins to perceive a shadow infrastructure at work which reshapes urban environments more through privatized logistics and information systems than through campus construction. In Manhattan, Amazon’s physical presence might best be recognized in retail. It was at the company’s 34th Street bookstore that protestors demonstrated on Cyber Monday following the HQ2 announcement. Indeed, like HQ2, the company’s retail stores serve as useful rallying points. But inside the same Midtown Manhattan building that hosts the bookstore sits a more explicit locus of Amazon’s presence: a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the company’s Prime Now delivery service. It might be helpful to state here what Amazon actually is: a logistics company misrepresented as a retail company misrepresented as a tech company. Over time, the types of products the company sells have expanded beyond books and bassinets into less obviously tangible commodities like data (via Amazon Web Services), labor (via Amazon Mechanical Turk), and “content” (via Twitch and Amazon Studios productions). Ultimately the company’s appeal isn’t so much in the stuff it provides but the efficiency with which it provides stuff. Computation is obviously an important part of running a logistics operation, but Amazon’s logistical ends are frequently obscured by the hype around its technical prowess. And while Amazon is increasingly in the game of making actual things, a lot of them are commodities that, in the long run, enable the movement of other commodities: Amazon Echos aren’t just nice speakers, they’re a means of streamlining the online shopping experience into verbal commands and gathering hundreds of thousands of data points. Producing award-winning films and TV shows gives the company a patina of cultural respectability, but streaming them on Amazon Prime gets more people on Amazon and, in theory, buying things using Amazon Prime accounts. Amazon’s logistical foundation is most blatantly visible in the company's nearly 900 warehouses located around the world. Currently, the company has one fulfillment center (FC) in New York City. The 855,000-square-foot site in Staten Island opened in fall 2018 and had already earned Amazon $18 million in tax credits from the state of New York before the HQ2 deal was announced. Additionally, a month before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had also signed a ten-year lease for a new fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens. The same day that Amazon vice president Brian Huseman testified before the New York City Council about HQ2, Staten Island warehouse employees and organizers from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced a plan to form a union at the Staten Island FC, citing exhausting and unsafe working conditions better optimized for warehouse robots than employees. These conditions are far from unique to Staten Island—stories about the grueling pace, unhealthy environment, and precarity of contract workers at fulfillment centers have been reported regularly as far back as 2011. And yet, when the Staten Island FC was first announced in 2017, a small handful of media outlets made note of this record. Unions and community leaders weren’t galvanized against the Staten island FC the way they were by HQ2 or the way they had been when Wal-Mart attempted to come to New York in 2011. In some ways, the HQ2 debacle gave new life and momentum to an organized labor challenge previously hidden in plain sight (or at least in the outer boroughs). Of course, Amazon’s logistics spaces aren’t solely confined to far-flung corners of the New York metro area: There are two Prime Now distribution hubs in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other at the previously mentioned Midtown Manhattan location. Same-day delivery service Prime Now originated from that Midtown warehouse in 2014 and spawned Amazon Flex, an app-based platform for freelance delivery drivers to distribute Prime Now packages. (Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon has been able to become so effectively entrenched in the city is because of this kind of contingent labor force—any car in New York City can become an Amazon Flex delivery vehicle, any apartment a Mechanical Turker workplace.) The art of logistics also depends in part on the art of marketing. To support that marketing endeavor, Amazon has a 40,000-square-foot photo studio in a former glass manufacturing plant in Williamsburg that produces tens of thousands of images for Amazon Fashion, the company's online apparel venture. The company's forays into fashion, while less publicized, may also position it to become one of the largest retailers of clothing in the world. New York is also home to 260 Amazon Lockers: pickup and package return sites for select products typically located in 7-Elevens and other bodega-like environments. Like Prime Now, the Lockers streamline and automate a process that would normally involve lines at the post office. First appearing in New York in 2011, the 6-foot-tall locker units can range between 6 and 15 feet wide, with the individual lockers in each unit capable of holding packages no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches (roughly larger than a shoebox). While early reports indicated that store owners received a small monthly stipend for hosting the lockers, the main sell for store owners is the possibility of luring in more foot traffic. But a 2013 Bloomberg article noted that smaller businesses were frustrated by the limited returns from installing the lockers and increased power bills (lockers use a digital passcode system, requiring electricity and connectivity). There is an irony in the fact that for almost a decade before the HQ2 debacle, small businesses have been ceding physical space to Amazon only to be stuck with monolithic storage spaces serving little direct benefit. Following its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon installed Lockers in all of the supermarket’s locations in the city. Whole Foods was already associated with gentrification and had an anti-union CEO before the Amazon acquisition; if anything, Amazon upped the ante by attempting to bring Whole Foods more in line with Amazon’s logistics-first approach. Reports that Amazon has plans to open a new grocery chain suggest that early speculation about the Whole Foods acquisition was correct: Amazon wasn’t interested in Whole Foods in order to sell produce so much as to gain access to the grocery company’s rich trove of retail data, which Amazon could use to jump-start its own grocery operations. A data-driven approach has been at the core of Amazon’s logistics empire: The company was one of the first to use recommendation algorithms to show consumers other products they might also like, and Prime Now relies extensively on purchasing data to determine what items to stock in hub warehouses. It’s unsurprising, then, that the most profitable wing of Amazon’s empire is Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing platform. AWS’s physical footprint in New York City is relatively small, with a handful of data centers within city limits. Its most visible presence may be the AWS Loft in Soho, which opened in 2015, part of a small network of similar spots in San Francisco, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv.  Part coworking space for startups that use AWS and part training center for AWS products and services, the Loft inhabits a kind of in-between space between data services and marketing. The space is free for AWS users and is full of comfy seating and amenities like free coffee and snacks—ironic considering Amazon's reputation for being absent of the kinds of perks expected at tech companies. Belying its small spatial footprint, AWS is a major part of the city’s networked operations. The New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Public Library are both presented as model case studies of successful AWS customers, and AWS has signed contracts with multiple city agencies, including the Departments of Education and Sanitation and the City Council as far back as 2014. AWS is also a major vendor to municipal, state, and federal agencies—and, increasingly, has come under scrutiny for its multimillion-dollar contracts with data mining company Palantir Technologies, which works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track and deport migrants, and for peddling its face recognition technology to police departments across the country. Some of the criticism of Amazon's campus deal with NYC came from New York City Council members, apparently unaware their office was paying Amazon for hosting web support. To be fair, New York City’s AWS contracts (including the City Council’s) are a fraction of the kind of revenue Amazon is vying for in federal defense contracts. And at this point, AWS is the industry standard upon which most of the internet runs. The situation reflects the depth to which Amazon has insinuated itself as a fundamental infrastructure provider. New York may have dodged a gentrification bullet with HQ2, but as with so much of Big Tech, Amazon’s impact on cities might look more like death by a thousand paper cuts. A new campus might be more visible than the hidden machinery of a city increasingly reliant on delivery-based services, but both impact local economies, residents, and living conditions. Amazon’s long-standing logistics regime also inspires an infinitude of Amazon-inspired niche delivery startups familiar to New Yorkers as a pastel monoscape of subway ads hawking mattresses, house cleaning services, and roommates, to name just a few, along with the precarious jobs that are their defining characteristic. There have been continued efforts in New York to challenge Amazon’s frictionless logistics regime since the HQ2 withdrawal. Pending City Council legislation banning cashless retail would affect far more businesses than just Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations (which have automatic app-based checkout), but it would certainly stymie any expansion of its physical retail footprint. State Senator Jessica Ramos has joined labor leaders in calling for a fair union vote at the future Woodside fulfillment center. These sorts of initiatives are often more drawn out and less galvanizing than those to halt a major campus development. But they’re crucial to a larger strategy for making the tech-enabled systems of inequality in cities visible. In 2019, the premise that the digital and physical worlds are mysteriously separate realms has been effectively killed by the tech industry’s measurable impact on urban life, from real estate prices to energy consumption. Comprehending the full impact of companies like Amazon on cities and seeing beyond their efforts to obscure or embellish their presence (glamour shots of data centers, anyone?) requires a full examination of these infrastructures outside of the companies' preferred terms. By demanding public accountability, New York's elected officials and community groups may have demonstrated the beginnings of just how to do that.
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Detroit's House of Pure Vin lets visitors wine in style

1433 Woodward Avenue Detroit, 48226 (313) 638-2501 M1/DTW House of Pure Vin is a minority-owned wine shop in downtown Detroit contributing to the revival of the city’s historic Woodward Avenue. Architect Christian Unverzagt from M1/DTW helped transform the 3,000-square-foot space into a sophisticated wine tasting shop and tourist attraction. Unverzagt converted a twisted and irregular retail space into a series of smaller rooms—including a climate-controlled champagne room, recessed retail nook, and tasting room—to provide a sense of visual clarity and allow the space to slowly unfold to reveal new activities to visitors. The shop holds over 4,000 bottles of wine, displaying the majority of them within a wall of cardboard tubes typically used for manufacturing. The tubes serve as wine racks, an eye-catching way to store the bottles sideways and shield them from light. Cork is used for various surfaces within the shop, including the walls and cash wrap, acting as a warm contrast to the black steel and industrial materials elsewhere in the store.
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OMA drops a chromatic escalator in the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship

The ground floor of New York's sprawling $250 million Saks Fifth Avenue flagship renovation is complete, and OMA and Rem Koolhaas have designed a splashy, technicolored centerpiece for the midtown Manhattan shop. The luxury department store has embarked on an ambitious reorganization ahead of competitors moving into New York City; as Bloomberg notes, both Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus are opening their first N.Y.C. locations in 2019. Saks Fifth Avenue’s new ground floor is all about handbags. The previous first-floor tenants, the beauty and fine jewelry departments, have been moved upstairs. The Saks Store Planning and Design team and Gensler collaborated on the 53,000-square-foot first floor, installing custom terrazzo flooring from Italy, “experiential” handbag displays with appropriate signage, and wide, runway-inspired aisles. The centerpiece of the new handbag department is the escalator, which changes color as shoppers ride between the lower and main floors, and up to the beauty department on the second floor. UUfie, one of the Architectural League's 2019 Emerging Voices, also used a dichroic effect for a department store escalator, in that case Paris's Printemps Haussmann Verticalé. The second and third phases of the Saks renovation—the “vault,” which will showcase high-end jewelry, and the new menswear section—are both expected to open later this year.

Future Pharmacy - Interior design contest (award increased and deadline postponed)

New interior design contest on Desall.com: Th.Kohl and Desall invite you to suggest innovative concepts for the pharmacy of the future, meant as a “retail space” dedicated to the person, his/her wellbeing and to the relationships.

Th.Kohl is looking for new furniture/architecture concepts for the realisation of the pharmacy of the future, meant as a “space dedicated to the customer experience” where relationships between people and attention to the person is at the core of the whole design.

For more info: http://bit.ly/FuturePharmacyDesign

Contest timeline

Upload phase: 29th November 2018 – 04th March 2019 (1.59 PM UTC)

Community Vote: 04th March 2019 – 13th March 2019 (1.59 PM UTC)

Client Vote: from 04th March 2019

Winner announcement: approximately before the end of May 2019

Total awards

€4000

Participation is free of charge and open to all creative people (at least 18 years old).

TH.KOHL

Th.Kohl is the Italian leader in the design and realisation of interior architecture for pharmacies. The company, born as a branch of the home – founded in Germany in 1919 – is completely independent and has offices also in France and Spain, and some agent offices in Greece and Croatia, serving over 33,000 customers.

The high quality of the proposed solutions is guaranteed by the decision of managing in-house all the phases needed for their realisation, from the design to the production and installation of the furnishing elements, ensuring maximum control and highest flexibility.

DESALL

Desall.com is an open innovation platform dedicated to design and innovation, that offers to companies a participatory design tool involving in the creative process an international community coming from all over the world. To date Desall gathers more than 100000 creatives from over 210 countries and has collaborated with international brands like Luxottica, Whirlpool, Electrolux, ALESSI, Enel, Leroy Merlin, KINDER, Barilla, illy, Chicco, Mondadori and many more.

Thanks for the contamination of different cultural backgrounds and creative industries, the Desall community is able to provide high-quality project solutions for every product development phase requested by the client, from concept to product design, from naming to packaging.

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Swatch's new store embraces delicate craft and crude informality

  Spanish firm TAKK, led by Mireia Luzárraga and Alejandro Muiño, recently completed a new space for Swatch that doesn't neatly conform to what people might typically associate with Swiss watchmakers. Grotto, as the designers call the project, is an unconventional retail space that can also be used for "public activities such as lectures, workshops, or debates," according to the architects. The project is meant to be informal both programmatically and aesthetically. The cave-like spaces are roughly finished with highly-textured white walls that bend and slope over the interiors, deforming to create seating in some places and openings in others. The domed spaces are capped with lace-like grills that, along with ornamental chains draped throughout the space, add a "feminine" touch, according to the designers. The overall look is meant as a sort of rebuttal to highly-polished environments typically used to sell goods to "virile" consumers.
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New Jersey's megamall prepares a water park, ski slope, and VICE food hall for launch

Canadian mall developer Triple Five has bet big on bolstering brick-and-mortar retail this year; first, it was a pitch for a $200-million waterpark at Minnesota’s Mall of America, then approval of their 500-acre American Dream Miami, set to become the largest mall in the country in May. Now Triple Five has released new details of its American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, which is finally set to open in March of 2019 after 16 years of delays. At a whopping 4.5 million square feet, American Dream will be smaller than its Miami-based cousin but still large enough to contain the western hemisphere’s largest indoor ski slope, a 253-foot-wide “observation wheel," a regulation-sized skating rink, and an eight-acre “Nickelodeon Universe” park. The mall will sit right next to MetLife Stadium, just a stone’s throw away from Manhattan and eastern New Jersey, and Triple Five is expecting 30 to 40 million visitors a year and will run direct buses from the Port Authority in Manhattan and NJ Transit stops. As the opening date approaches, new details about the mall have been coming progressively faster; earlier this week, it was revealed that there will be a MUNCHIES-branded food hall in the complex (MUNCHIES is VICE’s food vertical), alongside a separate kosher food hall and several other standalone restaurants. The mall will also play host to Big Snow America, an 800-foot-long, 16-story indoor ski slope complete with a chalet and ice-climbing wall to be open year-round. Triple Five is also matching their Nickelodeon theme park with an eight-acre Dreamworks-themed water park, both of which will sit inside climate-controlled glass domes. Still, it remains to be seen if American Dream can capture shoppers’ imaginations in the same way that the Mall of America does, which attracts over 40 million visitors a year. Physical retail has been in a downslide for years, especially malls, which are sitting abandoned or being converted to other uses.
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At Roman and Williams' flagship restaurant-store, everything is for sale

As restaurants try to drum up alternative revenue and traditional retail outlets continue to feel the squeeze from online shopping, Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors has brought the best of both worlds at their new flagship store in SoHo. The 7,000-square-foot design store, café, and flower shop, neé Roman and Williams Guild, is a showcase of Roman and Williams’ work. Here, diners can lick the plate clean and then buy it. Roman and Williams is well known for their work at the Standard Highline and ACE Hotels as well as high-end residential projects. Expanding into a consumer-facing brick-and-mortar space in an expensive Manhattan neighborhood seemed like a natural progression. The 44-seat La Mercerie café within the Guild is built out with pieces from Roman and Williams' new Founding Collection, and everything is for sale. The café’s light interior palette of blonde wood and pastel blues, described by Roman and Williams as “watery-blue cast, pale-gray floors and an indigo enameled kitchen” matches the exterior of the landmarked building. But walk to the back of the restaurant and through the arched threshold, and those muted colors are replaced by deeper hues of blue and a more rustic tone in the back showroom. This is where interested customers can pick up pieces in a more traditional design setting, with a heavy emphasis on wood, leathers, and fabrics. The Guild also houses a flower shop helmed by local botanist Emily Thompson, and her arrangements can be found throughout the entirety of 53 Howard Street.
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A retail district in Houston reimagines the strip mall, one building at a time

Caution and timidity have been the ruling traits of Houston’s commercial real estate market for the past three decades. But, in the last few years, local developer Steve Radom and his team at Radom Capital have been working almost single-handedly to bring architectural sophistication back with their recent series of commercial developments. From the 1970s through the mid-1980s, Houston was an international architectural mecca. During these years, developers famously competed with one another to commission the best architects to design ever more sensational projects in a crowded real estate market. Then, a collapse in oil prices wrecked the city’s economy. In the decades since, with its high-flying developers grounded, Houston’s architectural scene has stubbornly trailed that of its nearby neighbors, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. The recent fracking oil crash has only exacerbated the situation. Even Gerald Hines, Houston’s greatest modern developer, has turned away from the outstanding architecture that brought him fame and success. Today, his buildings are tasteful, yet completely unremarkable. In this milieu, Radom’s commercial retail projects are noteworthy. Radom and his team commission talented architects on the basis of their design excellence. They insist on rigor and quality in concept and execution. Rather than follow an established set of safe but boring development rules, their projects cleverly reimagine the most banal of building types: the strip mall. The results are exciting. The fact that they have leased immediately in Houston’s unsteady economic climate demonstrates again that good design is a good business practice. Radom’s largest project to date is Heights Mercantile, a low-rise retail center partially located inside the Houston Heights Historic District a couple of miles northwest of downtown. Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture designed the shell-and-core build-out and some of the interiors. Up-and-coming Houston architects Schaum/Shieh and Content Architecture designed additional interiors. The Houston branch of the international SWA Group was the landscape architect, while Houston-based graphic design firm Spindletop devised the graphic identity. Heights Mercantile includes a mixture of six new and remodeled buildings—two of which are protected historic landmarks— spread across eight properties that were acquired in four separate transactions over a 14-month period. From 1967 to 2007, Pappas Restaurants, a local restaurant group, used three of the existing buildings as their headquarters. Two of the former Pappas buildings were remodeled to include a suite of shops and a wine bar. The third Pappas building, a one-story prefabricated metal warehouse used for cold storage, was demolished and replaced by a two-story building containing retail and restaurant space on the ground floor and a fitness club and offices on the second floor. The two protected historic buildings are one-story wood frame bungalows. They were converted into a clothing boutique and an ice cream shop. A small one-story wood frame building was built behind one of the bungalows and houses a cafe. Although Houston lacks zoning, it has other methods of land-planning. Among the most onerous are its excessive off-street parking requirements, which forced the design team to be creative in organizing the site. By reusing instead of replacing the Pappas buildings, the developers were able to maintain the existing, but now illegal, head-in parking. The bulk of the additional required parking was fitted between the bungalows and the new two-story building. According to the developer, the city requested that the final property Radon bought directly north of the bungalows facing Heights Boulevard be devoted completely to parking. Fortunately, the 140 parking spaces do not overwhelm the development, thanks to creative landscape and siting decisions. Houston Heights, like the city of Houston, is a tattered collection of heterogeneous residential and commercial buildings. Platted in 1891 as a streetcar suburb, it actually contains very few pre-1900 Victorian houses. What remains of its historic architecture is mostly Queen Anne worker cottages from the 1910s and bungalows from the 1920s and ’30s. These are interspersed with garden apartments from the 1960s and ’70s and the occasional one or two-story postwar commercial building. Up until 2010, when the city’s preservation ordinance was changed to prohibit demolition in designated historic districts, the last Queen Anne cottages and bungalows were quickly being replaced by townhouse developments and lot-filling faux-Victorian houses. Heights Mercantile wittily addresses its motley neighborhood by providing its own assorted mix of buildings. Rather than replicating the same building across the site, as most recent strip developments in and around Houston Heights have done, the architects consciously worked to make each building look and feel different. Furthermore, they casually spread them across the site, which is split up in a very ad hoc Houston manner by an active street, a popular hike and bike trail, a drainage easement, and an abandoned alley. The results celebrate the mess that is Houston. And, along with some clever landscaping interventions, they feel inviting and fresh rather than chaotic and dreary. If this is the vision Radom and his team want to promote for Houston, then I’m all for it. And judging from its completely filled lease spaces, so is the real estate market.
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In Amazon's new store, the cameras are the cashiers

Amazon opened the doors of its “store of the future” to the public today. The 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go is making waves over its cashier-less checkout system. The shop, first announced in late 2016 and located in downtown Seattle, uses a vast array of ceiling-mounted cameras to charge shoppers for the items they walk out with, a system that could transform the future of retail. The tech giant has attempted to break into the physical retail world before, to mixed results. But after acquiring Whole Foods in June of last year, Amazon now wields considerable leverage with which to reshape real-world retail, and test-runs of new technology could be a sign of things to come. The inaugural Amazon Go store is even designed like a Whole Foods, save for the rows of turnstiles blocking the entrance and the lack of cashiers. Customers swipe their phone and have to connect to their Amazon account in order to enter, and as they shop, hundreds of overhead cameras track what’s taken from the shelves, with no need to microchip the products. Visitors then have their Amazon accounts charged after leaving, although there are still some live humans on hand to guard the alcohol and restock the shelves. This approach is supposed to cut out the lines, but the system is less than perfect. Linking the shopping to Amazon accounts also places the mini-mart squarely in the boutique market, since Amazon has precluded the use of cash and food stamps. While Amazon has promised that it has no plans to replace any of the staff in Whole Foods stores, Amazon Go is stocked with the grocery chain’s signature 365 Everyday brand and their newly unveiled meal kits. The implication, that Amazon could replace the retail workers it now employs, isn’t without merit. Amazon has already reconfigured the urban fabric outside of its largest markets through the construction of enormous, automated distribution centers, and extending the practices honed in their warehouses into stores would be a logical next step. Amazon has already thrown brick-and-mortar stores into disarray and forced a re-evaluation of physical retail space once, and it may be poised to do it again. Below is a video explanation from Amazon of how the store works.
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Plastic shoes and feminist art make a standout pair at Galeria Melissa NYC

It takes a lot to get a walking New Yorker to look up. Entranced by a phone, or scanning the sidewalk for the fastest way forward, only an explosion, a gunshot, or a really cute puppy can grab one’s attention. So it was with surprise that this writer witnessed, on a recent summer morning, a gaggle of people surrounding a new shoe store on Broadway, in Soho. That store is Galeria Melissa NYC, and the people were staring at feminist video art on two really large screens. Inside, the boutique, by Brazilian designer Muti Randolph, is a footwear paradise in a gallery. This is not the first New York store for Melissa, nor is it the first time the brand, also from Brazil, has worked with the designer. Though Randolph’s vision guided the design of this space, Melissa’s parent company, Grendene, enlisted a local firm to make it all happen. Grendene chose Mancini Duffy for its deep roots in the city and for its retail expertise. Perhaps best known for corporate interiors for clients NBC Sports Group and A+E Networks, the firm has also redesigned one floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, and remade multiple Bloomingdales. So what’s the difference between designing for a department store versus street-level retail? Here, Mancini Duffy did almost nothing to alter the landmarked cast-iron facade, and the store is impossible to miss from the street. In the triangular vestibule, two giant LED screens reflect infinitely off of mirrored flooring. On a recent visit, the screens displayed work by artist Sam Cannon as part of The Future of Her, an in-house exhibition curated by sisters Kelsey & Rémy Bennett. Cannon’s video, a pastiche of mildly subversive candy-colored women’s bodies coated in fluid, heralds the shiny smooth plastic shoes on the main sales floor, just up a metal-lined ramp. The aesthetic is futuristic, if your vision of the future includes lots of lasers. Plastic shoes shine like wet Barbie feet, and the merch looks even more vibrant thanks to white LED ceiling lights. The ribboned overhead lighting is rigged to an MDS lacquered box, which beams out light across at least three walls of mirrors (four if you count the shoes displayed, Hall of Minerals–style, behind a two-way mirror). Melissa’s second life on social media, particularly on Instagram, played no small role in the store’s design. Thanks to online shopping, “there’s been a paradigm shift in how retail works,” said Ali Aslam, designer at Mancini Duffy. Though some decry the death of brick-and-mortar retail, the proliferation of images on the internet is transforming real-life stores into “boots-on-the-ground marketing for brands.” To do this effectively, the team employed eye-catching everything to make the space stand out in that sea of hashtags. In a nod to the structural cast iron columns that dot the main floor, shoes are set out on mini millwork-and-plaster columns, painted a shiny black. While the smaller, movable white displays are lacquer-painted medium-density fiberboard (MDF), the larger, central ones arranged around the structural columns are fabricated in Corian. Though it’s tempting to linger in the main area Instagramming, there are two more rooms to explore. Near the cashier’s desk, a lush green wall beckons from the rear of the space. The architects worked with plantwalldesign, which also did the green wall at Lincoln Center, for this project; the plants can live for decades under (carefully calibrated) light and irrigation systems. The cashier’s desk, Aslam said, exemplifies the collaboration between Randolph and Mancini Duffy. The artist rendered a piece with a long cantilevered edge that looked cool, but would be almost impossible to build. The architects worked with him from the ground up, using the firm’s in-house design lab to 3-D print a model. That model was sent to a millworker in Brazil to create a desk that was “almost to a T the exact thing we agreed on,” Aslam said. Another mini-room, kitty-corner from the cashier’s desk, contains shoes, but the main focus is an immersive video artwork by Signe Pierce, a self-described “reality artist.” The store will host four exhibits annually, a figure that handily coincides with the four best shoe-buying seasons (all of them).
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A conversation on retail trends with Gruen Associates

In the world of shopping mall design, Victor Gruen’s name reigns supreme. The Austrian-born architect and urban planner is responsible for many early suburban shopping malls, which, believe it or not, were originally envisioned as pedestrian oases bustling with musical events, art, and civic functions. Gruen pioneered the typology, creating both the first open-air and the first fully enclosed suburban malls—the Northland Mall in Southfield, Michigan, and the Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota. Not one to be limited by geography, Gruen also built similar complexes across the rest of the country. Though Gruen’s early works were originally designed for the automobile age, many have persisted and today are facing radical change. Converging trends in e-commerce and urbanization have lead to the increasing obsolescence of suburban shopping malls, the so-called “death of retail.” Of the malls that remain, several— like the Southdale Mall—are currently undergoing renovations to suit modern times. Gruen Associates, 70 years after its initial founding, is working on several suburban mall adaptive reuse projects. The Architect’s Newspaper’s West Coast editor Antonio Pacheco spoke to several of the firm’s designers—Ashok Vanmali, partner; Devon Barnes, principal associate; Matthew Parrent, senior associate; and Orlando Gonzalez, associate— to investigate how the “death of retail” is affecting suburban shopping mall design. The Architect’s Newspaper: What does your team make of the so-called “death of retail?” Devon Barnes: It’s not that that there’s less desire for consuming goods; there’s just much less interest in static places. Between a traditional shop on 5th Avenue and a pop-up on the High Line, for a loose example, the latter may be more successful right now. Why? Because it's a temporary, unique, experience-based, and placeand location-driven. Ashok Vanmali: Victor Gruen’s early malls were conceived to be hubs of larger communities. People going to the mall were not simply going somewhere to buy something, rather they wanted to have an experience where they could connect with others—and also shop. In my opinion, a problem that developed over the years was that shopping became only about buying things and less about the experience of being in a particular place. Orlando Gonzalez: Let’s remember: A lot of Gruen’s early works also included varied spaces for concerts, public functions, and temporary programmed activities. A lot of these functions, however, were stripped away over time for cost reasons. The public gathering spaces Victor Gruen originally envisioned were reduced to walking corridors and food courts in favor of more leasable space. It has not been so much the “death of retail” as it has been the neglect of public amenity space, and the condition of it, which married the pedestrian to the retail environment. AN: What are some of the other aspects of design Gruen Associates is focusing on in recent retail-oriented projects? Barnes: We’ve seen a strong shift toward fewer of the carbon-copy stores that brands used to depend on to maintain their image. Now retailers are taking a more site-specific approach to their “brand-itecture”—selling the goods in a space that is unique to that city. In many cities, retailers are taking over historic buildings in lieu of a leased spot in the mall to give their stores a sense of authenticity. Vanmali: The luxury retailers we work with focus on the experience and on ambiance— how comfortable the spaces are, how clients are served. For example, one of our strategies revolved around making the shop look more like a home than a store with elements like fireplaces, lounge seating, and artwork. That way, the customer doesn’t necessarily feel like they’re shopping. AN: A lot of the malls today are [also] converting shopping areas into food-focused hubs. People go out to eat and then shopping follows. Gonzalez: They’re re-creating public gathering spaces, as Victor Gruen emphasized early on. He wanted to bring the public open space he experienced in his native Vienna to the new public gathering spaces of the United States. These spaces were designed to catalyze interaction, collaboration, and socio-economic progress. These principles are very much in line with how we design similar types of projects today. AN: So do you see current contemporary trends as moving back toward that previous pattern? Vanmali: Somewhat, but it’s not really “going back,” it is more like recapturing some of the original ideas and excitement that malls once brought. I don’t think today’s technology-driven lifestyles fit into those old models exactly. It’s evolving. Matthew Parrent: There are a lot of aspects, however, that are similar. The intention with the Northland and Southland Malls in Michigan— some of the first malls we built in the 1950s— was to make the mall a town center. There would be a postoffice, a medical center, and housing. Barnes: The suburban mall revolved around the family car. Now we have smartphones— and live in urban hubs with better public transportation. I’d say “evolving” is a good word to describe that process. Parrent: The thread to today is there from those initial malls—people want public experiences, they want to gather, and they still want to shop. Shopping is not going to die. AN: Right, retailers aren’t necessarily losing money—it’s just coming from different places. Barnes: We, as architects, are excited about how brands are dramatically reinventing themselves right now. It gives us more room for creativity and our clients new options for generating revenue. Vanmali: Luxury retailers have always had to periodically reinvent themselves. Most retailers in malls sign five to ten-year leases, and, at the end of those leases, they go back and renovate the spaces with new concepts. Now that products are more accessible via the internet, the physical manifestation of a brand has to be even more special. AN: So, are malls going to have to reinvent themselves? Vanmali: Definitely, they are going to have to reinvent themselves for the communities they serve. Parrent: We can see those existing malls transforming already. We have had several projects where we have proposed to insert a variety of uses onto former parking lots to create more holistic developments. People want to shop in places that have some history. We worked on a conceptual master plan for the Southern California Association of Governments in Cerritos, California, recently, where we proposed creating a walkable regional transportation hub on a mall parking lot. Gonzalez: And in that project, we took supersized parking lots that are 800 or 900 feet wide and broke them up to be human scaled, walkable blocks that are 300 to 500 feet long. We are designing these types of projects with a mix of uses and multimodal streetscapes. The healthy integration of streets, blocks, and buildings at a human scale is a basic ingredient of any livable community. These ingredients have never really changed, only how we as designers have composed them.
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Robotics and fulfillment centers are reshaping retail—and cities could be next

The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still-unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio. On the sidewalks…the remains of yesterday’s Leonia await the garbage truck. - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

I just learned that my underwear, my mattress, and most of my wardrobe all came from the same place. I didn’t purchase them from a one-stop, big-box retailer, but from a no-stop, small-box room—my bedroom, to be specific (from my bed to be more precise). All I had to do was open up a web page, pick, click, and then wait as my underwear, my mattress, and most of my wardrobe were shipped from a warehouse located in a Massachusetts exurb to arrive at my doorstep in two days or fewer. The maker of this mundane miracle is a company called Quiet Logistics, a third part logistics (3PL) provider that helps online retailers like Mac Weldon, Bonobos, and Tuft & Needle reach customers as quickly as possible. They and companies like them, along with online retailer behemoth Amazon, are using new technologies to redefine retail and transform the architecture of fulfillment. And if they don’t bring about the birth of Skynet and the robot apocalypse first, they might also transform cities and towns across America.

Open up any newspaper (or newspaper app) and you’re likely to read an obituary for the shopping mall. While the reports of its death may be somewhat exaggerated, malls are indeed changing as more and more people buy, well, everything online. Some are being transformed into mixed-use “town center”-style developments; others are filling vacancies with new tenants who lean into recent consumer habits like “showrooming,” an industry term for trying on clothes in one store and then buying them online from another at a lower price. While showrooming may be the bane of many a salesperson, retailers like the aforementioned Bonobos design and build stores as showrooms: comfortable environments where customers find the right-size pants and then leave empty handed; two days later they’re delivered to their home. Any longer than that and customers might not be so quick to leave without those slim-fit chinos. Thanks to the proliferation of fulfillment centers, no one has to wait for anything anymore.

Fulfillment centers are massive warehouses where the ephemera of our lives is stored until we call upon it with a wave of our hand. The typical fulfillment center is a rectangular box built from precast concrete slabs or tilt-up concrete panels that are poured on-site and lifted into place. They range in size from 300,000 square feet to more than a million, feature hundreds of loading docks, 30-to-40-foot-tall-space-frame ceilings (cubic volume is key), and towers of nearly endless shelves containing rainbow Slinkys, Swiffer Wet Jets, Hello Kitty pencil cases, and literally everything else. “The picking towers are like mini-buildings, only without mechanical systems,” said architect Greg Lynn, who has visited two Amazon facilities and has long been interested in the formal and spatial possibilities presented by new technologies. “Then there are the massive sorting areas and areas where they compress boxes. It’s like a little world. Or a theme park.”

While large distribution centers aren’t new, the growth of online direct-to-consumer shopping has prompted a building boom of the fulfillment center. For better and worse, no company is better known for these buildings than Amazon, which has built more than one hundred fulfillment centers in America alone, totaling over 77 million square feet in size. Amazon uses a few different types of these centers, each designed to accommodate a specific type of item: small sortable items, large sortable times, large non-sortable, expensive specialty items, and apparel, as well as newer facilities designed for perishable and nonperishable food. Some are conventional centers, where products are picked and packaged by human pickers who can walk up to ten miles a day; some use mechanized conveyance and sorting systems; others are automated with robots handling most of the heavy lifting.

While Amazon is the standard-bearer for this new model of retail, it’s not alone. Logistics real estate is booming. Online retailers, 3PLs, and traditional big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target have all invested heavily in new fulfillment centers to more quickly reach online customers. Target’s online sales tripled from 2013 to 2016, and in that time it nearly doubled the amount of space dedicated to e-commerce with two new fulfillment centers totaling 1.7 million square feet. According to Colliers International, in 2016 e-commerce prompted the construction of 74 million square feet of new warehouse space in the United States, with 93 percent of that space occupied. Already this year is on track to deliver another 55 million square feet, according to research firm Reis Inc., with Dallas, Chicago, Kansas City, Central New Jersey, and San Bernardino, California, as the top markets, although warehouse construction is also booming in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

As with all things real estate, it’s about location. Many of these fulfillment centers are built on former farmlands in centralized locations with easy accessibility to highways and airports. For example, Quiet’s new facility in Hazelwood, Missouri—its first outside Massachusetts—is part of a larger development of fulfillment centers built near St. Louis, where ground shipments can reach anywhere in the United States in two or three days. Amazon initially followed a different tact, building its warehouses in locations selected to take advantage of state tax policies. But those policies have changed as the industry has grown and states have grown savvier. Since 2013, Amazon has focused on building smaller fulfillment centers closer to major urban areas—sometimes even in cities—rather than building larger fulfillment centers in farther-out, less populated areas. The ultimate goal is same-day, and even same-hour, delivery.

But fulfillment isn’t just about fast delivery; it’s also about fast packaging. And that’s increasingly done by robots. In 2012 Amazon purchased Kiva Systems, now Amazon Robotics, whose rechargeable orange robots might look like a 1970s ottoman but can find anything in any warehouse instantly, and lift up to 3,000 pounds. They’re designed to move proprietary shelving “pods” along a predefined grid to workstations where real-live humans pick, pack, and prepare the items for shipment—often working on multiple orders simultaneously. Among other benefits, the Amazon Robotics system is flexible, scalable, and it’s five to six times more productive than manual picking. Plus, without the need for human-scale aisles, a fully automated warehouse requires half as much space as a traditional warehouse, and can use purchasing data to constantly rearrange itself so that the most frequently bought products are closer to the picking stations. The downside of this robot revolution? The robots can only be used to transport relatively small items that fit in the pods, and the systems requires a large and expensive investment in infrastructure—as well as a very, very flat floor.

After purchasing Kiva, Amazon took it off the market, forcing competitors who previously used them to find a new solution. This has resulted in a robot arms race as new companies rush to fill the void. One of those companies, Locus Robotics, was founded by Quiet Logistics, which was the first 3PL to use Kiva’s technology. Locus’s robots, which look like the love child of the Jetsons’ Rosie and a hat rack, can be integrated into any standard warehouse, cutting startup costs and accommodating the unpredictable nature of e-commerce. In a Locus-equipped warehouse, human pickers work in specific areas and the robots zip around each other from zone to zone, following the most efficient path to fill an order before taking it to the shipping station. Sensors, cameras, and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) help the robots map the warehouse and keep them from running into anything or anyone. Locus markets its robot as a more collaborative, worker-friendly solution that plays to the unique skill sets of both: The robot, with its infinite spatial knowledge, limitless stamina, and complete lack of self-doubt, quickly locates and delivers items, while the nearby human, with his or her prehensile hands, picks it up and puts it in the basket. For now, anyway. The robot arms race is becoming a robot hands race as companies work to develop reliable grasping mechanisms to replace human pickers who have annoying habits like going to the bathroom and going home at the end of their shift.

These two automation systems have very different implications for warehouse design, but denser solutions like Amazon’s automated ottoman seem ideally suited to the smaller fulfillment centers encroaching into our cities with carefully calculated products selected to get more people more things in less time. Lynn believes they could do a lot more than cut down shipping time on your Crest Complete Multi-Benefit Toothpaste with Whitening + Scope. “The level of spatial intelligence in these buildings is remarkable,” he said. “It’s clear that every item is being tracked at all times. In terms of localization and knowing where things are, it’s a hyperintelligent space.… [But] how do you take that kind of spatial thinking and apply it to other building types—a library or market or university?”

Lynn has been exploring that question with architecture students at Yale and UCLA, but we may not have to wait long to find out. Amazon is already experimenting with brick-and-mortar bookstores and grocery stores. Could Amazon U really be that far out? Could logistics save the shopping mall? Should more architects and planners consider these interconnected systems and design for robots as well as people? It may only be a matter of time before automation becomes integrated into our daily lives outside the warehouse and the architecture of fulfillment becomes the architecture of the city. Beyond packing and shipping, could fleets of autonomous vehicles transform cities by making parking garages and parking lots obsolete—creating new space for fulfillment centers, perhaps, or putting a new premium on curb space for drop-offs and pick-ups? I haven’t even mentioned drones yet. As technology evolves to meet the demands of our on-demand lifestyle, what else will change? Perhaps all cities will come to resemble Calvino’s fictional Leonia, whose opulence was measured “not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, [and] bought…but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new.” Ultimately, Leonia was threatened by a looming mountain of its own leftovers. But I bet they could get new underwear delivered in less than an hour.