Posts tagged with "Retail":

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Chicago has become a testing ground for the next wave of restaurant design

We are living in the Golden Age of restaurants. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans spend nearly half of their food budget eating at restaurants, rather than shopping at grocery stores. This fact stands in stark contrast to the greater trend in retail, which shows brick-and-mortar storefronts struggling against online competition and skyrocketing rent. Yet, success in the restaurant business is far from guaranteed. With more options for high quality food than ever before, restaurants new and old are rethinking their place in urban settings.

Though Chicago may be best known for deep-dish pizza and hotdogs, the food scene in the past decade has been defined more by several highly experimental restaurants such as the Michelin three-star micro-gastronomy restaurant Alinea. While such award-winning establishments have changed the culinary scene, it is the extreme flux of fast-casual eateries, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Freshii, that has saturated neighborhoods to the point of bursting.

Just as Chicago has been a testing ground for some of the world’s most unusual cooking techniques, it would seem the city is now becoming the site of an uncanny fast food resurgence. As McDonald’s moves its headquarters from its Dirk Lohan–designed modernist campus in Chicago’s Oak Brook suburb to downtown, other chains are also rethinking their spaces to appeal to the urban set. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell all have redesigned or launched new restaurants specifically for urban settings. In particular, Taco Bell has launched a new line of storefronts that are hardly recognizable as the affordable “Mexican” chain.

With the first of its kind opening in Wicker Park, Chicago, the Taco Bell Cantina takes a step toward the fast-casual market and away from its drive-through and suburban-mall food court roots. Most noticeably, the Cantina doesn’t have a drive-through, or even a parking lot. Situated in a small storefront—which once housed a short-lived high-end sex toy shop—the fast food giant takes advantage of the heavily pedestrian-trafficked Milwaukee Avenue retail district. Once pocked with numerous vacant storefronts, the street is now filling with local and national chains looking to cash in on the popularity of the walkable neighborhood.

As such, this Taco Bell is specifically designed for pedestrians. This carries into the interior with nonslip tile floors that guard against the slush and snow of Chicago winters. The dining area is somewhere between a fast-casual restaurant, an internet cafe, and a sports bar. Yes, a sports bar. When the Cantina opened, most stories revolved around the fact that this is the first Taco Bell to serve alcohol. Hard liquor can be mixed with Taco Bell’s proprietary Mountain Dew flavors, and beer is served in bottles. Large flat-screen TVs along one wall play sports, news, and, late at night (it is open 24 hours), the Syfy channel. During the day, it is not uncommon to see people sitting at the highly finished plywood furniture working on laptops. Airport terminals should take note of the number of outlets at this Taco Bell. With at least one for every seat, it is ironically more convenient to work there than at the trendy coffee shop down the street. All of this is part of a carefully planned shift by Yum! Brands, Inc., Taco Bell’s parent company. Since the opening of the Wicker Park Cantina in late 2015, 11 other “urban inline stores” have opened around the country. Along with the Cantina, Taco Bell has opened four other models in California, ostensibly referencing their specific locations. Those models have names like Heritage, Modern Explorer, California Sol, and Urban Edge. Of the 2,500 more Taco Bell locations Yum! plans to open around the world in the next five years, at least 300 of them are planned to be the urban iterations.

Another major brand that believes Chicago may be a perfect pilot site is the coffee giant Starbucks. After a major remodel of the tiny Wicker Park Starbucks, the space was rebranded as a higher-end offering that the Seattle-based company is calling Starbucks Reserve. Reserve locations serve small batch specialty coffees, and the design of the space has been rethought. Following a larger trend in retail, companies are looking to provide more differentiated environments, rather than the repetitious brand enforcing model companies like Starbucks are known for. Finer finishes, graphic and object references to the coffee harvesting process, and LEED compliant construction methods all add to this new “experience.” Doubling down in the windy city, Starbucks will also open its largest retail space to date downtown along Michigan Avenue. The third of its kind, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery will be a four-story, 43,000-square-foot coffee palace. Along with roasting the brand’s special Reserve coffees, the new space will include cafes and rooftop terraces.

While fast-casual chains continue to grow, that growth has begun to show signs of slowing in the past few years. The casual dining market on the other hand, typified by restaurants such as Applebee’s and TGI Fridays, has not only slowed to a stop—it has begun to lose ground. Analysts are now saying millennials, in particular, are just not interested in the chains that were so popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. With large numbers of twenty- and thirty-somethings moving to urban centers and preferring fast, generally healthier food, the restaurant industry is rushing to figure out how to keep up.

While Michelin-starred restaurants concoct fantastic dishes in spaces often difficult to find, let alone get reservations to, and fast casual brands continue to pump out quinoa wraps, a handful of large brands are trying to figure out what it means to have an urban presence. Rather than importing suburban drive-throughs, they’re mimicking urban coffee joints and neighborhood bars. Chicago, with its seemingly insatiable appetite for new and interesting restaurants, also seems to have room for some familiar faces that are willing to cater to its particular taste.

What’s being done—or not—to save Manhattan’s small businesses from Amazon and big box competition

Broadway, Manhattan’s longest street and a main commercial drag, spans the length of the island from hilly Inwood to Lower Manhattan’s breezy Bowling Green. There are shops from nose to tail, but a recent survey found that Broadway is also home to almost 200 vacant storefronts, dead zones on one of Gotham’s liveliest thoroughfares.

Glaring vacancies aren’t limited to Broadway though. From Madison and Fifth Avenue to Broadway in Soho and Bleeker Street in the West Village, high-end commercial strips in Manhattan are having trouble attracting commercial tenants. A healthy vacancy rate is 5 percent, but some fancy areas are in the midst of high-rent blight, with one in five (20 percent) storefronts vacant.

Further north, in Washington Heights, a whole block of immigrant-owned businesses were essentially evicted after new landlords proposed a 100 percent rent increase and declined to renew their leases.

Why is this happening?

The causes are predictable, but the solutions are not.

High rent, high taxes, regulations that favor owners over tenants, and plain old capitalism—the incentive for owners to seek their property’s maximum value, and the consumer’s desire to acquire goods at the lowest price—all contribute to the twin plagues of vacancy and the mall-ification (national chains displacing small, local businesses) of Manhattan. Stakeholders, though, disagree on what should be done to solve a growing crisis at street level.

This spring, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office (MBPO) recruited volunteers to count all the vacant storefronts along Broadway, citing a dearth of information on how many vacancies exist, and where. The survey follows an effort from two years ago where the office reached out to small businesses and offered potential policy solutions to businesses’ problems.

But first the report had to determine what a small business is, a question that is not as obvious as it seems.

The federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) measures business size by number of employees or the company’s value, depending on the sector. The Small Business Act, though, uses a measure that doesn’t exactly conjure visions of mom-and-pops: It says small businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Under the same rules, a microbusiness has fewer than five employees and requires $35,000 in capital or less to get going.

In New York State, small businesses are companies that employ fewer than one hundred people, while New York City’s Department of Small Business Services doesn’t set a number. Instead, it encourages any self-identifying businesses to seek out its resources.

Consequently, the MBPO’s March 2015 report called for a standardized measure of “small,” and the recommendations in its report are geared toward firms with 15 or fewer employees.

No matter how you define them, it’s clear that the not-so-invisible hand of the market is driving these firms out of business on Manhattan’s main streets. One problem? Stratospheric commercial rent increases. In 2014, the average asking rent in Manhattan was $65.14 per square foot. With ever-more high-income individuals flooding Manhattan, landlords are reluctant to offer 10- or 15-year commercial leases lest they get stuck with a lower-paying tenant as commercial land values in the neighborhood skyrocket.

Other problems, the report found, include businesses not having enough insurance, delaying tax payment, and under-budgeting for utilities. On the city side, some business owners in the report cited punitive agency inspectors who, instead of working with the owner to correct an issue, slapped the business with a fine.

Additional solutions don’t seem politically viable or aren’t effected at a scale that works.

A special tax for businesses in most of Manhattan eats into viability, too. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected the city council's proposal to alter commercial rent tax, an almost four percent surcharge on annual rent of $250,000 or more on businesses below 96th Street. As rents have risen, the tax threshold has stayed the same, and more businesses have become impacted. A bill (sponsored by Councilmember Dan Garodnick) that would raise the ceiling to $500,000 in annual rent didn’t make it into the final 2018 budget, though the item could be considered at a later date. If that limit were approved, the city would lose $52 million in revenue annually.

Zoning regulations encourage new development with huge storefronts that work for Chase and CVS but not for their independent counterparts. On the Upper West Side, though, neighbors are seeing mixed success from initiatives like a 2012 zoning change that limited storefronts to 25 feet, but don’t limit store size, as businesses are free to expand up or down as space permits.

But some advocates say these reforms don’t go far enough to stop business closures and the encroachment of chain stores.

“There is a crisis,” said Kirsten Theodos, cofounder of TakeBackNYC, an advocacy group for New York City small businesses. New York is losing 1,000 small businesses and 8,000 jobs per month. Theodos, who lives near the East Village, said all of this “fuels the hyper-gentrification and whitewashing of the city, a process that’s really accelerated over the past six years.”

Her group supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a piece of local legislation that would set new rules around renewing commercial leases. Among other provisions, SBJSA would give commercial tenants, at minimum, a ten-year lease plus right to renewal and the option of arbitration to come to a new rent. The legislation is designed to slow, not stop, the rate of change in neighborhoods, and level the playing field for florists and bakeries competing for storefronts with Starbucks and Pottery Barn.

When the bill was first introduced in 2014, it had the support of 17 councilmembers—now it has the support of 26, or half the council. But in a city dominated by real estate interests, the bill is a nonstarter, Theodos explained. REBNY, the city’s largest real estate trade association, opposes the proposed rules, rallying around the idea that land values are subject to the “free market” and (incorrectly) deeming the rules “rent control.”

Even real estate boosters, though, acknowledge the downtrends in the market. According to REBNY, average asking rents in Manhattan this past spring fell in 14 of 17 of the borough’s top shopping strips compared with 2016 and record highs in 2014 and 2015. But the group maintains that a variety of factors set Manhattan apart from the suburbs, and grant the city a degree of immunity from experts’ dire predictions about the death of retail. In New York, REBNY says there are “strong market fundamentals,” including diverse food tenants, online retailers opening storefronts, and the eternal cache of a New York, NY address.

But to REBNY, doing well means collecting more rent. Fifth Avenue between 14th and 23rd streets (the Flatiron Fifth Avenue corridor) and Broadway between Battery Park and Chambers Street (the Lower Manhattan corridor) did the best, with ground floor rents rising by 18 percent to $456 per square foot in the Flatiron and 11 percent to $362 per square foot along the Lower Manhattan corridor. The report only looks at rents along main strips. Rents on side streets, according to the report, could diverge from the main drag; conversely, a gorgeous space on a prime corner may command greater asking rent and affect averages all along the strip.

It’s not only high rents and taxes that are driving businesses to close. Online shopping is slaying retailers big and small, in Manhattan and the suburbs and beyond. Right now, unchecked real estate speculation and limited protections for small-business owners mean that there is little protection against ultimately having a national bank and pharmacy on every corner.

Under Armour opens new Brand House in Detroit’s historic Kresge Building

Detroit is now home to the newest Under Armour Brand House. The multistory sports-apparel showroom and store is housed in the historic 1917 Kresge Building in downtown Detroit. Local Kraemer Design Group (KDG) worked as historic consultant and architect of record on the project, and Sachse Construction was general contractor. Working with Bedrock, the building owner, KDG worked to maintain protected historic features throughout the project including the original marble walls and the brass handrails in a monumental staircase. At the same time, the space was altered to fit Under Armour’s brand. Since much of the space is on a mezzanine level, a new elevator was added, but otherwise the existing conditions in the one-hundred-year-old building were left undisturbed. The 17,000-square-foot store is just the latest of in a series of recently opening and planned flagship retail stores in Downtown Detroit, including a large Nike store and a future Warby Parker.

Under Armour Brand House 1201 Woodward Avenue, Detroit Tel: 313-335-3162 Architect: Kraemer Design Group

SITU Studio crafts a uniquely flexible display system for a New York City vinyl record and audiophile store

Despite the recent resurgence in vinyl record sales, brick-and-mortar music retail remains a challenging business. New York City’s Turntable Lab—which sells vinyl, high-end audiophile equipment, and merchandise, catering to professional DJs and casual listeners alike—had successfully graduated from its small starting location near the Cooper Union to a larger, 1,200-square-foot space nearby. But Turntable’s owners knew their store needed to be nimble to survive. “Products always change…how you display things, where you might need to move things around. Maximum flexibility was what we were shooting for,” said Turntable Lab partner David Azzoni. The new store required that adaptability, but the owners didn’t want to lose the gritty basement feel of the old location.

They turned to Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary firm SITU Studio; the two teams had already collaborated to design a no-frills, flat-pack turntable stand that was successfully Kickstarted. Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny, partner at SITU Studio, said the firm looked to DIY sources for inspiration for the store. “The brilliant detail: It’s a cleat. It’s actually something very straightforward, something your DIY handyman at home will build in his garage for tools,” he explained. The cleats run throughout the space, supporting around 10 different sets of brackets, hooks, and rails, all of which hold stands, shelves, and display inserts.

This system allows for extreme flexibility, but SITU Studio had to work hard to refine the cleat, ensuring that the racks would be secure without requiring tools or extensive force to change them around. Turntable Lab also visited SITU Studio’s workshop throughout the design process, bringing samples of products, to measure what dimensions and displays worked best. “We spent a lot of time just drawing and cutting these things out, playing with just the round-overs, the radiuses…there was a lot of massaging radiuses,” Lukyanov-Cherny recalled. One major decision was to cut out the center of the display brackets, thereby keeping the cases visually open. “It just flows,” said Azzoni.

SITU Studio selected clear finished and untreated Baltic birch plywood for the entire system, with high-pressure laminate for its heavily used surfaces. The plywood—CNC-milled into shape—retains the old shop’s raw, utilitarian feel but balances it with clean lines. And Turntable Lab’s owners couldn’t be happier with the result. Armed with a basic set of display units, they can easily swap out products and how they’re displayed. In the back of the store, each vinyl storage/display unit rolls on wheels and can be moved to make space for events.

Parked among the vinyl records and T-shirts is the old store’s timeworn turntable stand, still used by DJs for in-store concerts. Its plywood has weathered darkly with use, and it sharply contrasts with the fresh plywood around it. But it won’t be the only aged one for long.

“These things can take a beating; you don’t want to refine things that people will be touching. You want to think about materiality and how it ages over time,” Lukyanov-Cherny said. “Eventually,” he added, gesturing from the new plywood displays to the old turntable stand, “they’re all gonna look like this!”

Macy’s floats idea of garden rooftop to entice visitors

The Macy's flagship store at Herald Square could be in line for a vegetated, dog- and customer-friendly rooftop addition to entice customers through its doors. The 2.2 million-square-foot location on 34th Street would see restaurants, seating, decking, trees, and other greenery added to the rooftop. “That store is getting more valuable by the day as the center of gravity in Manhattan shifts southwest to Hudson Yards,” said Doug Sessler, the retailer’s vice president of real estate, to the New York Post. According to Sessler, the rooftop would be in place to encourage circulation through the store acting as a destination itself, meaning patrons having to pass through the entire store on the way up and way down, thus maximizing the potential for them to part with their money see what the store has to offer.