The era of the Internet and mobile phones has created a flat and interconnected world where the keyboard and the mouse conspire to diminish the senses. Everything can be found on the web and is available at the touch of a screen or the click of a button. This brings convenience but with it, we also lose something.
The human race is in revolt and personal experience is beginning to recover its ancient value.
People need to go out, to feel emotions, to touch, smell, taste, walk, dance, look, be part of something, see faces… and not just via Facebook or the courier at the front door.
In this context, stores are becoming the setting for new experiences and the shopping centre is the theatre of our leisure time. Facades become our emotional stimuli while the mall is a lineal park.
Suddenly, when everyone thought that retail architecture had nothing more to say, it has emerged again as a hub from which experiences and pleasure - which cannot be obtained from a screen - are generated.
Retail architecture is often considered a lesser sub-group within the field but this prejudice is losing strength as retail architecture gets more sophisticated. The need to resolve the combination of commercial success and enhanced experience has forced retail architecture to evolve into new areas.
It is a sector that now demands holistic and complex solutions in architecture, engineering, landscaping, branding, signage, sound, lighting, and in other new disciplines like digital design and place making. We are facing an avant-garde sector that needs to be open-minded to deliver new interpretations of the emerging reality. Blink and you will not be in the picture.
The classical definition of architecture suggests heavy constructions that are conceived to last for years, even for centuries. Retail architecture has the added challenge that it must adapt to the new while never going out of date. Now we must make architecture that doesn’t just endure but evolves, architecture that continuously surprises us.
Fashions will continue to evolve and trends emerge and it is for the designers to embrace what works today and ensure that it still has relevance tomorrow while focusing on the key themes that underpin any great retail development.
The dining experience has become paramount to a successful retail environment where food courts are no longer a series of franchises located along a corridor but an exquisite blend of culinary opportunities ranging from gourmet restaurants to street food markets and everything in between.
The designer must understand that nobody goes to a shopping centre any more to simply buy his or her goods and go home. Shopping centres must become shopping resorts with leisure as the anchor - and nothing is off limits. Bring snow in summer and sun in winter, fashion should meet fire, music meet mischief.
And even in winter the building should be open to the external elements so that the human experience is never separated from nature - landscaping is key to creating a harmonious environment both inside and out.
The stores themselves must have their own identities – they must adopt their own expressions with artistic facades, imaginative use of external spaces and inspired interior design, even in the shops with a value offer. To buy cheap but in a memorable atmosphere is a sign of the times.
Ultimately the new kind of resort is a mechanism for regeneration. A well-designed shopping destination can activate new public realms and transport hubs while also diversifying the risk for the investor. When a retail development is inspirational then it can also be transformational – it is the catalyst of everything else the heart desires.