From the Parisian passages described by the philosopher Walter Benjamin to the great American shopping malls explored by the architect Robert Venturi, and the temporary pop-up shops to the huge chains that invade the centres of (almost) all the cities in the world – from the 19th century to the present day, the retail world has seen a huge evolution on many different fronts: the looks of shops, their atmosphere, the client services, the window displays and the methods of payment.
What about the future? It will doubtless be digital. The e-commerce data in Europe and throughout the world reflect a growing trend towards a hybrid physical/online experience, causing us to reflect on the role shops play in our daily lives and in the construction of our cities.
If there’s one place that can provide the answers and interesting perspectives on the future of retail, it’s China, a country whose growth and thirst for innovation is unequalled anywhere in the world. Learning from China. A New Era of Retail Design, a book published by Frame, focuses on the scene in China, with a selection of 50 interior projects, narrating the many prospects that architects and designers are busy exploring.
Split into four macro-categories – Building Community, Destination: Retail, Wow Factor and Narrating Space – the projects are discussed in a clear and immediate manner, eschewing the superficiality of the social networks as well as those lengthy texts that readers often find of-putting (medium to large format books in particular). There’s a wealth of images, texts and essential captions and some architectural plans. The book gives space to the projects and less to speculation. Theory is put into practice.
The different sections should not be regarded as hermetically sealed, but as thematic perspectives that the individual projects hybridise between them. The relationship between physical and digital space is one of the hottest themes as regards new shops in China. The physical space is not just complementary, but a tool for underpinning e-commerce. Retail outlets are places in which brands communicate their values, drawing users in with set-ups that are not merely functional but harness a narrative or experiential approach. Interactive devices and art installations are thus often integrated into the design for the space, to engage visitors.
The shops can also be seen as community centres, connected to the public spaces and the rest of the city. The retail spaces become hybridised with functions of public interest, such as coworking and cultural centres, becoming meeting places, focal points in the areas in which they spring up.
Designed by both Chinese and international designers, the retail spaces featured in this book are paradigms of a now-globalised evolution. The Chinese cities are the cities of the whole world.
Title: Learning from China. A New Era of Retail Design
Author: Ana Martins
Published by: Frame