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10 August 2020
Kuldeep Bwail

How Architects Fit into the Retail Design Process

Walking into a famous burger retail chain outlet or a well-known tech giant’s retail space anywhere in the world, there are always going to be familiar features and a few not-so-familiar attributes. Balancing brand characteristics with local sensibilities, preferences and tastes needs architects to walk a delicate tightrope. The architectural design services they provide must entail well-researched and detailed retail design drawings or store design drawings.

Architects must think and design holistically for retail spaces. They must know local codes, the challenges of the local topography and the psychology of the brand. In the retail industry, trends may change according to the season. Architects consider how these changing trends can be easily incorporated in the retail space from season to season. They also have to contend with a few processes – the back-and-forth with clients, understanding and enforcing the requirements of local building committees and the process of consumer flow in a retail space.

These are some of the ways that architects can deal with their retail design tasks:
Local Regulations and Building Codes
  • Complying with local planning and zoning laws may involve adhering to required setbacks, height limitations, parking requirements, transparency requirements (windows) and land use of malls or other large retail spaces.
  • Some areas may need architects to follow design and historic preservation guidelines, eg. a new retail complex in or near a heritage site.
  • Design reports and records may have to be created which consider materials and contaminants, waste management and recycling, traffic control and fire safety of the retail outlet.
Design Methodology
  • Computer technology, specifically CAD (computer-aided design), is the current industry standard for the architectural design process in retail design.
  • Increasingly, BIM-enabled software is influencing the workflow, means and methods of the architect’s role; BIM facilitates the creation of a virtual 3D model, which is also an information database to share design data between project stakeholders through the planning, design, construction and maintenance of a retail space.
  • Energy-efficient building design that reduces carbon emissions and uses renewable energy sources are not only desirable, but mandatory in many retail spaces.
  • Architects must be well aware of changing local regulations regarding the design of renewable energy sources developed within a retail space or incorporate the work of officially recognised renewable energy providers.
  • Increasingly, architects are required to design for low-energy transport, daylight instead of artificial lighting, natural ventilation instead of air conditioning, reduction or elimination of pollution, waste management and the use of recycled materials for retail spaces.
  • Architects need to design architectural elements with specifications and details, while updating themselves on the latest construction techniques for retail outlets.
  • Services of the architect during construction may involve detailed document preparation, construction review or allowing the contractor full reign in the design-build decision-making process, depending on the needs of the retailer.
  • Initially, architects and retailers conduct a series of meetings on design concepts, preliminary design and final design. Discussions involve architectural details, functional details and commercial aspects of the space.
  • Typically, architects advise retail clients on hiring a general contractor. Additionally, they may negotiate and advise on a contract between the retail client and the contractor, which includes insurances, project stakeholder commitments, design document status, the architect’s access and the process of construction.
  • Architects may specify the expected durability of materials and products or other aspects of the construction work.
  • Architects can review and inspect construction progress so that it is in accordance with the final design, the branding of the retailer and with local regulations.
  • Architects may also review contractor shop drawings for customised prefabricated components specifically being created for the retailer.

A specialised wing of architecture and interior design, retail design weaves strands of graphic design, ergonomics and advertising into its final tapestry.

There are heavy demands on retail space. Since retail space must stock and sell products, it must be designed so that shoppers enjoy a trouble-free experience. One of the prime objectives of retail design is to pull people into the retail space. Features, such as large signage, large display windows and clever lighting, can have a significant impact.

Circulation must be designed strategically. Six basic store layouts that architects consider are:
  • Straight Plan: Walls display merchandise; consumers are led to the back of the store to check-out counter.
  • Pathway Plan: Clear path unobstructed by fixtures guides consumers to check-out counter.
  • Diagonal Plan: A perimeter design that manipulates consumers to move angularly, where the check-out counter is in the centre of the space.
  • Curved Plan: Walls, corners and ceilings are slightly curved, with circular floor fixtures, for a cosy and inviting ambience.
  • Varied Plan: in this plan attention is drawn to special focus areas, as well as having storage areas that line the wall. This is best suited for footwear and jewellery retail stores.[24]
  • Geometric Plan: Racks, floor fixtures and floor design create a geometric floor plan, and subsequently the circulation is geometric. Varying ceiling height in specific areas creates defined niches.

Following structural and circulation design decisions, architects must consider themes and atmosphere. Materials, lighting, sound and visual branding will have a considerable impact on consumers, and these factors must be carefully assessed as part of the retail space design process.

  • Lighting must display merchandise for optimum benefit and highlight key products and areas through natural lighting, layering and multiple intensities.
  • Ambience can be created through colours and textures. Colours must not clash with or take attention away from the merchandise. Colours of materials on walls, floors, ceilings and furniture cannot change seasonally with the merchandise, so neutral colours are recommended.
  • Material used in the space should be attractive, durable and easy to maintain. Contrasting materials within the retail space create defined zones. Modern stores strive to incorporate sustainable materials.
  • Visual branding is possibly of paramount importance. Exterior branding and signage should flow into the interior, be consistent, attract, interest and influence consumers.

Some of the basic types of information required from architects for retail spaces include: description of style and character of the exterior architecture; walls, roofs, and floors-at-grade; major interior architectural materials, assemblies and finish; building circulation, egress, and means of horizontal  and vertical conveyance; strategies for compliance with life safety and accessibility codes, standards and restrictions.

A few of the other details that architects must prepare for retail spaces are:
  • Topographic survey of the site, meeting local standards and identifying:
  • Benchmarks and horizontal control on site
  • Horizontal and vertical control for areas not likely to be disturbed by construction
  • Grades/contours and key spot elevations.
  • Paved/hard, unpaved/soft surface and water body elevations
  • Adjacent buildings, streets, circulation paths, curbs, gutters
  • Light fixtures, site furnishings, signage, and other above-ground structures and features
  • Existing conservation areas
  • Conceptual site plan, including building orientation, access routes, shading
  • Paths for utilities infrastructure and stormwater management systems
  • Updated floor plans for each proposed level with preliminary room numbers
  • Roof plans showing slopes, drainage, materials, and roof-mounted equipment
  • Updated exterior elevations of all building sides
  • Updated exterior renderings, perspectives, and/or models
  • Renderings of all significant public spaces, including exterior public plazas and primary entry lobbies to accurately portray scale, context, finishes, and light sources
  • Transverse and lateral building sections indicating finished floor elevation of each level, floor-to-floor heights, vertical circulation, and interior space relationships
  • Updated sections through stairs and elevator shafts (both directions), plus floor-by-floor plans for each stair
  • Updated building envelope sections and details as needed to identify the composition, dimensions, and construction of all exterior walls
  • Details for flashing, waterproofing, damp-proofing and fireproofing
  • Details and enlarged elevations for cast stone or architectural precast, stucco, metal wall panels, and other exterior finishes
  • Updated schedules and details for openings (windows, doors)
  • Updated and refined details, definitions for interior partitions
  • Updated reflected ceiling plans to illustrate ceiling heights, materials
  • Updated finish schedule to identify wall, ceiling, floor and base materials
  • Dimensioned interior elevations and fixture/accessory schedules for all restrooms
  • Casework and millwork details
  • Updated colour/finishes boards, with colour and type of interior finishes
  • Finalised demolition plans for renovation/rehabilitation projects

This is but a fraction of the list of requirements that architects may need to churn out for different stages of the design. It can be safely assumed that architects would appreciate some help with the crunch work. For some, using Revit can be a fast and easy software option, and yet, timely assistance from knowledgeable human resources could help meet deadlines for large projects.

Architects can rely on design partners who understand the workflow and quality standards of the area they work in and who they can communicate clearly with. Offshore architectural design services firms can be carefully vetted, so that architects and architectural firms in the West may obtain and further develop, if need be, retail design drawings and architectural 3D modelling for large retail clients. Greater benefits ensue if the design partners who provide these architectural drawing services are well versed with the local zoning codes and regulations.

XS CAD has valuable experience providing architectural design services, Revit 3D modelling services for global retailers/store planners. Our range of services for retailers include, retail design drawings, drafting, BIM modelling and visualisation for all stages of the design process. We also provide architectural drawing services, manufacturing and assembly drawings, Revit family libraries, 3D walk-throughs, retail design support alongside our store construction documentation and construction drawing services.