Exploring the narrative of shopping

I try to shop locally, favouring smaller groceries, the butchers and fishmonger, fruit and veg markets, the independent bookstore and the few boutiques in my neighbourhood who support smaller designers. It involves a little more effort trekking from shop to shop and navigating crowded markets in the rain, but the experience is hugely rewarding. Each one of these establishments offers a very different experience, an unexpected find, fun conversation, a laugh, a cry… I come away with much more than a transaction of money for goods.

I’m not alone in actively wanting to return to the old culture of shopping – you know when you’d made a trip to the town market to buy the weekly groceries, did a little bartering, caught up with the politics of the day, learnt the latest gossip, married off your sons and daughters. Shopping was an event yet somewhere along the way we have lost that element of fun. Allowing for Amazon to decide on our reading list, Spotify to predict our listening and Ocado to deliver our food to me is soul destroying.

Earlier this week I caught up with the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, founder of the exciting practice OMA, who seems to share a similar belief. Recent political events, the ‘digital representations of reality’ as he rightfully says, should be a good wake-up call to pop the liberal bubble and make some fundamental changes. ‘There’s a lot of disruption going on in the world. These events demand that we have a rethink. Do we address consumption in the world?’

Koolhaas was talking at the Vision: Future Retail, a symposium in Amsterdam attended by various companies and creatives. In reality, it is time to reinvent the retail narrative not only from a nostalgic viewpoint, or political, but simply because the current model is no longer commercially working. We connect and consume products in a very different way than we used to. Access is replacing the physical – we are still buying products but for very different reasons. Experience is our new status symbol and it is having a profound impact on how we shop.

What this means is really rethinking the retail space to engage with the consumer, provide excitement, experiences, friendship and a sense of community, help share thoughts and ideology. This could involve experimental retail, spaces that are artistic, pop-ups and temporary structure in unusual locations purely for the purpose of brand awareness. Perhaps they don’t sell anything but brand experiences. It means more and more collaborations with artists and creatives who share a similar vision, and working with social and political causes that also identify with the company’s underlying principles. In the new age of retail, stores need to be become more glocal so the design of the shop floor is locally responsive even if the brand is global.

Although theoretically the digital age should have made shopping easier, more than ever consumers want to connect with the brand in order for a purchase to take place. They want to feel, smell, touch the object, but also bond with the brand itself be it ideologically or otherwise. The internet has become that last purchasing tool, the last click-and-pay.

Some brands are actively doing this. OMA’s Fondazione Prada in Milan is a cultural complex with huge gallery spaces replete with a cinema. More recently the firm has worked with KaDeWe in Berlin, Repossi and Boulevard Haussmann in Paris and the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, a homage to the old market square. Collectively they are not only making strong architectural statements but are also expanding the customers’ retail experience into an urban architectural experience. They provide retail as part of your ‘city wonder’ says the firm.

Car companies are also reviewing how to sell cars going forward. On the one hand the collections are now so huge that no physical space, certainly none in congested city settings, can house the full range. Added to this the auto world is in a bit of a puzzle as the next generation refuses to connect emotionally with cars and even less with individual car ownership. Audi City in London, for instance, is a fully digital car salesroom built on the Apple model that hopes to connect with the millennials. In the same way, BMW says it will like to work closer with the likes of OMA to explore shopping as an experience.

Michele Fuhs, head of Premium Retail Experience believes that by 2020 the BMW Group will need to be the ‘point of experience. We cannot remain simply sales focused but address what is mobility in the future, what is car ownership. We are competing with the entertainment industry. For this we need partners. Our brand will be at the centre but it has to move forward.’

Koolhaas says we have been pampered and should be more ambitious and more interesting. ‘We are too placid and predictable’ and need to engage with choice, alternatives and reality and ‘discover pleasures outside the immediate comfort zone.’

In the future we will see more and more of a shift towards brands as media, ones that offer other services, that are inclusive, spaces that are more fluid and flexible in their delivery, and crucially companies need to offer a personal, bespoke experience. Perhaps the shop of the future will be a gallery of sorts, an interactive and exciting exhibition space, and maybe at the end of that experience, that city wonder, we click a button and make a purchase, much like we would a souvenir.

Nargess Banks

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

The new Design Museum opens in Kensington

‘Design is about optimism,’ offers sir Terence Conran, ‘and this friendly space is full of surprises. It is about love rather than fear. I hope we can educate and inspire generations to come,’ says the founder of the Design Museum. Heartfelt words in these politically dark times.

We are being treated to a preview of the museum’s much anticipated new premise in Kensington, on the edge of Holland Park in west London, which will officially open its doors to the public on 24 November. Conran continues: ‘It will allow for us to create a world-class and truly international space for the celebration of design and architecture. It is a cathedral of design – it felt like this when I first walked into this building.’

Conran founded the original Design Museum in 1989 in a much more modest building in Shad Thames, south east London which closed in June. ‘Moving the Design Museum to Kensington is the most exciting part of my career so far,’ he says. ‘It’s a dream that’s been materialising for ten years.’

This was an £83 million project that took five years to complete. It is a collaborative project too, involving some world-leading architects and engineers including OMA, Allies and Morrison and Arup who painstakingly restored the former Grade II listed 1960s Commonwealth Institute’s spectacular concrete roof and distinctive façade.

Using radical engineering techniques, the exterior team removed the original concrete floors which meant having to prop the roof temporarily on a steel structure 20-meter above ground. Much of the detailing on the original façade has been recreated to resemble the blue skin of the post-war building.

The interior design is the work of UK architect John Pawson, noted for his thoughtful designs and refined use of materials. Here too he has sensitively retuned the interior, keeping much of the feel and integrity of the former building. Inside is open, welcoming and warm – it is a peaceful place offering a series of calm, atmospheric spaces arranged around an oak-lined atrium. He says: ‘You don’t have to knock down building to build architecture.’

The new Design Museum offers some 10,000 square-meters of gallery space, triple that of Shad Thames, allowing for a permanent display designed by Studio Myerscough, as well as two temporary exhibitions and enough space for resident designers, a members’ area, café/restaurant and shop.

The museum will explore objects past and present but also crucially ideas surrounding creativity and speculative design. ‘Design is a way to understand the world around us,’ explains the museum director Deyan Sudjic. ‘It makes technology work, it’s a reflection of our culture as well as an economic engine. We see the Design Museum as a forum to explore the impact of the rapid changes that design is bringing to society.’

Conran says this is a way of also showing the government that design is pivotal to our quality of life – something he’s been advocating for years – but also to manufacturing and to industry. ‘I think every manufacturer should have a designer on its team,’ he smiles. ‘We truly want to be international in our approach, and show that design, manufacturing and business are intertwined, that one cannot survive without the other.’

Nargess Banks


Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©