‘Designers have not paid much attention to creating a vibrant store atmosphere’

Tokyo – Although architecture naturally does not exist for the sake of being recorded, it has been recorded by means of still images or photographs for a long time. We learnt and thought about architecture designed by other architects mostly through still images. For this reason, we usually take it for granted that our work would be presented through still images. Even when we explored the notion of movement in our design, it was difficult to present the idea; the notion of movement could be understood from the aspect of function but not from an aesthetic aspect. Therefore, we never had a chance to really focus on movement in design.

Recently, however, we grew accustomed to seeing moving images on social media on a daily basis, and we can also easily record our work by shooting a movie with our smartphones. This was probably the reason why I developed a strong interest in movement these days.

Designers overlooked the importance of store atmosphere and, as a result, people often made remarks such as: "Well-designed shops don’t serve good food"

One most the most important aspects in shop design is a vibrant store atmosphere, but I feel that the designers have not paid much attention to creating or designing such an atmosphere. In fact, designers overlooked the importance of store atmosphere and even tended to avoid thinking about it until recently and, as a result, people often made remarks such as: ‘Well-designed shops don’t serve good food.’ Here my challenge is to analyse, describe and evaluate this aspect.

Above and in our cover image, a section of the Daikanyama Descente Blanc store - Photos by Kenta Hasegawa | Below, the view from the Takeo Kikuchi Shibuya flagship - Photos by Nacása & Partners Inc

Some of the first projects focusing on this theme are the Takeo Kikuchi Shibuya flagship store and the space we designed for Today’s Special in Jiyugaoka, which both were completed right after the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake. The frontage of the space for Takeo Kikuchi was extremely wide but had shallow depth; if the front façade is all glass, pedestrians would see through the entire shop from Meiji Dori Avenue and wouldn’t even need to step in to see the products. On the other hand, customers in the shop would feel uncomfortable being always exposed to the public while shopping.

In order to avoid this situation, we made full use of the three floors to extend the shop vertically, to gain spatial depth, and provided some space for people to stay. More specifically, island-style furniture units of open wooden boxes assembled back-to-back were placed in the shop and circulation routes were assigned to wrap around them, guiding people to move through the entire space to see all the products. There are two vertical circulation routes and five entry points along the front street and the back garden; we eliminated a register counter and provided multiple circulation routes instead, so that customers can freely move about the space and that the staff can assist customers on a one-to-one basis.

This helped alleviate the rather formal atmosphere, while smoothly leading people upstairs. On the upper levels, the first floor has some spaces for people to stay and see Mr. Kikuchi’s atelier, and on the second floor is the café – so that people would stay longer. As a result, a vibrant shop atmosphere is created.

Customers in the shop would feel uncomfortable being always exposed to the public 

At the Today's Special shop in Tokyo - Photos by Takumi Ota

Today’s Special in Jiyugaoka is a so-called lifestyle shop. We began remodelling the three-storey building in 2012 from a former shop on this site called Cibone. Customers used to absorb the latest lifestyles on display, but now that Japan’s economy has reached a mature period where customers are more knowledgeable, we intended to create a shop space like a marche (market), where customers can stroll around and discover some new favourite goods on their own. Tall display shelves are intentionally placed to encourage customers to circulate around the space.

En Route Ginza is a sports apparel shop dedicated to runners, which we designed in Tokyo in 2014. In this type of retail space, the stock room is usually located in the back and out of sight. However, in this case, we moved it to the front area and made a feature of it, building a stock tower formed from scaffolding materials in the centre.

This vibrant framework encourages movement in the space, both of customers through the structure on the ground level and of staff retrieving stock from the upper level. We took advantage of the seven-metre ceiling height to build the imposing tower, which is accessible from the first floor by a flip-up bridge. As a result, customers and employees can always see each other when moving about in the space.

At the En Route shop in Ginza - Photos by Kenta Hasegawa

In 2015 and 2016, we designed a number of Descente Blanc shops in Tokyo and Osaka. We created movable clothes stock devices instead of incorporating people’s movement in space. The interior design is based on the concept of ‘redesigning the movement of an employee to retrieve stock items.’ All of the spaces for the first three shops we realised had high ceilings, and we decided to utilise the height and provide the stock space overhead in order to minimise movement in retrieving items and reduce customers’ waiting time. As a result, the dynamic motion of the devices descending and elevating generates a vibrant atmosphere, while this feature is also used to create different displays on a daily basis and it also gains the attention of passers-by.

As mentioned above, we have been involved in the design of movement for quite some time. We had incorporated movement in the design for a Nadiff bookshop in 2008, which was one of our earliest projects. Nadiff specialises in art titles, including think and heavy hardcover monographs; in addition, the owner believes that increased sales can come about if customers feel welcome to browse through the books in the shop, and suggested it is important to create an environment where people can stay and browse comfortably for a long time. So, we carefully studied the best height of the display stand so that people can place a heavy book on top of stacks and comfortably turn pages.

When a customer is browsing a heavy monograph placed on top of book stacks, another customer may come by and want to read another title, further down that same pile; the person may wait for a while and start reading some other book, and eventually his/her curiosity may stray elsewhere and move on to read another book. This endless repetition of stand and browse may continue at one’s leisure. We designed this bookshop long before the age of smartphones.

This essay was originally featured in Jo Nagasaka / Schemata Architects, our book on the Tokyo-based practice. To purchase a copy, which includes eight essays by the founder and 25 case studies, you can .

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