What’s In Store

Today in the NYT I read an article not related in anyway to bin Laden (shocking, I know!).

Rather, it was about another dead doornail: the suburban mega-mall, particularly the Xanadu project in the Meadowlands, North Jersey, a twice failed, half finished project on the edge of great monetary and ecological wealth (one of which appears to be winning out as Gov. Christie strikes a $1 billion deal to bring this project to fruition despite heavy doubts and criticism).

Think of it as a modern day Mall of America, except that the times have changed so significantly since 1993 that the new mega-mall is in fact the rapidly expanding internet, where buyers and sellers trade currency and wares in real time and goods are delivered in half the time it takes to locate your car in the massive parking lot sprawling from the mighty gates of the brick and mortar Macy’s (think electronic, downloadable, printable gift cards a la restaurant.com and Groupon!).

While the sealed boxes of the 20th century maybe in rapid decay, the traditional activity of shopping is not lost and will not be until technology affords us the ability to stick our feet through our computer’s screen to try on a pair of wedges. Until the day when color management gurus can assure us that the beige we are reading in that thumbnail image is in fact the beige that will be delivered to our doorstep, the lure of a physical outpost – where we can run hands over carpet fibers and clomp up and down aisles in un-purchased, commitment free shoes – will exist.

That said, the existence of these places should and could evolve towards its eventual cyber-spacedom.

The greatest drawback of architecture is its permanence.

After years of designing and building and spending huge sums of money, there is generally little desire to change what was so long and expensive in the making. However, unfortunately, given the recent state of the world economy and quickly evolving trends, architecture that was very in vogue whilst still in the schematic design phase appears ” s0 200(0-9)” when finally prepared for it’s inhabitants (this, for better or worse, is less true in Asia, particularly China, where buildings break ground before 30% of the design is complete on paper).

In view of the permanence of architecture, websites, on the other hand, change their appearance constantly, transforming the representation of their brand at a pace that is difficult to replicate in any other form.

Difficult, not impossible.

Behold the Alexandre Herchcovitch store in Tokyo, Japan by Studio Arthur Casas, Architects. The concept here turns traditional retail design on it’s head.

Typically, storefronts feature large expanses of glass so as to maximize window shopping potential. While the exterior of the stores may demonstrate some core (timeless, or hopefully so) fundamentals of the brand, the heft is left to the merchandise and frilly accoutrements. Not so in Tokyo, where two street front facades of the Alexandre Herchcovitch store leave no indication of what the building may house or where to enter (below) and hardly any clue at dusk (above), presumably when the store is closed and window shopping is all there is left to do.

The revolutionary aspect of this store is not limited to the lack of clothing racks visible to the passer-byer, for certainly numerous high end stores live off the power of their name rather than the sheer volume of couture in their showrooms. Glossy architecture has replaced product displays from New York to Dubai.

The new future of the physical clothing store is in this building’s ability to become something else with each season’s collection. The Formica clad box accepts a trans-formative skin of stickers (sometimes referred to as stamps by the architects) in the pattern, colors, etc of the newest clothing collection (featured in the photos above is the summer 2007 collection). In fact, this 3-d wrap could be viewed as the new, the ultimate, window shopping-scape, laughing in the face of 12′ by 8′ windows everywhere.

The architect suggests that this mode of shopping works in Japan because “the Japanese are more curious and exclusivist” than other cultures. Preying upon these attributes, certainly the aim of stores around the world is to draw the customer inside, as this concept most definitely does. Perhaps being more curious is something Americans could learn to appreciate. This retail concept’s early presence in Japan reveals only that they are a society one step closer to the future (literally, 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard time) and similar, web-influenced manifestations of the Alexandre Herchcovitch are on our horizon.

And just in case you are one of the curious, a look inside the store:

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