Ever think about working with an architect? Don’t know what they do?

Project by Architects participating in "Working with an Architect"
Project by Architects participating in “Working with an Architect,” an Architecture Week event sponsored by the Northern VA Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

As an architect I find myself sometimes reluctant, especially in social situations, to tell people what I do. Sounds crazy, considering it is an honorable profession requiring lots of education, training, testing, not to mention participation in many successful designs, and further considering that I am always looking for new projects. Actually, this is an unconscious reaction that, until recently, I neither recognized nor examined, which begs the question; “why now?”

First a word about teaching: For the past couple of years I have been working to develop and refine a presentation designed to enlighten potential new clients and other interested parties on the details of architectural services performed, not only by my firm, but also design professionals in general. In the beginning the project was unashamedly self serving, done because I found that successful projects often resulted when the client had some previous experience with building. These clients were easy to please because their expectations were well defined. My practice involves working with small businesses, many of whom are startups. I thought that imparting some of this experience could prove immensely facilitating for both client and architect. This lead me look for a way to teach about what architects really do, finally resulting in a two part, two hour long power point presentation, posted on our website, Youtube and presented live in various venues. Although these efforts were naturally directed towards our specialized area of practice, there was a larger unanticipated outgrowth having to do with the pervasiveness of misconceptions about the practice of architecture in general.

The American Institute of Architects: Every year, during the first week in April, the AIA, of which I am a member, holds a celebration of architecture. AIA chapters all over the country offer events and activities geared towards architectural subjects of interests to the profession and public alike. In the burst of activity leading up to this event, I came across a request for local volunteer architects able to participate in an event entitled “Working with an Architect.” The event, centering on discussions about the processes and advantages of working with an architect, will consist of local architects making themselves available for free, open, informal discussions on just about any subject having to do with architecture, design, and building. At the time of this post there are ten local architects participating, and considering, my previous discussion, it is not difficult to see why I will be one of them.

What cannot be defined, cannot be valued: I have come to the conclusion that AIA, its members, and architects in general are facing an identity crisis. One manifesting in the assumption that what cannot be identified, cannot be valued, which speaks to my original question. I sometimes dodge talking about my profession because I fear that the term architect has become and empty word, susceptible to all of the follies, misconceptions and romantic notions of popular culture. Clearly most people understand that the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain was designed by an architect named Frank Gehry. On the other hand, how the architect relates to the dry cleaner on the corner or their neighbor’s home addition is often a mystery. AIA, to its credit, is taking steps (beyond the scope of this discussion), toward correction, but we as individual architects bear a lot of responsibly. The profession has become increasingly complicated. In addition to design and construction of the built environment, issues of technology and business must be part of the architect’s skill set. How well these many disciplines are managed and assimilated is an indication of a successful project. And if this is the measure, most architects that I know are successful indeed, because what they contribute, how they accomplish what they do, how they practice their craft, is so essential as to completely disappear into the fabric of a project. In short the craft of architecture is successful not a little by dint of how well it dissolves into the buildings it creates. This, of course, is a very “zen” idea, having great appeal to the artistically and academically inclined, while at the same time making life difficult for the more pragmatic among us. Value is easily assigned to the finished house, barn, school, or office building. Defining how that building was actually accomplished, not so much.

What it is like to work with an architect: Architects know in multifarious detail what goes in to one of their projects, what benefit is offered, what improvement is made, how life is made easier, better. Communicating these numerous, lists, plans, sketches, drawings, products, services, consultations, consultants, research…, into some understandable format is our challenge. “Working with an Architect” is an event designed to help us meet this challenge. I am happy to participate and invite anyone interested, moderately or otherwise, to chat with an architect about their projects, their thoughts, their love of the subject, even about their favorite “starchitect.” Please join us on Sunday April 10th. A link to the event and a list of participating architects is below. Samples of their work are in the slideshow above.

Refreshments will be served. There is no charge to attend and no reservations are necessary. Additional information may be found here: “Working with an Architect

Participating Architects:

Christine Kelly AIA, Crafted Architecture LLC
Steve Kulinski AIA, Kulinski Group Architects, PC
John Nolan AIA, Maginniss + del Ninno Architects
Rebecca Bostick AIA, Rebecca LG Bostick Architects Inc.
Laura Campbell AIA, Laura Campbell Architecture
Paul Trombley AIA, Studio 66 LLC
Randall Mars AIA, Randall Mars Architects
Eunice A. Murray, AIA, Eunice Murray Architect
Lyndl T. Joseph, AIA, Great Seal LLC
Bridget Gaddis, AIA, Gaddis Architect

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Retail Architect takes on karma.

Marcela's Yoga BoutiqueMarcel’s Yoga Boutique,

has turned out to be one of our most sophisticated designs. Recently completed, it was featured in the Old Town Crier, and we were also happy to answer some questions posed by Cindy Laidlaw, Principal of Laidlaw Group, the marketing communications firm who does the blog for the company who manufactures the shelving system. The content is especially informative for anyone thinking about a new retail project so I am posting some of it here along with links to the articles.

Question: Where and when did the idea for the studio start? Answer: Marcela came to me on the recommendation the local Small Business Development Center. As it turned out, my office is exactly across the street from her shop. Talk about Karma?

Question: What is your background? Answer: This is the bio that I use in many blog post. Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-Accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and has a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction.

Question: What was the vision of the project? Answer: Marcela had a vision that centered around the lotus flower. It is part of her logo and where we started to design. I liked the water element inherent in the lotus environment and aimed at suggesting this by the use of curved glass shelves as a feature in the shop. There is a mystique attached to the idea of yoga and one way of visually representing the calm is with open space – not so easy in a tiny shop. By merchandising mainly the walls we were able to define really nice site lines that terminate in beautiful merchandise displays while at the same time maintaining the “karma” of open space.

Question: What inspired the design? Answer: The lotus flower.

Question: In addition to Rakks, what other materials were used? Answer: We used a rustic piece of wood, with the shape of the tree still in its profile, to anchor and complete the feature wall. The effect is very organic.

Question: How long did the project take? Answer: It took about 4 months.

Question: What were the installation challenges of the space? Answer: The building is old and the exterior walls are plaster directly on furred out brick. They were totally out of plumb, to the extent that, in order to use the wall mounted Rakks standards, we had to build a drywall stand out in front of the existing wall.

Question: What is the history of the building? Answer: The building is in the historic district of Old Town Alexandria, VA.

Question: Where can I find out more about the products on display? Answer: Marcela’s Yoga Boutique

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Retail Architect: billboards store design

Retail architect are always looking at design features that can make a store stand out, or differentiate, from its neighbors in the mall scape, leading to a design idea that I may, or may not, have mentioned previously; namely mall storefronts are being treated like billboards. Compare, for example, the type of merchandising that is going on in the Aldo store with that of the Buy Paris Collection below. On a practical level this may not be a very fair comparison as Aldo has rallied all of its substantial store planning resources around supporting and marketing their brand, while the shop in the Paris airport is marketing multiple brands, probably with considerably less resources. That said, this discussion is academic and I am using the contrast between the two shops to demonstrate a design technique.

Clearly, Aldo has used every inch of wall space to deliver a marketing message about their product. It is a message being delivered to virtually every potential shopper with a view of the store no matter where that shopper happens to be located. The desire to accomplish this is nothing new. The installation of billboard size images on every available inch of visible wall, on the other hand, is a fairly new trend. I expect it is only a matter of time before the message, actually creeps onto the ceiling, and I am sure examples of exactly this can easily be found.

By comparison, the Buy Paris Collection casts its marketing net into a much smaller visual pond simply by dint of scale. Certainly good design practice is employed. The high contrast between the white illuminated sign on the black background along with the brightly colored banner are attention grabbing features. The interior signage, illuminated graphics and nicely displayed merchandise all follow the store planning rules, leading me to ask; is one of these techniques more effective that the other?

The question is one of relevance. The retail environment, always competitive, is ever more so now. Pressured on one side by online competition and the other by indirect competitors for the attention of the same customer base, retailers are feeling compelled to enter the context of entertainment shopping. It is a fluid environment where relevance is everything.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Retail Architect: pattern, color and scale that delivers a marketing message

BBW store
I took this photo of a new Bath & Body Works store in a recently renovated local mall because the project is instructive on several levels. First there is no doubt about who the retailer is. The name is perfectly highlighted on the front of the main entry fixture, again above the wall display, and of course on the storefront sign, there but not shown. Some landlords try to limit the number of times a retailer can repeat their logos in the line of vision. As a Retail Architect, I find that, recently, this practice has been giving way in favor of more flexible design guidelines, possibly in response to tighter retail markets. Either way, repetition is good for the brand.

This project is about more that the name though. It is about delivering a marketing message, which is done here by the clever incorporation of text into the very context of the store. Let’s consider the context first. The checked wall covering is extremely busy and could have, in a different application, gone totally wrong. It is working here because the high contrast both attracts attention and supports the message in terms of scale. In fact, it functions as a connection between the blocks of small merchandise and the actual text messages which are all offset in large solid color fields. These solid color blocks show up as more that just backdrops for signage. They are used in the back of displays, as plain color coded markers used to define categories of merchandise, and even as fat text turned into color blocked display fixtures. The result is interesting and completely readable.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

What a retail architect really does.

The "Retail Store Prototype"  is a free publication telling what a retail architect really does.It is probably safe to say that many people know little, if anything, about what  a retail architect actually does. How, then, can one benefit from an architect’s, or other design professional’s, services when faced with planning a new store? We have found that the most successful projects happen when our clients have a clear understanding of the architectural and store planning process. To that end, we are introducing the following free publications:

“From Idea to Bricks & Mortar Store – The Retail Store Prototype: What is it and why do it?”

This is a 50 minute power point presentation, so allow enough time, or start and stop as time permits. Also, a transcript is provided if you prefer. A comprehensive view of the architectural process required to build a new retail store is first outlined, and then related to the business plan. It has valuable information for anyone seriously considering opening or expanding a retail store.

“Seven Mistakes Expanding or Startup Retailers Make When Building a New Store”

This is a one page document that outlines major catch points that can cost new or expanding retailers time, money or both. It is a good quick reference for any startup or newly expanding retailer with a building project somewhere in their future.

Please select the link to receive these “must read” free publications, especially directed towards expanding or startup retailers.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Retail Architect 2015 Trends: between new and passé is timeless

It is possible to think of this shop as “timeless,” as a quick look says a lot about their customer. Doubtless a romantic woman who places feminine style before budget and appreciates a bit of drama. Take a guess at the location and date? Then follow the link for the answer.

I started 2015 by attending and event about a subject near and dear to retail architects and those of us intimately involved with the retail trade. Namely, “Marketing Trends for 2015,” a worthwhile presentation sponsored by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, and given by Maurisa Potts, CEO and Founder of Spotted MP Marketing and PR. I left thinking that voluminous amounts of available market data make it possible to predict future buying habits of the American public and even help define a narrative about their expectations in terms of both on and offline shopping environments. Knowing how those shopping environments will end up looking is something else entirely.

Jeff Green writing in Chain Store Age summarizes events of 2014, saying that retailers are being squeezed by rising real estate costs, increases in the minimum wage, and online shopping. Furthermore, the last of these leads to value shopping and, at least partially, defines the challenge of 2015, which is for a retailer to successfully optimize sales over all distribution channels. A tall order, addressed to the extent possible by author and “Retail Prophet,” Doug Stephens when he tells us 2015 will find retailers thinking of their sales force as either highly skilled brand ambassadors or clerical type order processors. There will be no room for mediocrity as it applies to, not only product, but also staff and the physical environment. New “brick and mortar” stores will be seen as places of collaboration, customization, and experience. I have found some of this to be underway for awhile. Certainly creating an “experience” focused shopping environment aimed at a target market has been an emerging store planning goal for at least 2014 and probably beyond. Stephens says the trend is being further fueled by tech and media savvy shoppers with an insatiable appetite for something new and translating in a tendency toward shorter leases and popup shops, even to the extent that Stephens referred to future mall managers as curators. As a retail architect I see this manifesting in specialization and variety and suggest a degree of caution, as straddling the line between new and passe is timeless, always a goal, not often accomplished.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Unbrand Store Designs

Is this the face of the "Unbrand?"

If you are a sometimes visitor to this site you may have seen me ponder the impacts of “unbrand” in previous posts. With this recent article on “AdNews” I find myself again bestirred on the subject. The gist of the article is that “Unbrand” is a “Movement” initiated by Gen. C (connected) values, resulting in a shift in market focus from the designer to the designee. When considered in the context of the currently “logocentric” shopping place this shift could, in the design sense, prove to be profound. In short, how does/will/should an “unbrand” look? The temptation to present the obvious was too strong, leading me to alter the photo above to match the idea. Of course, no one has actually come to me and said, “I am opening a new store. I will be selling shoes. The store does not have a name. Please design the prototype.” That does not, though, stop me from trying to envision such a shopping experience.

toys dress

carOr maybe stores should rely on large format graphics and photos with generic labels to identify their products. It is, after all, how it is done on http://etsy.com. Either way, there are no answers here, just explorations. You will find the article here: AdNews: THE ADNEWS NGEN BLOG: The challenge of ‘Unbrand’.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Store Design: Materials

I was researching another project when I ran across these book stores. I was looking for examples of how different building finish materials can change the perception of merchandise quality in a store design, and as these views are void of brand signs, they allow for a fairly objective comparison on a store planning level as well. The examples were good enough to turn into an article as follows:

Store 1
Store 1

Store 1 – This first store reminds me of Strand Bookstore in New York City, locally famous for used books, which should not come as a surprise as the plastic on the windows, mismatched fixtures, cheap but effective fluorescent lighting and existing brick walls and wood floors all suggest, not only extreme economy, but also sustainability. The chairs and wide aisles suggest a comfortable and possibly entertaining shopping experience. In NYC this equals “shabby chic.” Anywhere else it risks being just shabby.

Store 2
Store 2

Store 2 – The actual fixtures used in this store, likely high quality painted wood, display the merchandise for maximum advantage and provide storage as well. Nevertheless, carpet and acoustic tile floors and ceilings are strictly utilitarian, as is the lighting, which is adequate but stylistically dated as it is used here. The monotone, high foot candle light level removes the possibility of any particular focus or feature areas, as does the “many evenly spaced rows” type of layout. This ambiance is all about volume and possibly crosses over to discount.

Store 3
Store 3

Store 3 – This appears to be a high profile, historic, urban environment that is possibly a destination unto itself. Efforts have been made to help the store fixtures disappear into the location. Wood shelving and display tables match existing architectural trim and carefully placed invisible light sources outline perimeter merchandise walls artfully tucked under the balcony. Like dancers in a grand ballroom, table top displays nicely present the merchandise to main floor shoppers. A polite, public mood prevails.

Store 4
Store 4

Store 4 – This is another example of how existing buildings can drive the retail ambiance of a space. Exposed structure, skylights, stone walls, and distressed concrete floors identify an industrial loft type environment made relevant by the addition of colorful art lights, and a bit of modern ceiling material. Tall store fixtures made of construction grade wood emphasize the soaring ceiling height and merge into the prevailing aesthetic. One might be surprised to find that this trendy store, like store 1, is also selling used books.

Store 5
Store 5

Store 5 – Perhaps the most unique of the stores, this is defined first by the the top to bottom wood finishes and then by the contemporary parkitecture, including the shelving units carefully incorporated therin. Visions of everything from Hoss Cartwright’s Ponderosa to Bilbo Baggin’s Hobbit Hole are conjured. The place practically invites the shopper to enter a mysterious world of fantasy.

Store 6
Store 6

Store 6 – Finally we have the shop of no finishes, except of course the books, representing the weighty world of gold bound illuminated manuscripts and classic volumes read and reread over time in days when they had more than just historic value. This is the revered library showing up in Patrick Rothfuss’, The Name of the Wind.

Finally, it is of interest that, in spite of differing book sizes, the shelf heights have been maintained to form continuous horizontally aligned rows of books in all of these stores.

All photos on this site belong to the author, are used under Creative Commons or with permission from the photographer. The source may normally be found by following the link attached to the photo.

Bridget Gaddis, of Gaddis Architect, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.