What is a Destination Design? What is a Retail destination? The Apple dictionary defines a definition as follows:
destination |ˌdestəˈnā sh ən|
the place to which someone or something is going or being sent : a popular destination for golfers.
being a place that people will make a special trip to visit : a destination restaurant.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin destinatio(n-), from destinare ‘make firm, establish.’ The original sense was [the action of intending someone or something for a particular purpose,] later [being destined for a particular place,] hence (from the early 19th cent.) the place itself.
Obvious. But when a retail architect is designing in the context of created places, what makes a great retail destination, and what makes people want to go there, stay there and be there?
People want to got to a retail destination because other people, many other people, go there. People want to be there, like to be there. The primary reason people go to successful retail destinations is because other people go there – because crowds of people go there. People go to watch people, be with people, meet people.
People are the single most important form of entertainment. The best movie watched in an empty theater falls flat. An exceptional meal in an empty restaurant is not enjoyed but endured. A crowded theme park frustrates, but an empty park is no fun at all. An empty resort is spooky and odd, and an empty urban town center is frightening and perhaps dangerous. One traveling to a resort seeking serenity will likely do so only if others have previously done so and vouched for the quality of the experience.
People go to a retail destination because they have chosen to do so. This is at the essence of the definition of destination design. They could easily choose to go elsewhere. Whether traveling on foot, by car or by plane, they have embarked on a trip with the express purpose of ending up in a specific destination. Once they have decided to make a trip, they have choices – they could just as easily walk, drive or fly to any number of other destinations. It it therefore imperative that a retail destination provide potential guests with reasons for it to be their choice. A retail architect must create a place with wide appeal, unique experiences, and perceived value or cache.
3. A Place People Want to Be
People choose to travel to a destination because they want to be there. Great retail destinations have a magical quality. While one considers pragmatic concerns, such as travel time, cost, parking and ease of use, when selecting a destination it is the magic of a place that attracts the masses. The most successful destinations often are often very difficult to use, in part because they are so successful. Venice, Italy, is horribly crowded, difficult to access and very expensive; yet magical and one of the earth’s most visited destinations. Venice has magic – an attraction difficult to define, yet remarkable to experience.
When pragmatic issues are equal, and often when they are not, people will decide to go where they most want to be.
Because people desire to be in a place resplendent with magical quality, entertainment is a common thread in most great destinations. Whether the destination is an active participant in the entertainment, such as a theme park with its shows and rides, a cultural center with movies, plays or a concerts, or a passive participant, such as a retail center with fabulous architecture, people watching, shopping and dining, the entertainment provides an element of escape. A successful retail architect knows escape from the cares and concerns of everyday life creates magic.
Destination Design Developers in the Mix
A few populist, yet possibly high minded, developers have stumbled upon this dichotomy. Perhaps they see a more complicated public, a society that does appreciate gorgeous architecture and outstanding public spaces, yet often simply wants to escape and be entertained. I myself consider Dostoevsky and Tolstoy two of my favorite authors, yet find a good cheap mystery novel a grand distraction on an overseas flight. Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso is the quintessential example of a developer that, by design or simple intuition, has stumbled upon this split, and seems to seek to be both populist and high minded.
Not a retail design architect, Caruso’s early work accomplished this in an unrefined manner. His first significant work, The Promenade at Westlake, combines highly associative storefronts suggestive of old Italy with crudely designed, modern shops expressive of the Golden Mean. People flock to the center, drawn by the romantic appeal of the historic architecture, yet also enriched by Caruso’s attention to detail, fine materials, water features and sculpture. It is destination design architecture on the scale of a supermarket, one of the first strip centers that seems to understand that it was built to be inhabited by people, not just cars and shopping carts.
While the Promenade’s poorly conceived “modern” architecture likely appeals to no one, Caruso seems to understand that just as Apple is wildly popular, there is a public for a more sophisticated, more relevant, more modern architecture. His more recent work, including The Grove in Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand in LA suburb of Glendale, both include more thoughtfully designed modern storefronts. While the modern shops at the Grove are so infrequent as to be disruptive, modern architectural elements are more frequently included, and of much better quality, at The Americana. The elevator Tower at The Americana at Brand
With the possible exception of a rusty steel elevator tower that dresses the parking structure, however, the bifurcation remains. The modern architecture is adjacent to, yet entirely separate from, the historic architecture. It is as though the interior of a Honda Element as been installed in an otherwise beautifully recreated 60’s Corvette. Unlike the previously cited examples of the VW and Mini, neither architecture seems to acknowledge the existence of the other.
I’m an expressive modernist at heart, yet surround myself with non-architects, non-designers. Consequently, I’ve become increasingly interested in finding the Bug, in designing the Mini, of the architectural world. It seems arrogant and self defeating to ignore the appeal the popular, yet short sighted and an enormous missed opportunity to design to the lowest possible standard. Perhaps a more detailed study of the appeal of the past, popular and romantic in the minds of the public, as well as an increased understanding of the appeal of the modern, and an evolved and systemic coupling of the two, will create an architecture that will lift an embracing public.
This coupling represents a blue ocean of opportunity for designers – we will study it in more detail in coming articles.
Water, especially with (small) boats, green, places to sit, people to watch and open space are always popular in an urban environment.
This curving liquid spine is the literal and figurative backbone of the city, connecting tourist destinations to “town centers” for locals.
People, activity, water, opportunities to wander and outstanding views of Prague’s town center.
Morocco’s largest souk spills into this grand square, Marrakesh’s town center, that comes alive with food and entertainment and the sun’s shadows lengthen and the cool of the evening gives relief to the heat of the day.
New Orleans food and jazz, the highest concentration of colorful people to watch, cafes, retail and entertainment for all.
Retail design at its roots – people, people, people.
A small waterfront square with outstanding views of the Bosphorus with cafés, restaurants, art galleries and artisan shops.
Before there were theme parks – long before there were theme parks – there were the Tivoli Gardens. A mixture of nature and amusement, Tivoli has been a favorite pastime during the long days of Copenhagen’s remarkable Summer since 1843.
The birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is steeped with history and romance, and its outstanding streets and squares filled with people, retail shops and restaurants.
Bryant Park is a peaceful place in the midst of Manhattan’s towers and crowds. Just blocks from Times Square, this “Town Center” park is a favorite with locals seeking sun, sleep or society.
Since 1461, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has served as the city’s retail hub. 250,000 to 400,000 people a day wander the Bazaar’s streets, domed bedestens and dine in its shaded outdoor courts.
Built 2000 years ago by the Romans, this ancient retail district has thrived ever since, and is worth study by anyone interested in creating a thriving retail place.
The Piazzas at the heart of this stunning Tuscan city are multi purpose, and are frequently and quickly repurposed – a late night outdoor theater becomes an early morning farmers’ market.
State Street, where the pedestrian comes first, the auto a distant second, is always active, always filled with people. It is a thriving outdoor retail and entertainment center where the primary form of entertainment is watching all the people.
This stunning Southern Bohemian city, along with the castle perched above it, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and dates to the 13th century. This small but gorgeous town, bifurcated by its “S” shaped river, is an easy and rewarding walk.
Prague’s town square, with its animated clock, variety of architectural styles, retail shops, cafes and restuarants, as well as its proximity to a plethora of outstanding streets and districts is only rivaled in Northern Europe by the much larger Paris.