Department stores have never been just about selling. When Mr Selfridge arrived here 112 years ago, he understood that his kind of shopping must be experiential not simply transactional. He elevated shopping to a leisure activity and department stores became social and cultural landmarks.
Regrettably, the joy of the extended retail experience – the window shopping, the browsing, the meandering, the serendipitous meeting – is now effectively lost to the desensitised mouse clicking of ecommerce.
We propose to re-establish the social loci provided by department stores, while accepting that physical shopping will no longer provide the medium for this.
In parallel with the growth of online retail, we have seen the growth in online learning. Department stores – ‘palaces of consumption’ – will become ‘palaces of learning’. Or, more modestly, inclusive ‘learning stores’ for those from all backgrounds, aged 0 to 100.
Department stores will become palaces of inclusive learning
The icons and motifs of the department store, such as the escalators, will be integral to a new journey. Shop windows are to be dressed to sell learning. In place of the shop assistant, learning assistants will advise on departments and modes of learning. Learning will be curated, with ‘seasons’ that anticipate the coming ‘fashions’ in learning.
Subjects will be clustered as related consumer products are clustered in a department store. In place of the food court, the bread school and cookery and nutrition classes will take place.
Three floors will accommodate the seamless zones of ‘think, make and sell’. A dynamic learning spine is cut through the deep floorplates as an atrium accommodating multiple ‘flying carpet’ open rooms for formal events or serendipitous encounters, as a learning cascade, interlinked by filigree stairs.
The half-levels in the learning cascade encourage easy flow from the surrounding existing floorplates, where more formal ‘generational’ teaching spaces are located.
The roofscape will accommodate a hydroponic city garden to impart knowledge of farming and horticulture.
The department store of the future will – as they always have done – cross-sell, up-sell and cross-market. However, the commodity will be knowledge and not goods. By bringing back joy, delight, discovery and surprise, the beating hearts on our high streets will be restarted.
The great design challenge: the department store reborn
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