Who is Design International and what is the focus of your activities?
Design International was established in 1965 in Toronto, Canada. The company was first designing jewelry stores. Later on, the activity expanded to designing department stores, shopping centers and even marinas and full parts of cities. As such, Design International became very strong in master planning and anything having to do with retail design.
Being creative and adaptable to many different cultures, Design International found a very successful formula to work overseas. The company grew as it was one of the first to offer these types of retail architectural services around the world. It was very close to retailers and the retailers had a need to expand internationally.
We grew with the retailers, opened many offices and now we are approaching our 50th anniversary in 2015. By that time we will have built more than 20 million m² of retail space across 60 countries all over the world. Our ‘boutique’ group is still very approachable, very down-to-earth, with a very low-scale size but we manage to travel around the world.
What is the current focus of Design International in the retail industry?
The international position of the group guaranteed a good knowledge of retail and we started shifting ideas from one country to another. Today, we are very much on demand for innovative ideas. We help implement the growing food and entertainment trend in shopping centers, we have won the Guinness World Record for the largest in-store facade in the world with the Galeries Lafayette store in Morocco Mall and we are designing iconic buildings that eventually become recognizable not only for their clientele but also for the entire country. A good example of that is the development in Morocco.
We opened Morocco Mall there in 2011, which since has become the pride of the country, it is in the tour guide, it is featured in lonely planet and we won every award within the industry that you can possibly think of. This helped us a lot to refresh the image of our group.
At the moment we are working in 30 different countries and we manage to follow a number of projects with a very limited amount of people divided into compact teams, so that they can easily migrate from one place to the other.
This helps our clients, mainly investors, shopping center developers and retailers to develop their ideas further and make their shopping destinations feel and look different from their competitors. The group is very vibrant: the average age of our talented designers does not reach 30 and we have 30 nationalities in the studio.
What are the newest trends in retail architecture?
Food and beverage is one of the dominant trends because you cannot get it online, you can only experience it offline and the consumption is much broader. It’s running from your early breakfast, when you stop by to grab a bite on the way to the office or to school all the way to late evening when you want to meet friends and chill out. Food has finally become a true component of lifestyle and the offer is so diverse that quality is part of the picture. Shopping center owners have understood that if you allow the customers to chill out and stop and not only to run and shop, they are more likely to come back and become very loyal customers.
The second trend is to give customers the opportunity to experience entertainment. I like to say that the biggest part of the entertainment is ‘you’, the customer. You can watch but you can also be part of that entertainment, what I call ‘’active entertainment’’. For instance, a normal fitness center shifts into a gym and into a climbing gym, so it’s not so much of a fitness center but more of a club. You go with other people with whom you share the same passion. You can have a similar story for other types of sports activities that perhaps are more suitable for professional people like parachuting, skiing, go-karting during the week days and of course in the weekends, which are more open to families, you bring your kids and you have fun with them.
Another big trend growing nowadays is shopping centers going beyond the ‘closed box’ concept and opening up as a very permeable part of the environment. Part of this is the green aspect, which makes it a much more transparent and livable space, but also the lights, gardens, terraces and the view become important and we go way beyond the old days. Back then, when designing a shopping center you wanted to close the four walls, make customers forget where they are so they can only focus on shopping. The mall as a permeable part of the environment is a trend that affects our designs quite a lot and we are happy to be moving in that direction.
Is it true that water helps people shop?
Water is always a natural element that you can feel, touch, and hear. It relaxes you, it refreshes the space and it reflects the light. One of the designs we have presented at MAPIC is Lebanon’s Centerfalls. This project is located on top of a mountain, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on one side and Beirut from the other. We were so touched by the site itself that we decided to create a sequence of terraces and put an infinity pool on top of the roof to bring the water that is seen in the Mediterranean close to the customer. This water then flows through all the levels of the center in what will become one of the largest waterfalls ever built in a shopping destinations. Centerfalls will also be the first designer outlet resort in the world, a new concept that combines characteristics of a designer outlet with characteristics and the customer services that are normally only found in 5 star hotels.