New from Old: Making the Most of What’s Already There

If you’re taking over an existing building – embrace its history
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Posted September 25, 2019

There’s an area in Milan that, just a few years ago, was where many big banks had offices. While it was grand, it was just a little boring. Since last year, however, it’s been all change. In 2018, the Piazza Cardusio was where Starbucks opened the jaw-droppingly good looking Reserve Roastery, the only one of its kind in Europe, and the crowds flocked.

And then a couple of weeks ago Uniqlo opened a flagship in the same location. This one is in a former bank building from the early 20th century, and it complements the job done by Starbucks when it took possession of a building that looks rather more like a palace than a former Post Office. Both have taken the trappings of architectural officialdom and come away from the process with something that is an enhancement of an already handsome structure.

And what both also have in common is that as well as improving on what was already there (and the Piazza Cardusio could now justifiably claim to be a center of style as much as sharp-suited commerce), Uniqlo and Starbucks have proved keenly aware of the power of existing architecture.

Start with a decent-looking building and there is every chance that even if your store is not on the same winsome scale as the two new occupants of Piazza Cardusio, it’s still odds-on that you’ll come up with something that shoppers will give the thumbs up to. In many ways retail could readily stand accused of raging for the new, but repurposing extant structures may well yield more than trying to create difference from a standing start. And new/old doesn’t have to mean finding something that already has heritage emblazoned across it. There’s a lot, even in the relatively young cities of the U.S., that is waiting to be listed. So go on, get in and do something with what’s around you, before somebody else does.       

John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.