James P. Ryan, Chairman: My recent trip to the Baltic Sea countries of Denmark, Sweden and Finland revealed that these Nordic countries possess an uncanny expertise in contemporary architecture, which extends into both retail shopping centers and store designs. The undated elegance, uncluttered spaces and unique juxtaposition of tactile materials is refreshing. Many American developers, architects and contractors appear to be stuck in colonial, copycat regionalism. They need to expand their horizons and portfolios by responding to the upcoming “Y” generation's demand for new and authentic experiences.
Stephen J. Winslow, Principal: The attitude in Europe and many other countries is that innovation and emphasis on design is accepted very openly and encouraged in planning and design. In the U.S. fields of retail and office building design, there has been a trend for the past 30 years to standardize and economize design and building systems. In Europe, designers feel free to innovate and create new approaches to building systems and design solutions.
Also, here in the U.S. it could be helpful to think in terms of higher density. In Europe and Asia, multi-level department stores and shops are common. Light rail transit is being built in a number of U.S. cities and has generated exciting high-density, mixed-use developments, much like the cities of Europe have successfully used for years.
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Bruce A.Barteldt Jr, National Studio Principal — Retail Practice: There's no question that the rest of the world knows how to do modern architecture better than in the United States. Really — I know that's a controversial remark — but think about it! It's actually curious that, in most cases, ancient places can be so focused on modern living (their buildings are as modern as our cars) that, for a country as young as ours, we're so determined to build things as regressive as we do.
And while it seems to be the case that the now 70-year-old “international style” is keeping its youthful sharpness, I also find it provocative that retailers internationally actually want more U.S. prototypes. Perhaps the global market has a fascination with American culture and therefore imports U.S. design verbatim. Not surprisingly, when a retail concept emanates from off-shore, I find it delightful to see how merchandising is effortlessly about “theater of space,” rather than “theater of mass merchandising and abundance” like many American examples.
But, alas, the inside of a store could be really edgy, but our American shell is pseudo-colonial. The Euro/Pan-Asian shell is either really 200 to 500 years old or it is slicker than you-know-what. So what have we learned from projects abroad? Have some courage and build with a 21st century mentality — the customer may like it and find it as refreshing as their late-model car.
Jeff Wasserman, Senior Associate: We have been doing much design work in China due to its thriving economy and preparations to host the World Expo in 2010. China's desire for innovative development is requiring us to really push the limits of design, mainly through the use of technology and alternate material uses, which we can use to create energetic and dynamic new structures.
These building are also environmentally friendly, an aspect of architecture that world visitors will expect to see. Their desire to create a “wow” factor is allowing us to experiment and have fun with the design process, without as much concern for construction cost. This is providing us with a testing ground to develop new ideas and reduce the learning curve to use these innovations on domestic products.