Interview: Architect Jon Tollit on shaking up retail

Gensler design director and principal speaks to Retail Design Expo about bringing an 'everyone should win' approach to commercial spaces ahead of talking at this year's event on 9-10 March

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Gensler principal Jon Tollit is a firm believer that disrupting the status quo can bring commercial and social benefits.

The architect, who has joined Retail Design Expo’s steering panel and will be speaking at the conference on 9-10 March 2016, believes that companies often have too narrow a view of what retail is.

'Retail is about public spaces and where people are and what they do,' he says.

To ensure successful areas that work socially and commercially requires a long term view of complex situations – and one that does not focus solely on profit. 'People are fed up of a developer "winning" planning battles. Everybody should win,' says Tollit. 'Project briefs shouldn’t just be about money. They should be about community and the way that people buy into it. The solution needs people to be engaged and want it to work.'

One way Tollit favours is to 'throw grenades' into projects by inviting input from non-expert sources. He says this injects dynamism on the basis that expertise is the enemy of innovation because experts always tend to see things in the same way.

He applauds spaces that can adapt to different times of the day, week or year. 'People don’t just want to do one thing by the book,' he says. 'Retail spreads across multiple sectors – entertainment, sports… you can’t be completely site-specific about use. A football ground cannot do nothing for six and a half days a week. You have to do something else with it.'

Tollit's integrated design and architecture group Gensler refers to this growing trend as mixed-up, rather than mixed, use of space and says that large retailers could learn a lot from independents in terms of knowing about what customers want – and how to react quickly to that.

In fact, when thinking more broadly, Tollit has no fear of sacred cows, believing that even the most basic tenets of the industry should be up for discussion as our hyper-convenient, digitally-connected leisure time changes.

'I hate the word retail. I have been moaning about it for years,' he says. 

For the brave new world of retail, the word itself could be too rigid and restrictive.

For more information about Retail Design Expo, please visit: www.retaildesignexpo.com

 

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