Interior photo of a neighborhood commercial shop and café.


How Your Neighborhood Can Inform the Design of Your Commercial Space

Neighborhood and community context is important to the success of a retail — or other commercial — space. Here’s how being site-specific can be beneficial to your commercial project and help you make the impact you need to win and retain customers.

June 13, 2019

Why “neighborhood” is relevant when you are designing the look and feel of your commercial space.

(And we don’t mean in terms of “location, location, location.”) Please take a second to imagine a cocktail with one part each of Authenticity, Phenomenology, Critical Regionalism, and Bowerbirds. Now shake it all up and *poof* you have a successful commercial project that is locally relevant and inherently enriches the community around it.

Let’s explore the ingredients of site-specific commercial design.

Okay… it isn’t as easy as that, but continue reading to understand the common thread that ties these four ingredients together, and how being site-specific is beneficial to your commercial project.

Ingredient #1: Authenticity

Authentic architecture is an expression of its time, and most importantly, an expression of a unique take upon the world – and, if successful, it creates a timeless trend.

Ingredient #2: Phenomenology

Architecture that is phenomenological evokes ideated tactile sensations through a multi-sensory experience. I challenge you to enliven the senses through haptic designs! What kind of physiological and social effects do you create with tactile environments?

Ingredient #3: Critical Regionalism

Critical Regionalism in architecture is site-specific: it reflects the local culture and traditions of its region through its design and materials. When applied at a micro scale, regionalism is a design reflective of a neighborhood’s culture and history.

Ingredient #4: Bowerbird-ism

So… you must be wondering how bowerbirds are an architectural concept? Well, they are not a traditional architectural concept, but they are a great example of nature’s natural architects (and wannabe interior designers).

Bowerbirds create elaborate, gravity-defying love-nest structures with grass and twigs. The cave-like structures they create vary in design, but it is their innate interior design skills that really create a sensory experience. With found objects from their local surroundings, bowerbirds embellish their dwellings with a variety of colorful objects (subject to individual color preferences of course) — such as flower petals, berries, bottle caps, pebbles, and much, much more. All this hard work is done in the hopes of luring in a mate (or within our context, a customer), and believe me, the competition is fierce!

(Side Note: If you are at all curious about bowerbirds and their elaborate structures watch this video.)

Here’s how the combination of these elements equals a recipe for success!

A design strategy incorporating all of the above elements will create architecture that fuels convergence and community. People are drawn to authentic spaces that immerse them into an environment unfolding around them and integrating phenomenological moments of tactile connection. When you create these intimate moments of connection and discovery this creates a lasting memory. (Or, in this day and age, an Instagramable moment.)

Identifying and understanding the community-at-large where your commercial space is located is key to the longevity of your business. Take, for example, Ada's Technical Books and Café: it’s a hybrid space combining a bookstore, a café, and a community space. Its location is situated in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a community center or gathering space for community lectures and art. The authentic design plays upon the residential feel embedded within a commercial context, which, in this case, was literally taking the bones of a single-family residence and transforming it into a dynamic space evoking creativity and community. When a business is able to integrate itself into a neighborhood it not only enriches the community around it, but it then becomes the integral framework of the neighborhood.

Successful commercial architecture is far more than just a list of functional and spatial relationships; it must consist of human connection and expression, specific to its location. Like bowerbirds, we need to design with the local context in mind and yet keep our eye on the prize (the user experience). In order to create an authentic space, you need to strategize how to achieve the above elements within your design, understand your purpose, and design how your commercial space can provide the missing link within a community.

Would you like to read more from the team?

If you enjoy reading our blog as much as we enjoy writing it, that just makes our day! You might also enjoy a few of the related posts below. And, if there is a topic that you wish we would cover, let us know!

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