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Retail with a difference by David Chipperfield

Retail is one area that has to constantly be innovating in the digital age. Through design, Ssense by David Chipperfield pushes forward with a new era of physical retail and e-commerce.

The current retail remit has us designing spaces first and the online presence second – but what if it was flipped? British firm David Chipperfield Architects recently accomplished this for Ssense, an e-commerce label that expanded into a bricks-and-mortar retail store in Montreal, Canada. The store provides a physical counterpart to the online brand, and integrated technology was a priority. Within 24 hours of scheduling an appointment online, products can be delivered and tried on by customers at the store.

“E-commerce enables scale but is suboptimal in important ways, especially fostering human connection,” says Ssense CEO, Rami Atallah. “A seamless integration with physical spaces fills the gaps in the customer experience.” Along with spaces for displaying clothing and accessories, the building houses a glass-roofed café decorated with concrete benches and tables. 

The retail experience is housed within a what was a crumbling mid-nineteenth century building. The internal in-situ cast concrete forms work as both an aesthetic decision but also help to hold up the original shell of the building. Spaces inside have been deliberately left sparse to allow Ssense to adapt and use these spaces for different programming – from fashion and arts events, to the café on the rooftop and display requirements.

The integration of technology was, of course, an important consideration and thus wiring has been hidden to keep the surfaces as bare as possible. “A grid system is embedded throughout the unforgiving concrete structure, determining the formwork and placement of a hidden convertible socket system for all mechanical, functional, and technical elements,” says Atallah. As Chipperfield tells FRAME, “This is not a sensible project.” But then again, Ssense is not a ‘normal’ company.


Photography courtesy the architect.

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