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Retail Building Design Ideas and Tips

At a time when the footfall on the high streets is declining and the ubiquitous boarded up shop suggests that town centres may soon be home to tumbleweed, there is a challenge for businesses and politicians to reverse the trend.

This challenge, however, also extends to the architects and designers of shopping centres and retail outlets, who need to respond to the changing world of shopping.

So, when it comes to creating a better shopping experience, what makes a great retail building design?

We’ve outlined some key concepts below.

Pathways & Connectivity

As we progress into the twenty-first century, it is clear that retail architecture has to be integrated into a bigger picture. It’s increasingly important to incorporate meaningful pedestrian routeways and to make shopping part of a broader experience.

As the high street shop owners battle with landlords for lower rents, architectural designers can facilitate a new revolution in the way the town centre and suburban shopping experience is enhanced both for the shoppers and the retailers.

Today’s retail experience needs to be more entertaining. Instead of stores presenting a pragmatic and easy pathway with clear slight lines and everything clearly visible, the trend in a number of places around the world is to create something that is almost a maze where shoppers can explore different zones within the one store. Clearly, retail outlets have to be convenient to a certain extent, but shoppers should be allowed to feel privileged and special. While the designer may have a limited palette to work with, there are many ways to create surprise and interest.

Know your Customer

The demographics of many cities have completely changed, and therefore retailers and designers of retail spaces must adapt accordingly. Consideration needs to be taken as to whether you’re designing for suburban shoppers coming into the city, or for the urban native.

This may impact material choice, character and overall ambience.

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Ecological Design

There is no doubt that the new millennium has introduced a sharp focus on all matters environmental and ecological. In architectural design, this has impacted on the materials used and the design features.

In terms of materials, the shift towards all things “green” has seen a big resurgence in the use of wood, both externally and internally as cladding and with the widespread use of engineered hardwood floors.

For architects, there are so many materials to choose from, but something like timber, particularly locally sourced timber, is proving popular for its aesthetic appearances and environmental credentials.

The general population is likely to value and praise building that offer low carbon footprints and that actively reflect a more ecological approach to building design and construction.


There is a trend for far more natural light in retail spaces. Designers choose daylight, in order to try and replicate the authentic urban experience. Studies suggest that with natural light there are increased sales. The conclusion is that people feel less trapped in an area of natural light.

Skylights are an effective way of allowing natural light in to illuminate interior spaces. Skylights have the benefit of saving the electricity that would be used to power electric lights as well as creating a more pleasant interior environment.

Photovoltaic Technology

The use of solar panels can also enhance the eco credentials of a building’s design, and developments in photovoltaic technology mean that there are now solar roof tiles that can be integrated seamlessly into roofs, textured to look like slate, asphalt or simply presented smooth.

Photovoltaic glass enables the conversion of light into electricity. The glass incorporates transparent semiconductor-based photovoltaic cells, known as solar cells. These cells are sandwiched between two panes of glass.

Buildings that incorporate a substantial amount of photovoltaic glass are able to produce some of their own electricity through their windows. The PV power generated is considered green or clean electricity because its source is renewable, and it does not cause pollution.

Photovoltaic windows have reduced transparency which in environments where too much heat gets in with light, this could also save on air-conditioning costs. Different designs have been developed including a slatted solar glass window that has gaps between solar cells to enable greater light penetration. Photovoltaic glass also now comes in a variety of different colours, gradients and patterns. There are also double and triple-glazed products.

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Reclaimed Materials

Another significant trend in retail design, which has come off the back of environmental concerns, is the use of reclaimed building materials.

Architects and designers seek out reclaimed materials for their aesthetic value. Reclaimed wood might include rare species and wood that is no longer available. Reclaimed wood is valued for its scars, scratches, nail holes and other imperfections, which can give a space a rustic appearance.

Learn More with NORclad

In designing retail buildings for the future, it is clear that there are two main pressures in 2019, both of which offer the opportunity for exciting innovation.

The first challenge is to create retail spaces that are more interesting and engaging for customers to walk around and that embrace the context of their location. Buildings should not be hermetically sealed from the environment surrounding them, but embrace the culture and needs of the shoppers. Retail spaces should be a little quirky, perhaps with the use of different levels, taking potential customers on a journey and making the experience more entertaining.

The second challenge is to provide eco-designs which satisfy the desire for low environmental impact. This can be done by providing, where possible, green spaces, natural light and using eco-friendly materials.

If you’d like to learn more about using timber cladding in retail design, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team here at NORclad. For both interior and exterior uses, our cladding can help bring retail spaces to life.

Browse our case studies to see some of our recent projects.

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2019-12-10T14:25:26+00:00July 17th, 2019|
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