The Prada Effect

Shopping Center World, March 2003

It was a fabulous celebrity magnet when it opened. A year later the experts take another look.

When does 23,000 square feet cost $40 million to build? When it's the Prada New York Epicenter. Designed by architecture's visionary (and super trendy) Rem Koolhass, this gut renovation transformed the former Soho branch of the Guggenheim Museum into another kind of artistic landscape.

SCW asked the judges of our annual SADI (Superior Achievement in Design and Imaging) Awards to assess whether or not Prada is a harbinger of retail design to come. And while they noted that some of its standout features - particularly its innovative use of unusual materials - are already being copied, its practical lessons for retailers are less clear.

For store-design professionals, Koolhaas's project raises more questions than it answers. In particular they wonder what it says exactly about brand identity. Frankie Campione, Principal of CREATE Architecture Planning & Design, points out that at Burberry, which also opened a costly Manhattan flagship, retail design follows brand image. "Anywhere you go in the world, you know where you are," he says. On the other hand at Prada, the architecture comes first. Brand identity comes second, if at all.

The unpredictability of the architectural promenade keeps the customer involved in exploring the space. If designers were to synthesize these tricks with a more coherent brand identity, Campione suggests, customers can better relate to a retail mall or brand, and will have more emotional investment in purchasing the merchandise it offers. He notes for instance, that the new Target prototype is more architecturally compelling than the original. However, it isn't architecture for architecture's sake. Target's new architectural image simply echoes its reputation as a home of well designed merchandise for savvy consumers.

Ultimately though, the Prada New York Epicenter may just be a blip on the retail architecture radar. "Does it appeal by entertaining?" Campione asks. "Yes. Does it appeal to my 65-year old mother who can afford Prada? No." And for a company that has failed at three attempts to take its stock public, $40 million is a steep price to pay to entertain.

The Prada Effect: Shopping Center World, March 2003

The Prada Effect Shopping Center World, March 2003