Retrofitting for a Changing World of Retail

Contract is focused on retail interiors in this issue, with features on stores for Dolce & Gabbana, the British brand Harvey Nichols, and the California-based skin-care company Rajeunir. As the retail landscape evolves, it is high-end retailers such as these that are still doing quite well—those that are focused on the customer experience. But the rest of the brick-and-mortar retail world is changing as customers shop more online, the perceptions of a new generation of consumers evolve, and real estate demands ebb and flow.

This issue includes an interview with David Schwarz, a founder of the interactive experience design company HUSH. Schwarz succinctly defines what works in retail today: “Economic forces mandate change, and commodity retail will move toward e-commerce. Hightouch luxury goods will maintain brick-and-mortar locations, though, and so will experiential brands—companies that provide a place to gather, connect, and experience the value of being with like minds.” At our forthcoming Contract Design Forum, October 18–20 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I am pleased that we will have an outstanding speaker to help the audience gain further insight into the big-picture evolution of retail as we know it: Ellen Dunham-Jones.

Before becoming editor in chief of Contract, I was a senior acquisitions editor of architecture and design books at the publisher John Wiley & Sons. In that role, while at a Congress for the New Urbanism many years ago, I saw Dunham-Jones speak on the topic of redesigning suburbs, particularly dead malls, for new mixed uses. I approached her after her talk then to ask if she would be interested in writing a book on the topic, and that resulted in “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs,” coauthored by Dunham-Jones and June Williamson. The book, which published in January 2009 and was updated in 2011, highlights a number of real-world examples of suburban retail that had been redeveloped and reconsidered, with a mix of uses that includes new retail with residential and office space. Initially written before the Great Recession of 2008–09, the book was prescient.

Approximately 300 former malls in the U.S. either have or are becoming mixed-use developments, and about 50 of these conversions include housing. More than 200 malls have closed in this country in just the past three years, leaving around 1,100 enclosed malls remaining. Retail industry research estimates that about 300 of those 1,100 malls are expected to close over the next decade. Now is the time for designers—whether they are architects, interior designers, or urban designers—to take a step back and re-evaluate how these spaces can and should be used. Besides changes in retail and development, retrofitting the shopping mall is about resilient urban design, with walkability and human health in mind.

Register to attend Contract Design Forum
Contract welcomes practicing architects and interior designers who are engaged in any commercial design project type to attend and participate in the Contract Design Forum. Attendees pay a registration fee and their own travel expenses, including accommodations at La Fonda on the Plaza. Confirmed speakers are Dunham-Jones, as well as Andrew Gordon, an animation director at Pixar, and Jason Schupbach, the former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts who is now the director of the design school at Arizona State University. Attendees will visit the Museum of International Folk Art and SITE Santa Fe, among other locales. Visit to learn more and begin the registration process. If interested, please register within the month of September. Enter the Interiors Awards

When you receive this issue, you’ll have only days to enter your recent projects in the 39th annual Interiors Awards, presented by Contract. The final extended deadline is September 22 for the Interiors Awards, which honor exemplary commercial interiors worldwide. Entries are accepted in 15 professional categories, including a new category for office lobby repositioning. An all-star jury of design professionals will select the winning projects, which will be honored in January at the Interiors Awards Breakfast in New York. Visit to learn more and to enter today!