The architect and designer Joanna Laajisto conceived ‘The Village’ as the joint showroom of Vitra, Ansorg and Vizona. In this interview, she talks about the concept and offers insights into her work as an interior architect in the retail sector.
What do you regard as the major challenges in the area of retail design? What are the distinguishing features of a good store concept?
In my view as an interior architect, retail design is the most complicated genre of design. A beautiful, well-proportioned space with a perfect ambience is important – but not enough. The challenge is how to make the brick-and-mortar store successful. There are many examples of beautiful, well-conceived retail spaces that have not been financially successful.A retail store needs to have it all – the right location, the right products, the right interior and the right service. If one of these elements is missing or weak, there is a big chance the project will fail.
Nowadays, everyone in retail is talking about shopping as an experience. What role does this play in your work?
When designing any space (retail, hospitality, workplace), I always strive to focus on the human experience: how people feel and interact in that space. To me, a successful design is a 360-degree multi-sensory experience. In addition to function and aesthetics, I like to pay attention to touch, smell and sound as well.With all the new digital technology, you can create a fully immersive experience in a store. But the experience can also be the opposite, a place for digital detoxification that focusses purely on human interaction. Something you can’t achieve online. In my opinion, human interaction is an important part of brick-and-mortar retailing, and we like to create spaces where that happens naturally.
You worked with Vitra, Ansorg and Vizona on the presentation of their brands at the showroom. How did you approach this task?
I created five fictitious brands for the showroom. Four of them have been opened already and they are arranged around a small plaza today. The title of the concept is ‘The Village’. Each of these imaginary brands has its USP, represents a particular sector, targets a specific customer group and meets their needs with a customised retail concept.I found inspiration for this idea in the vast open-air shopping centres of California. At this showroom, just like in the city or in a shopping mall, people come together to meet and to shop. I designed the plaza as a special area for conversation and relaxation, a starting point for a day of shopping, but also as a place where the customer can enjoy some peace and quiet. People should experience a sense of well-being while they shop.