What Is a Retail Architect?

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  • Originally Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2019
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A retail architect is a professional who designs and often also supervises the construction or renovation of commercial properties. There are a lot of different possibilities for people with this expertise. Some design shopping malls and grocery stores, while others organize stand-alone store renovations and expansions; some are in charge of entire retail complexes and developments, though they can also be retained by conglomerates to design stores and storefronts in locations across the globe. Like any architect these people are usually trained first and foremost in building design and engineering. The retail aspect of their job usually also demands a consideration of specific usage, however, particularly where clientele are concerned, and architects often spend as much time planning for staff efficiencies as working to maximize ease of use for customers. In this respect their job is often two-fold: a sound structure plus maximized sales and useable store space. Architects usually work really closely with designers and construction personnel before the space is finished.

Core Job Responsibilities

In general, an architect is a person who designs buildings or other structures for human dwelling or occupancy. A specifically retail architect is someone who specializes in designing or redesigning buildings or spaces within buildings for commercial purposes. Some retail-focused professionals also design exterior and surrounding features of buildings, such as parking lots.


During design and construction, the architect’s main focuses are usually accessibility and productivity. He or she must design with two groups in mind — the staff and the clients. These two groups of people use the same space simultaneously, but for different purposes. Their needs, preferences, and attitudes regarding that space can greatly differ.

Planning for Multiple Uses and Purposes

With regard to clients, the architect considers how to employ space so that it maximizes sales. He or she may consider factors such as flow and accessibility. A customer shopping in an airport with luggage has different needs than a customer at a jewelry kiosk in a mall, for instance. Comfort, ease of access, and visibility are also considerations.

It’s also important that the space be designed so that staff can perform their duties efficiently. In warehouse style businesses, for example, if the architect does not sufficiently space aisles, fork lifts may not be able to enter to stock materials. This will result in an excessive and inefficient use of labor. Specific circumstances also need to be accounted for. Industry specifics can also be decisive. Staff in industries such as grocery sales need temperature controlled environments, whereas those in department stores often require immense stocking and storage space. The architect must consider such details, and must know the industries served well enough to anticipate needs both major and minor.

Creating an Identity

Retail-focused architects can also help a company establish a visual identity by using unique materials to design a retail space, such as adding hardwood floors where tiles are normally used. Some professionals give stores themes that capitalize on the business’ specialty. Others use colors in significant places, such as the roof, so that people can readily identify a particular store’s location.

Trends and Opportunities for Creativity

Retail architecture, like other industries, has gone through a number of phases. In the 1990s, for instance, professionals in the United States experienced a decline in demand for their services due to the popularity of simple box building designs. Since the new millennium, architects are finding a renewed market base as more businesses attempt to develop significant visual identities. This provides the opportunity for creativity and market growth in many places around the world.

Related Design and Construction Jobs

A retail architect is sometimes included on teams with other professionals who are involved in the design and construction industry. The architect can often be an asset in securing bids and contracts for multi-purpose facilities, such as airports and urban shopping and dining areas. Clients of multi-purpose facilities often want to know that there is someone who specializes in retail architecture so that spaces allotted for those purposes will be utilized to their maximum potential.

Getting Started in the Field

This job generally has the same educational requirements as any other architecture job. Candidates need an undergraduate degree as well as a degree or certificate from an accredited architecture school. Licensure can vary by jurisdiction, but professionals often have to pass an exam before they can be certified to begin designing buildings of any sort. The discipline is often a complex one, with practitioners needing to focus not just on aesthetics but also on engineering. As such, strong math and physics skills are usually essential.


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Post 6

From the outside, the architecture of my former employment office was gorgeous. Whoever designed and directed the inside must have had a different vision for what the rooms in the basement were going to be though.

The basement ended up being a daycare, but I hope that the retail architect was not visualizing that when they designed and/or supervised the design and construction of the basement rooms.

It seems that some of the rooms were set up with different ideas in mind than what we used them for. For instance, the rooms for toddlers 10 months to 2 years both had two bathrooms in them. This means 4 bathrooms were not used as bathrooms, they are used for

storage closets instead. In the 2 year old room, where it would make sense to have 2 bathrooms, there is only one. It is not a wise decision to have potty-trainers waiting to use the restroom, because there aren't multiples.

In the 3 and Pre-K room the layout made more sense, there were plenty of bathrooms and ample space for the children. So at least the vision for those rooms was realized.

There was only one adult bathroom in the basement, which having over 20 staff members at any given time did present some problems, but we managed to deal with it. We either dealt with the one adult bathroom and waited our turn, or used the multiple bathrooms upstairs, which had ample bathrooms because it was a church facility.

So I think sometimes it has less to do with the lack of vision from the retail architect, but from whoever occupies the space over time.

Post 5

A good retail architect will put a lot of thought into the design of the dressing rooms. When I’m shopping, if a store does not have decent fitting rooms, I usually just leave.

Probably the most important thing to consider is size. The rooms need to be large enough for even a big person to move around in comfortably.

The next important thing is lighting. The rooms absolutely must have plenty of light that illuminates the entire room and allows the customer to see what their clothes will look like on them very clearly.

One more thing to keep in mind is warping. The architect needs to use wood for the dressing room doors that will not expand, contract, and warp over time, because this makes it impossible to work the lock. Most people will not get naked in the room if they can’t lock the door.

Post 4

The retail architect who designed the office building where I work did a terrible job. The hallways are tiny, and the bathrooms are not large enough for an overweight employee. Doors nearly hit the wall when we open them in several rooms, and I don’t understand this, because he had plenty of space to work with.

I was interviewing potential architects for the job of designing a new house for me. I wanted to make sure I got someone who understood my concept and needs.

I interviewed one man with whom I seemed to click. He had ideas that sounded good to me, and I considered him to be the best candidate so far. Then, he mentioned that he had designed the office building where I worked. I pretended to get a phone call and promptly ended the interview.

Post 3

I recently visited my friend who lives in a city made up of mostly wealthy individuals. I was astonished to find that the architecture of most of the commercial buildings was mostly the same.

She told me that the city required retail architects to abide by strict guidelines. The city wanted all the buildings to measure up to their standard of attractiveness, so they laid out specific details that must be incorporated. The result was beautiful buildings.

Even restaurant chains with stores in all fifty states looked different here. Most of the buildings were made of the same type of wood, which was cut into the same shape for the construction of the roof. Several had similar intricate designs carved into them.

Post 2

@summming - Interesting observation. I have also noticed that the look of certain stores seems to evolve over time. For instance, look at a McDonald's built 20 years ago and it is completely different from the ones being built today. They are similar in certain ways, but completely different in others.

This is kind of like your idea of branding. If a company changes its logo they don't occasionally go back to using the old one. They commit fully to the new one. So once a new design for a store is completed, all new stores will follow that design. And in some cases old stores will be retrofitted to meet the new standards. That happened to a KFC close

to my house recently. They didn't tear down the old store, they just built a newer facade that reflected the corporate image at the moment.

Talking about all this stuff just reminds me of what a savage place the market place can be. All these companies competing tooth and nail, rolling out any possible gimmick, looking for any possible advantage to beat out their competitors. You wouldn't think this would involve building stores that function as logos but this is most definitely a part of doing business in the 21st century.

Post 1

It really fascinates me the extent to which corporate and especially retail architecture has become branded. What I mean is that is is immediately recognizable even if it does not have all the necessary details present. Kind of like the way you know the McDonald's logo without having to see the word McDonald's, you would know a McDonald's store even if it had no signage.

This phenomenon extends throughout the retail market. Drive around and start looking at shuttered building and you will likely be able to recognize what they are. That is an Arbys, that is a K-Mart, that is a KFC. The reason that these are so recognizable is that they establish a look and then

they repeat that look exactly in as many locations as they possible can. So, before too long, you can recognize a store without them having to tell you what it is. It has a powerful psychological effect on buyers and companies try hard to develop distinctive spaces for the products they sell.

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