Urban design magazine

Public spaces

Beautiful shops for a beautiful city

Image of French department store
French department stores - driving the appeal of urban areas

How can commercial development, particularly the design of shop fronts, enhance public spaces?

Providing vitality and creating social links, shops have a key role to play in making urban areas attractive. For this reason, the design of points of sales has been sparking increasing interest from local authorities. In order to analyse this phenomenon, the Urban Design Observatory met David Sarrazin, the associate director of AID Observatoire. This French design office provides expertise and strategic advice in, among other areas, commercial urban planning.

Good morning Mr. Sarrazin, you’ve been associate director of AID Observatoire since it was created in 1973. In terms of designing points of sale and commercial development, what are the main constraints and expectations from public organisms?  

When talking about shop design, the constraints apply more to the private sector. Brands need to be more and more appealing whilst respecting strict regulations.

As for public organisms, their expectations are two-fold. Firstly, that developments contribute to the overall atmosphere and quality of the city. Secondly, that shop fronts are coherent with other measures to improve public spaces and add value to bigger urban development projects.

Image of shopfront advertising

Improving shopfront advertising – AID Observatoire

Since 1973, what have been the most striking changes in client demands and expectations?

Interest in the quality of shop fronts is relatively recent. Previously, people were most concerened by meeting regulations. Now, urban centres also want shop fronts to add value to public spaces. Qality and design have become very important.

In France, this phenomenon began in large cities like Lyon, which created the Lyon Shop & Design label (launched by Lyon’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2014 to help modernise the city’s shops). Using events and competitions, the aim was to enhance shops with the help of designers and architects. Today, events are also organised around new shop fronts, for example via street marketing.

Image of the Lyon Shop & Design label

Lyon Shop & Design label – promoting the modernisation of shops through design

We also notice an increasing number of concept stores, which have design at their very heart. In small and medium sized urban centres shops often take the initiative in terms of design. This remains largely confined to the private sector as public authorities are more worried about regulations than aesthetics.

What changes in the perception of public spaces do these trends entail?  

The main aim for urban centres is to be coherent. Shop fronts need to fit in with their environment. This can create a real boost, especially when there is significant public funding and the renovations are radical, for example, re-designing the tramway in the French city of Dijon.

Image of Dijon tramway

Dijon, the combined effect of public and commercial development

Do your customers’ demands change depending on where they are based geographically?

No, not really. It depends more on the size of the urban area. The importance given to quality and the resulting actions derive from pre-existing elements. For example, the presence of large department stores with very appealing window displays.

So, you position yourselves as being an ethical choice?

Our positioning is unique because we give stategic advice to both the public and private sector. We create a roadmap and accompany our clients throughout the project. Our role is to ensure coherence between public spaces and their environment by taking into account the needs of the community and making shops attractive. Our mission is enhance the quality of cities.

Image of architecturial preservation

Preserving architect and adding quality

How does AID Observatoire contribute to the well-being of users?

We provide quality. We want users to have an enjoyable shopping experience. All city centres are starting to look the same. The idea is to add difference and value to order to create attractive spaces for the future.

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