Luigi Franceschina, AIA, knows retail. Over the past two decades, he has worked with some of the world’s most iconic brands, including Apple, Starbucks, Chanel, Gap, Banana Republic, Barney’s New York and Bank of America to develop their retail spaces.
Since joining HOK’s Chicago office in 2008, Luigi has worn many hats as a retail planner, designer, project manager and project architect.
Today, he’s bringing his retail expertise to the design of the 500,000-sq.-ft. Kavuklar mixed-use development in Izmir, Turkey; design of a new food court and retail environment at San Diego International Airport’s Terminal One; and a variety of projects for McDonald’s Corporation, including the complete interior renovation of The Hyatt Lodge at McDonald’s Campus in Oak Brook, Ill.
Why do you love retail design?
LF: Retail energizes cities like Chicago, New York, London or Paris – wherever in the world you might be. Retail activates a street and brings environments to life. It’s the social outlet. I love the colors in the windows, the unique awnings and all the people coming together, whether it’s a city, a suburban environment or a mall.
As a designer, I am drawn to the idea that, whether you are designing a storefront or a building, all the interior and exterior retail space needs to work together toward one goal: to create branded environments and experiences that influence a customer to buy an idea, a product or a service. We’re designing for such a wide audience but we need to communicate a strong idea. I love the harmony we’re creating.
Has retail design changed since the economy started faltering in 2008?
LF: Retail design will always evolve in response to new demographics, economic conditions and the continuous desire for brands to differentiate themselves. But we haven’t made any fundamental changes to how we design the stores.
Retailers have become more strategic in the locations and design of their stores. It’s much more about quality of environments than quantity of stores.
Retailers also are trying to draw customers who are increasingly shopping online to their brick-and-mortar stores. Because going to a store is no longer a necessity, designers must create engaging social experiences that give people reasons to visit a store to buy what they can get online.
What is your role in HOK’s Chicago office?
LF: In addition to supporting retail and mixed-use projects across the firm, I have a unique opportunity at HOK to use my retail background to bridge the gap between interiors and architectural practices. By taking a holistic design philosophy, we can translate retail ideas to any kind of space: workplace environments, hotels, classrooms, repositioning of office building lobbies and public areas. It’s exciting.
San Diego County International Airport Concessions Refurbishment
What was your path to HOK?
LF: Architecture always has been part of my life. I grew up Oak Park, which is the near western suburb of Chicago where Frank Lloyd Wright got his start. You could see and feel his presence throughout the village. My father was a tradesman, so at an early age I was exposed to looking at drawings, going to job sites and to the craft of putting things together. It seemed predetermined that I would study architecture.
Entrance facade of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Studio in Oak Park, Ill.; photo by Flickr user Zo187
I got my undergraduate degree in Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then went to Ann Arbor to get my Master of Architecture at the University of Michigan. During both college experiences I spent time studying in Europe, which made a great impression. In addition to being able to get to know my family in Italy, I experienced a different type of urbanity. Fast forward to current retail trends here in the states involving the creation of live-work-play lifestyle centers. This idea, because of the history and density of European cities, is just natural there. Because there’s not much room to grow, there are more mixed-use environments in the cities.
After graduate school, I was fortunate to hook up with SOM in Chicago, where, though I am an architect, I got involved in interior design. I immediately liked the pace of smaller-scale interiors projects because they enabled me to see what I was drawing get built very quickly.
In 1995, I had the opportunity to move to San Francisco to work with a small boutique architectural firm. I got my feet wet in retail by working on Chanel Boutique shops, which is one of the highest-end retail spaces.
I wanted to learn more about the business of retail and how to put stores together. I found an opportunity to move to Gap, Inc., to join their corporate architecture group. At the time, Gap had more than 100 designers and architects on staff and was one of the Bay Area’s largest design firms. We designed, drew and executed most of the stores Gap was building for its three major brands: Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic.
At Gap, I experienced the project development cycle from lease inception through store opening. Being able to work with merchants, store designers, landlords and operations people taught me a lot. I learned how all the moves you make as a designer impact a store’s operations and performance as a successful retail environment.
Gap store in San Jose, Calif.; image by Wikipedia user Coolcaesar
Two years later, I moved back to the Chicago area and joined Gensler to help build their Chicago retail studio. Here, I was able to support Gap, which was a client of theirs, as well as the rollout of retail spaces for clients like Apple and Bank of America.
After about nine years, I accepted a position as a senior design manager at Starbucks. Our challenge was to interpret Starbucks’ brand and to work closely with the real estate folks and operations groups to deliver projects and continually improved the Starbucks experience across the Midwest market.
In 2008, I joined HOK’s office in Chicago. I knew and liked many folks here and was ready to get back into the design firm environment.
You mentioned that you worked on Apple’s stores. What has Apple done right in their retail environments?
LF: I was part of the design development and implementation team for some of the first stores in Apple’s fleet. Though we did not conceive the original ideas, we were involved in the evolution of the design and in improving the implementation.
Apple has created an idea of their brand that filters through everything they do. Along with the contractors, we were charged with executing the design and construction to be as precise, clean and symmetrical as Apple’s products. Everything needed to be perfectly engineered and to support the brand. This store experience would reinforce to Apple customers that they were buying into a special club. The store environment supported the experience they were creating with their products.
Genius Bar at the Apple store on Regent Street in London; image by Flickr user maebmij
What has Starbucks done right?
LF: They are willing to ask the hard questions and to not be complacent. They experienced a period where they grew so quickly that, to achieve design efficiencies, the customer experience was diluted. But they quickly turned that around and got back to their roots of providing a “Third Place” coffee experience. Starbucks has a very strong brand and they continuously go back and check themselves against that philosophy.
Where do you live?
LF: I live in Riverside now. It is a community designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who was one of the founders of American landscape architecture and planning. He was the planner for Central Park in New York City. Back in the late 19th century, Riverside was one of the country’s first planned suburban communities.
You work in a city with one of the most famous stretches of retail street space in the world. Does that inspire you?
LF: Michigan Avenue definitely inspires me. Though I live in Riverside, I am on the 21st Century Planning Committee of the Greater Michigan Avenue Association. Our team is updating the planning and design guidelines for the Avenue and surrounding neighborhood.
What makes the Avenue so successful is it acts as the heart of the city. Architecturally, it is beautiful. The scale varies with the tall buildings and the high density of the residential areas combined with the vibrant retail activity on the streets, mixed in with a couple of cultural institutions and world-famous restaurants. All these different aspects of the city come together and people feel the vibrancy of the urban environment.
“Magnificent Mile” Michigan Avenue image by Wikipedia user TonyTheTiger
What do you do when you’re not working?
LF: I don’t mind shopping! I like being out there and being part of a city, experiencing the trends and seeing where people are going.
It’s a great cliché, but I love to travel. If I ever needed to get away from it all, I would escape to northeastern Italy, where my family is. They live in a beautiful little town called Maniago in the foothills of the Alps.
Maniago street scene