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Then Now | Retail


In retail applications, Then Now occurs when contemporary elements and product displays become the visual foreground by contrasting with an historical building backdrop and results in a genuinely distinctive interior. 


Then Now in the context of interior design can be thought of as a subset of adaptive use, particularly the aestheticization that emphasizes the contrast between the remnants of the old with the injection of the new.1 Retail interiors adopted the historic preservation strategy beginning in the 1960s as the practice was gaining momentum in the wider design community. Then Now arose from this trend towards reusing and repurposing older buildings rather than continually resorting to new construction, and was founded on the decision to visually acknowledge the disconnection between an older building's history and its newfound use. The results are almost always one-of-a-kind. Retail applications especially benefit from the ability to draw upon the unique character and design elements associated with an existing building, simultaneously complementing a shop's personality and contributing to a greater sense of place in a city or town. 

Retail Adaptive Use & The Then Now Strategy

To best gain insight into the development of Then Now, it is beneficial to first consider the development of the broader adaptive use movement. Discussion of the instrumental role that retail specifically served in adaptive use projects will illuminate the framework in which Then Now originated and evolved as an archetypical design practice. Equipped with an understanding of the Intype's development within the historical context of adaptive reuse, the spatial effects associated with an interior juxtaposition of old and new will be addressed.

Adaptive use is a broad term that refers to the repurposing of existing buildings for a contemporary use that is usually different from the building's original function. These existing buildings were historically significant or boasted distinguishing architectural features, or they could just be commonplace buildings that are older but salvageable and structurally sound.2 Reusing existing buildings for new purposes had been the norm since Classical antiquity because it was practical and economical to do so, until "on the threshold of the Modern era in the nineteenth century [and into] the twentieth century, demolition followed by new construction became almost universal."Despite a temporary preference for new buildings, reuse was revived. Historic preservation emerged as both a cultural activity and civic duty in England in the late 19th century. The movement solidified later in the United States, with early congressional legislation supporting historic preservation passed in 1949 followed by the National Historic Preservation Act passed in 1966.By the middle of 20th century people were more passionate about saving old buildings rather than constantly building anew.In reaction to the industrial aesthetic that was associated with Modernism and sometimes perceived as cold and inhuman, people responded more positively to older buildings that depicted human craft and wisdom in their ornament and timeworn materials.6

Most preservation in the United States was initially supported by the government, non-profit organizations or private funds.Early perspectives had been characterized by "the museum approach to preservation," where historically or architecturally significant buildings were preserved and maintained for the public's access to history and culture. Attitudes towards historic preservation shifted, however, in favor of the pragmatism of reuse over strict restoration.Communities eventually reached capacity with the number of preserved museums and cultural landmarks they could support. Given the oversaturation of private foundations, municipalities, real estate developers and the design community all recognized that existing buildings provided an economically viable and culturally rich option for renovation and reuse.What had originally been only of interest to likes of the National Park Service and small, elite groups of historical preservationists became a cause supported by a much broader spectrum of people because of the way adaptive use was both financially feasible and necessary.10 Movement away from an industry-based economy in favor of an information- and knowledge based one following WWII resulted in abandoned industrial districts. Many urban warehouses, factories, and plants were no longer needed and rendered many once-bustling downtown districts lifeless.11

The altered perspective towards utilizing existing buildings for more practical uses other than cultural showpieces paired with the hope for revitalization of these derelict industrial areas marked the beginnings of retail's involvement in the adaptive use movement. Retail became a key component in the strategy for revitalization of deserted districts and vacant buildings because of its powerful ability to "[animate] the street."12 Many of the industrial districts were converted into mixed-used developments that featured ground-floor retail venues and had offices, residences or hotels on the upper floors. The diversity of uses fostered a mutually beneficial relationship that allowed the revitalized urban areas to be resilient, successful and productive once again. Ground level retail and restaurants helped invigorate the neighborhoods and attract other tenants, while overall financial risk was minimized because of the variety of commercial sectors included.13 Shops and restaurants were viewed as the urban glue that provided cohesion and street life in up-and-coming districts.14

Several precedent-setting urban adaptive use projects emerged in the 1960s that featured retail as essential parts of their strategies for revitalization of old industrial areas. In 1964, the old Ghiradelli chocolate factory along San Francisco's waterfront was converted into Ghiradelli Square, an urban retail district complete with shops, restaurants, and other entertainment venues. The area immediately became an attraction and shopping destination that was popular amongst tourists and locals alike.15 Several years later, the old Del Monte peach cannery factory and warehouse complex also in San Francisco was converted into a public space boasting arcades that were similarly lined with shops and restaurants. Moorish-style architectural details characterized the "priceless interiors," and infused the shopping complex with character, history and sense of place.16 Both being abandoned factories, the projects were viewed as models for the revitalizing potential of adaptive use and "became the prototype[s] for adaptive-use commercial projects all over the world...Adaptive use took off as the mainstream preservationist activity."17 They not only inspired other similar projects, but also legislation that promoted urban revitalization and the adaptive use of old buildings.18

Adaptive use was popular in the 1970 decade because of these precedent projects in San Francisco and tax credits intended to boost interest and encourage investment in the private sector's support of historic preservation, adaptive use and urban revitalization. Other cities similarly leveraged retail's attractive forces. Old grain silos from the Quaker Oats Company in downtown Akron, Ohio had been abandoned, but were converted into a small mall with shops and an ice cream parlor in 1975. In smaller cities like Akron, such factories functioned as urban anchors that provided many of greater metropolitan area jobs. Given the importance of these companies and the vitality they once provided, it was important to the city to maintain the grain silos as a landmark and testament to their historic contribution to the livelihoods of many families. The complex was later converted into a hotel in 1980, but nonetheless was among the many adaptive use projects in the 1970s that featured retail as an essential component in urban revitalization.19        

The 1980 decade was initially fueled by the momentum generated in the previous decade but later slowed. Reduction of the tax credits that had previously encouraged preservation paired with downturn of the greater real estate market in the second half of the decade led to a decrease of adaptive use projects.20 Overbuilding in the 1980s led to a real estate crash in the late 1980s and early 1990s not unlike the real estate boom and crash repeated in the 2000 decade, resulting in a surplus of unoccupied buildings. Interest in and the feasibility of adaptive use was revived in the 1990s.21 Mixed-use projects continued to be the trend for urban renewal, as demonstrated by the Pratt Street Power Plant in Baltimore opened in 1999. The plant used to power the city's streetcars, but declined post-WWII with the area's other harbor-side industries in shipping, steel and oil. The project was approached similarly to the Ghiradelli Square and Cannery projects and created an entertainment destination complete with retail, restaurants, and other amenities like a fitness center that were complemented by offices above. Pairing transient with longer-term functions enabled the complex to attract a mixture of tourists and locals.22 Retail has essentially anchored many adaptive use and urban renewal projects consistently from the landmark San Francisco projects in the 1960s through to the present.

Adaptive use is especially pertinent in the present day given current emphasis on the sustainability movement. The environmental benefits primarily lie in material and resource conservation, since reusing existing buildings captures and takes advantage of the materials, resources, and overall embodied energy contained within them, while simultaneously reducing the waste associated with demolition and new construction.23 Retailers have made considerable efforts towards more sustainable products and business operations since the 1990s, but have more recently begun incorporating environmentally responsible buildings and interiors into their sustainability efforts.24 The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and their LEED certification system for benchmarking sustainable building practices released a LEED for Retail framework in 2009, both for New Construction (NC) and Major Renovations, and Commercial Interiors (CI).25 Although neither directly addresses adaptive use, aspects of reuse are incorporated into and supported by both options. Nonetheless, a retail-specific LEED program is evidence of the increased relevancy of adaptive use for retail applications-and Then Now as a particular expression of adaptive use-within the context of the contemporary sustainability movement.

Retail played a strategic role in the broader scheme of urban redevelopment and adaptive use. Its frequent insertion into historically significant buildings as part of this adaptive use movement has presented architects and designers with the opportunity to visually interpret the relationship between old and new in the interiors of the stores themselves. It is important to address the particular expressions and effects of Then Now specifically within these interiors. The purposeful contrast of old and new arose within the context of the altered perspective towards preservation that emerged in the 1960s, refocusing preservation on functional reuse rather than historically accurate restoration. Consideration for the respectful integration of old and new in retail applications of adaptive use was reflected in retrospective retail literature discussing the approach and aesthetic at this time.26 In 1977, The National Trust for Historic Preservation held a conference on adaptive use that specifically explored "the aesthetics of the relationship between old and new architecture"-the very crux of Then Now.27 A follow-up publication promoted "sensitivity to the original design ethic" and encouraged "the best of the ‘new' and ‘old' to be foils to each other" when appropriate, rather than trying to copy or recreate the past.28

There is architectural precedent for contrast between old and new as an archetypical practice. The work of Italian architect Carlo Scarpa in the mid-20th century informs the spatial effects existent in retail expressions of Then Now. Most of his famous architectural work was actually in renovations and additions to existing historic buildings and was arguably a precursor to Then Now. For example, his Canova's gallery at Possagno was described as having "[gained] its power from its juxtaposition with the existing building rather than as an independent new construction."29 Architects and designers have since referenced Scarpa's work when wrestling with juxtaposition or "dialogue between old and new."30 Seeking inspiration from his work is certainly warranted: "Scarpa's ability to reveal old and new-through gaps, joints, and changes in material-became very influential, as architects began to emphasize, in their building projects, that which already exists and that which is new...Old and new are clearly marked. Each of them added to an existing building, making it clear to the visitor where the historical building stops and where the new begins."31

This approach of acknowledging the old while respectfully inserting the new was exactly the thought necessary for Then Now to come about. Although Then Now arose in retail interiors in the 1960s, it became significantly more popular in the following decades. This increased prevalence would have coincided with Scarpa's influence on design practices for adaptive use, given that his approach and method for renovation was popularly taught in architectural education during the 1980s.32 The particular effects of Then Now can be best understood through discussion of the basic design elements and principles that contribute to the expression of the archetype. By definition, Then Now is based on the principle of contrast, which is the visual interaction that occurs between opposites.33 In the opposition of old and new, contrast most commonly lies in the textural differences between the two. Texture refers to the three-dimensional quality of a surface, describes relative smooth- or roughness, and is experienced both visually and tactilely.34 In expressions of Then Now, the most frequent textural contrast is the opposition of the rough, aging surfaces of old architectural elements with the clean, sleek surfaces of new contemporary interior interventions. In order for Then Now interiors to be successful, contrast is used to maintain the visual balance amongst textures, materials, and old and new. The rich textural qualities, elaborate architectural detailing, and even the sometimes large-scale of existing buildings that are adaptively used carry much visual weight. Then Now offers a design strategy for counterbalancing this visual weight with a proportional amount of simpler, newer elements to contrast with the existing building.35 It is also possible to consider Then Now as a figure-ground relationship, with "Then" becoming background for "Now". "In all cases...we should understand that figures, the positive elements that attract our attention, could not exist without a contrasting background. Figures and their background, therefore, are more than opposing elements. Together they form an inseparable reality-a unity of opposites-just as the elements of form and space form the reality of architecture."36 Not only do the old and new rely on one another for distinction, but they work together to create a unique, more meaningful interior experience than if either had existed alone. For retail, this relationship establishes product as foreground and the historical building as background, but the interplay between them speaks volumes compared to if either component were to stand alone.

Aside from design precedent and principles, another perspective from which to consider Then Now's spatial effects is to examine the spectrum of the types of existing buildings that are adapted for new use, ranging from the historically and architecturally prominent to the ordinary and commonplace-"nonarchitecture," if you will.37 Author Stewart Brand's distinction between the two types of buildings that are adapted are helpful for understanding this spectrum: "One, grand and deep, I call the High Road-durable, independent buildings that steadily accumulate experience and become in time wiser and more respected than their inhabitants. The other, quick and dirty, is the Low Road. Their specialty is swift responsiveness to their occupants. They are unrespectable, mercurial, street-smart."38 

In terms of retail, this distinction is helpful for understanding the difference between restoring and reusing a historical landmark, which would be considered a high road building, and adaptively using, for example, an old automotive repair garage or low road building. 

A quick comparison between high and low road buildings and the way they are adaptively used for retail enlightens the strategy behind Then Now. Benetton's (1997) New York flagship restored and moved into the Charles Scribner's Sons Building in Manhattan, the old home to the renowned publishing house.39 The building was a historical landmark-a high road building-so it was therefore decided that the interior would be restored to reflect its original state. Although instances of adaptive use in retail that are predominantly restoration projects sometimes were expressions of Then Now, stores like Benetton were not, and instead focused almost exclusively on the "Then." As seen with Benetton, the interior aesthetic was much more one of integration, rather than celebrating a contrast between old and new. The contents of the store were incorporated into the context of the historic building's grand interior.

Alternatively, examples like the Kate Spade (2001) Chicago flagship demonstrate what are considered low road buildings for the purposes of this study.40 The building was a historic townhouse and a valuable contributor to Chicago's urban fabric, however it was not iconic in the same way that the Scribner's Sons building warranted restoration. As a result, the intervention respectfully acknowledged the historic townhouse through strategic design moves, such as exposing its brick façade on the interior. The majority of the interior, however, was redesigned contemporarily. Although not always the case, instances of adaptive use seem to usually fall more along the lines of this Kate Spade store than Benetton because there is more aesthetic freedom for the injection of the new. High road buildings usually result in stronger, more striking depictions of Then Now, as will be seen in the examples outlined in the chronological sequence. Brand's differentiation between high and low road buildings was helpful for distinguishing between these two different applications and manifestations of Then Now, but it must be understood that the practice can fall anywhere in between along the spectrum from landmark to pedestrian.       

A final means for understanding Then Now's spatial effects is through comparison of the theme of juxtaposition both in fashion theory and interior design. Since juxtaposition of old and new often appears in fashion design, and many retail interiors employing Then Now are in fact clothing stores, it follows that the theoretical background supporting fashion's use of the concept will be relevant to the current study. Speaking directly to this juxtaposition, fashion scholar Caroline Evans highlighted John Galliano's 1998 Spring-Summer ready-to-wear show for Dior as a prime example of the dynamic interplay between old and new. Galliano channeled Dior's historical roots in 19th century Parisian couture in this particular show. Models paraded through a series of rooms decorated like the sumptuous salons in the private mansions of the old Parisian couturiers, allowing the contemporary fashion show to mimic the fashion parades that once occurred in the salons.41 Evans drew upon philosopher Walter Benjamin's notions of dialectical images and montage to understand Galliano's move in placing contemporary fashion designs within a historical context. "The juxtaposition of these images, on the one hand of late 20th century fashion shows, and on the other, of the merchandising and retail extravaganzas of a century earlier, invokes Walter Benjamin's idea of ‘dialectical images.' Dialectical images were not based on simple comparisons, but rather, created a more complex historical relay of themes running between past and present...For Benjamin, the relationship between images of the past and present worked like the montage technique of cinema. The principle of montage is that a third meaning is created by the juxtaposition of two images, rather than any immutable meaning inhering in each image."42   

What retail's use of Then Now can learn from the application of Benjamin's theories to Galliano's show is the staging of a visual comparison between old and new. In much the same way that Galliano provoked consideration for the both the present and the past by placing them side-by-side, interior applications of Then Now similarly place the new retail interior and function within an old shell. The visually apparent delineation and contrast differentiates the old from the new, while allowing each to respect the other. It is also interesting to borrow the concept of montage, and consider the way that juxtaposing an old interior shell with a new retail function results in a new meaning greater than the sum of the parts. The historic interior is offered an extended life in which it continues to contribute to its surrounding culture and urban fabric. At the same time, the retailer is able to draw upon the particular building's unique character and story. Discussion about the implications of juxtaposition, montage and new meaning combined with earlier discussion of the historical context of adaptive use has provided a basis of understanding for moving forward to informed analysis of Then Now's applications.   

Chronological Sequence

Some retail interiors began to experiment with the relationship between old and new prior to the adaptive use projects and Then Now interiors that were inspired by the demonstrations of feasibility and success of the adaptive use in the 1960s. Five years before Ghiradelli Square opened, The 20th Century Shop (1959) was a gift shop that occupied a converted 19th century New Orleans townhouse.43 The project represented the mid-20th century's new perspective towards reuse; the interior was described as contemporary but nostalgic, capturing the essence of Then Now and adaptive use rather than the historical accuracy traditionally associated with preservation. Much of the townhouse was rebuilt for the new use, but attention was carefully paid to demonstrating respect for the old. A second-floor balcony was removed to create a compelling double-height space and new steel beams replaced load-bearing walls. These new interventions were contrasted by the home's old brick chimney: "The old masonry of the side chimneys was exposed to accent further the verticality of the space, and to serve also as a reminder of the original structure."44 Although the interior gestures were subtle and the contemporary facade no longer resembled a traditional southern townhouse, the 20th Century Shop represented an early example of how retail leveraged Then Now as a design strategy for purposefully integrating and contrasting the new with the old.

Some of the earliest examples of Then Now retail interiors were in shops that went into the precedent-setting Ghiradelli Square. The old chocolate factory and offices were adaptively used in the landmark (pun intended) urban renewal project and converted into a shopping and dining destination during the 1960s. It formally opened in 1965, but new stores continued to be renovated and added into the 1970s, as The Kilkenny Shop (1970) was.45 Kilkenny was an Irish crafts store that sold textiles, ceramics and other handmade objects. It presumably occupied an old factory or warehouse building, maintaining the original brick walls, maple floors, wooden columns, and an open, Pompidou ceiling. The space was featured in Interior Design at the time as a demonstration of how old buildings and interiors could be updated for new functions: "Interior designers will find it an object lesson in how to retain a landmark and still put it to contemporary use...Much of the original background was retained."46 Although it was not the strongest example of a high-contrast Then and Now effect, there was a noticeable difference between the old building and modern furnishings and product within, not to mention that it was part of the pivotal project in the chronology of adaptive use. Stores like this established precedence for the converted warehouse aesthetic that has become popular in rehabilitation projects and frequently lends itself well to expressions of Then Now.

A few years later, Daniel Eastland Men's Shop (1974) offered an alternative approach to the aesthetic.47 The shop was located in another historic district in downtown San Francisco, which placed restrictions that limited manipulation to the storefront, so "the architects suggested using an entirely new, free-standing element within the building, which would be visible from the street and would affirm to potential customers the contemporary wares offered within."48 Rather than physically juxtaposing old and new side-by-side as often is the case, customers experienced the historic façade and storefront from the exterior, saw the contemporary wooden form contained within, and would experience an entirely contemporary interior once they made the transition inside. This certainly was an alternative interpretation of Then Now, since the new was inserted into the old in a way that lent itself to a sequential experience of the then and now. The intervention was respectful of its historic surroundings by politely situating itself within the old context, but it did result in an interior experience that was entirely about the "now" once inside.

Adaptive use for retail remained popular into the 1980s, thanks to tax credits for historic preservation projects and the shifting focus away from constant demolition and new construction. Many of the great examples of Then Now from the 1980s were photographed later in the decade. Katharine Hamnett (1987) was a British clothing boutique that moved into what Stewart Brand would have considered a low road building-a back-lot shed that had previously been an auto body repair shop.49 Examples like old mechanics' shops elucidate the difference between restoration and adaptive use. Rather then trying to return the old shop to its original state, the walls and ceilings were whitewashed and a concrete floor was installed in order to clean up the space for it to become an upscale clothing store.50 The clothing racks, a baby grand piano, and the cash wrap were all free-standing within the interior, clearly articulating the distinction between the old shed and new contents within. The mirrors (which the photograph was taken looking into) exaggerated the industrial surroundings, making the already expansive space feel even larger. Stores like Katharine Hamnett marked the beginnings of many contemporary clothing store interiors adoption of the industrial aesthetic.

Contempo Casuals (1988) is one of the most iconic examples of Then Now.51 The clothing store was quite literally inserted into an old Los Angeles bank building: "...the architects interrupted the Classical axial layout of Contempo's landmark surround with a 56-foot long steel and wood bridge that appears to have catapulted into the central rotunda from a semicircular apse at the rear...the clothing-laden bridge virtually pushes the company's wares toward incoming customers."52

It was partially this intervention's interruption of the classically-inspired building's central axis that allowed the store's Then Now effect to read so emphatically. Design moves like this one responded to the call for adaptively reusing older buildings for new functions, since it was impossible and impractical to convert every historic building into a museum or private foundation. Given that the store was a part of a chain, this location exemplified the way that an older building's design character could contribute to a unique spatial experience that could never be replicated throughout a chain. One of the advantages to Then Now is this individuality. The blatant separation between the historical building and the contemporary display respected the old context, but the move could alternatively have been perceived as a distraction. Given that this Contempo store was designed on the cusp of the minimalist, White Box retail interiors that dominated the 1990s, it likely received mixed reception. The article alluded to potential distaste for the way the dramatic interior steals attention from the products themselves.53        

By the late 1980s, the intentions and effects of Then Now were well understood. Gianni Versace (1989) used the Guelfa Tower, an ancient Florentine structure dating from the 13th century.54 The walls and beautiful vaulted ceilings were stripped down to their original, bare brick. It was in the handling of the new materials and the way they interacted with the old ones that determined the interior's visual impact: "The crux of the treatment lies in the juxtaposition of the new and the old, specifically the manner in which the sleek, industrial-quality elements of steel, stone and glass are fitted within the confines of the historic envelope. Some of these items rely on the architecture for support, while others pointedly come as close as possible to the structure without actually touching it."55  

As in Contempo, the insertion of modern, industrial steel structure heightened the contrast between the old and the new. Furthermore, it was in the treatment of details, such as interior elements that nearly touch the old but refrain from actually doing so, that contributed to an added visual tension. The dynamic between the long-withstanding, weathered brick, and sleek polished steel resulted in an increased awareness of the time discrepancy between the parts of the interior. It was almost as if insertion within the context of hundreds of years of Italian history added some sort of credibility and substance to the fleeting nature of the fashions that would have cycled through the store.  

Then Now's range of applications from landmark buildings to old factories or sheds continued to be represented moving into more recent decades. Further supporting the non-landmark constituency, Workshop (1996) was a clothing boutique in New Zealand that moved into an old motorcycle repair shop.56 Similar to the treatment of this type of building seen previously, many of the building's original elements were maintained but modified for the new use, including the wooden trusses, brick walls and concrete floor. Specifically, the old repair shop's concrete floors were salvaged but stained a deep blue, while the brick walls were painted white to offer a neutral background. These modifications acknowledged the building's history, but adapted the building for the reality of its new use. Whereas some buildings were quite obviously historic, buildings such as this one represented a toned-down interpretation of Then Now. The building was somewhat anonymous, in the sense that one would not necessarily have known it was a shop for motorcycle repairs before. Its proportions and rugged nature somehow still managed to communicate the essence of its previous life. This ability to capture the character of the old-regardless of how historically or architecturally significant-while moving forward with the new was one of the strengths of Then Now that propelled it into the 21st century as a dominant retail design strategy and aesthetic. 

An alternative approach to an old but commonplace building can be found in DKNY's (1996) London flagship also built in the 1990s.57 It was noted that the building dated from the early 20th century, but without mention of its previous use.58 While one means for achieving a Then Now effect was to highlight or feature the older elements, DKNY instead chose to whitewash the entire interior, creating a neutral white backdrop for clothing on display. Not all Then Now interiors that make use of whitewash are also examples of White Out as was the case with DKNY. Their use of white demonstrated the way that the old can be treated with white to acknowledge its history but establish it as background, while boldly setting the product as foreground. Many Then Now interiors will treat old brick walls or exposed ceilings with a coat of white paint to refresh and render them anew. Even with a coat of white paint, the history was still preserved. The neutrality, however, allowed the new contents of the store to stand out in even higher contrast than usual.

The design for Jil Sander's (2003) London flagship employed Then Now as a strategy for adaptively reusing a historic London bank building.59 One thing the installation successfully achieved by using Then Now was a seemingly effortless matching in atmosphere and aesthetic of altogether different design vocabularies between the contemporary intervention and the historic landmark. "An early Georgian building, the structure came with architectural pedigree and a storied aristocratic past...Gabellini Associates [created] a simultaneously austere and majestic environment."60 The floating, white walls that partitioned the large space and acted as backdrops for the clothing on display gracefully swept around the classical columns. It was the similarity between the "austere" and "majestic" nature of both the historic interior and the modern partitions that allowed the new to become integrated so well with the old while still standing on their own. The success of this interior's so blatant and unapologetic departure from the existing design vocabulary, rather than trying to imitate it, gave credence to the value of Then Now and represented a strong strategy for adaptive use. Restoration is an essential practice that has its place in contemporary design sensibility, but examples like Jil Sander reaffirm that Then Now offers a viable solution for acknowledging the "Then" while moving on with the "Now."

Adaptive use of architecturally significant landmarks was popular throughout the 2000s, both internationally and within the United States. In Chicago, Bloomingdale's home and furnishings store adaptively used the city's historic Medinah Temple (2003).61 The Islamic revival-style building was originally constructed in 1912 as a temple for the Shriner's, but over time the building became a cultural landmark and the city felt passionately about retaining it in some capacity. Much of the dark interior was gutted to create a bright, open atrium for the store. Despite the invasive overhaul, several key architectural elements were maintained to reflect the building's past. The temple's plastered dome, coffered ceilings, and stained-glass windows were among the details preserved.62 The old theater's proscenium was also retained, becoming a grand backdrop for the department store's elevators in an exceptional articulation of the relationship between old and new characteristic to Then Now. The reuse of Chicago's Medinah Temple not only benefitted the city, but the retailer as well. The project ended up costing more than a typical Bloomingdale's, but the unique store became a destination shopping location and generated acclaim for the retailer's involvement in saving a beloved landmark.63

In less historically significant buildings, the recent trend has been towards crafting a carefully articulated container/contained relationship. The Julie Sohn Boutique (2007) in Barcelona was one small store whose interior concept was based upon its historic "container."64 The store was located on the ground floor in an early  20th century apartment building.65 The building's interior brick walls were left exposed, a practice that has become common in many Then Now interiors. The delicate relationship between the brick walls and the white panels displaying clothes were what mediated the interaction between vessel and contents. The way in which the panels were slightly offset from the wall plane highlighted the distinction between the old shell and the new contents. As seen in several examples now, the visual impact of Then Now was most striking when there was such a separation of elements by age, rather than attempting to seamlessly incorporate the new into the old as if it were always there. Julie Sohn also offered a lesson in materiality's role in Then Now. The white sculptural ceiling that guided customers through to the back of the store stood in stark contrast to the rich, textural quality of the aged brick walls. Contrast between old and new textures and forms have been the most distinctive design elements manipulated in order to achieve a Then Now effect.

The Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore (2007) adapted an old Gothic church in a historic district of the Netherlands for its contemporary use selling books.66 The designers struggled with a strategy for accommodating adequate shelving for a large quantity of books while respecting the church's sacred interior. The solution they decided upon was to introduce a free-standing steel structure that provided three levels of bookshelves. It hugged one row of the church's columns, but left the remainder of the interior on view, including the other row of columns and much of the vaulted ceiling. "Since the full height of the space and the view from the entrance toward the chancel have both been retained, the Dominican church has forfeited little of its spatial effect, despite the installation. At the same time, the giant bookcase provides new perspectives and establishes an effective contrast within the church - between industrial and handcrafted elements, new and old, smooth and rough, heavy and fine."67       

Despite the bold yet reverent spatial intervention, it was again primarily the combination of formal and textural contrasts that separated old and new. One of the most interesting considerations was the insertion of retail in an old church. The juxtaposition of retail and church spoke to the notion of montage, or the pairing of images for a third, entirely new meaning. This unique project undoubtedly conjures up references to contemporary retail as brand worship, the stores becoming-in this case, quite literally-a place where customers go to bask in the sacred aura of the brand.        

Then Now has become a dominant contemporary design aesthetic in retail interiors for environmental, economic, and even eclectic reasons. In places like New York's SoHo, where an entire district has been transformed from an old industrial area, the practice is understandably sprinkled throughout many of the area's stores, most maintaining some part of their industrial history, even if just an open ceiling, old column, or exposed brick wall.68 In the midst of its prevalence, it has been examples like the Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore and Hermès Rive Gauche (2011) that have stood out as the more dramatic and compelling contemporary examples of Then Now.69 The new Parisian Hermès was situated within a historic building that used to house an indoor swimming pool. Customers descended a symbolic twelve-foot depth of the historic pool into a sunken level that was finished with mosaic tiles like those that usually line pools. Then Now was executed experientially in the way that users were physically exposed to spatial cues like depth and materiality that signaled the building's previous use. Then Now also manifested itself in the way the product was displayed within "permeable display pavilions... The new biomorphic insertions...[established] a dialogue with the rectilinear lines of the 1935 pool interior" and "also successfully [mediated] the scale between the atrium's volume and the smaller display counters and merchandise."70 These wooden huts not only contrasted and complemented the old pool building in form, but also became a strategy for creating smaller, more intimate areas within a large open space. The installation successfully demonstrated the way that Then Now can be used as a strategy for utilizing expansive buildings for functions that may require smaller-scale spaces, like retail, without compromising the powerful visual impact of the grand historic interior.

Adaptive use as a historic preservation design strategy has become an important means for converting the existing building stock for modern, productive use. Retail is a popular and successful reuse option, and Then Now provides a strategy characterized by contrast for approaching the aesthetic of adaptive use retail projects. Since it is impractical to conserve every historic building for its own sake, adaptive use has proven to be a more than acceptable solution. For the less historically or architecturally noteworthy buildings, the strategy offers an extended life and draws more upon its environmental contributions. Stores, too, however, have benefitted from these more anonymous buildings, since many fashion designers and shop owners have been attracted to the rugged and industrial aesthetic that can act as a foil for their clothing or goods. Perhaps in some of the most pure, if extreme, expressions of Then Now, the guerilla retail movement that started in the early 2000s was founded on the principle of juxtaposition of existing and new. Forward-thinking fashion label Comme des Garçons has been partially credited with starting the movement with their first pop-up store in 2004, and consequently released a manifesto of "Guerilla Rules" stating that "the concept for interior design will be largely equal to the existing space" and "the location will be chosen according to its atmosphere, historical connection, geographical situation."71

Within the broader scope of adaptive use, Then Now has offered a valuable tool and design strategy for approaching the way a new use is integrated within the context of an old building. Examples of stores that have used this approach are a testament to the ability to insert something contemporary or innovative without compromising the sanctity of a building's original use. "When architects and clients resolve to integrate parts of old buildings into new buildings, irrespective of landmark preservation requirements, they are doing so because they presume that the new entity will profit from the functional strengths, the presence, and the historical traces of such a building. What matters is the spirit of place and the historical period that a building represents, even if it has not made history itself."72 

Much of the literature on adaptive use has spoken to this contribution to a sense of place.73 Beyond the positive environmental implications associated with building use, retail's acknowledgement of older buildings with the use of Then Now helps preserve a cultural richness that is currently being challenged, even threatened, by a retail market dominated by chains.74

end notes

  1. 1) The Intype "Then Now" was identified and named by graduate student Sara Patterson in 2009 as part of her unpublished thesis research about the Adaptive Use practice type. Then Now, as an adaptive use archetype, describes the placement of contemporary and highly contrasting furniture into an otherwise untouched historic interior. The juxtaposition of the historic interior with the clean lines, and often vibrant colors of modern furniture, call attention to both old and new. This minimal intervention provides contemporary convenience while maintaining the historic envelope.
  2. 2) Thomas J. Martin and Melvin A. Gamzon, "Economics and Process," Adaptive Use: Development Economics Process and Profiles, UrbanLand Institute (Washington, D.C., Urban Land Institute, 1978), 3.
  3. 3) Frank Peter Jäger, Old & New: Design Manual for Revitalizing Existing Buildings (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010), 7.
  4. 4) Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built (New York: Viking, 1994), 94-96.
  5. 5) John S. Garner, "Preserving the Prosaic," Adaptive Reuse: Issues and Case Studies in Building Preservation, Richard L. Austin, Eds. David G. Woodcock, W. Cecil Steward and R. Alan Forrester, (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988), 19; Brand, How Buildings Learn, 88.
  6. 6) Schmertz, New Life for Old Buildings, vi.
  7. 7) Martin and Gamzon, "Economics and Process," 2.
  8. 8) David G. Woodcock, AIA, RIBA, Introduction to Adaptive Reuse: Issues and Case Studies in Building Preservation by Richard L. Austin; Eds. David G. Woodcock, W. Cecil Steward and R. Alan Forrester, vii-x (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988), vii.
  9. 9) Jo Allen Gause, Foreword to New Uses for Obsolete Buildings, by Jo Allen Gause, Bruce M. Hoch, John D. Macomber and Jonathan F.P. Rose, (Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute, 1996), v; Martin and Gamzon, "Economics and Process," 1.
  10. 10) Garner, "Preserving the Prosaic," 19; Martin and Gamzon, "Economics and Process," 1.
  11. 11) Gause et al, New Uses for Obsolete Buildings, 4.
  12. 12) John McMorrough, "Legislated Transactions," in Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping, eds. Chuihua Judy Chung, Jeffrey Inaba, Rem Koolhaas, Sze Tsung Leong, Tae-Wook Cha. (New York: Taschen, 2001), 426.
  13. 13) Gause et al, New Uses for Obsolete Buildings, 68.
  14. 14) McMorrough, "Legislated Transactions," 424.
  15. 15) Brand, How Buildings Learn, 104.
  16. 16) "History of the Cannery," The Cannery at Del Monte Square, accessed July 7, 2011,
  17. 17) Brand, How Buildings Learn, 104.
  18. 18) "History of the Cannery."
  19. 19) "UA Buys Quaker Square Complex," University of Akron News, June 13, 2007, accessed July 7, 2011,
  20. 20) Brand, How Buildings Learn, 96-97; Gause, Foreword to New Uses for Obsolete Buildings, v-vi.
  21. 21) Gause, Foreword to New Uses for Obsolete Buildings, v.
  22. 22) "UA Buys Quaker Square Complex."
  23. 23) Woodcock, Introduction to Adaptive Reuse, ix.
  24. 24) Karen H. Hyllegard, Ph.D., Jennifer Pagg Ogle, Ph.D. and Brian Dunbar, M.Arch, "Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Retail Design: Integrating Design into a Model of the REI Denver Decision-Making Process," Journal of Interior Design 29 no. 1&2 (Sept. 2003): 2, 33-35, 46.
  25. 25) U.S. Green Building Council, Introduction to "LEED 2009 for Retail: New Construction Rating System," vii-xvi (Washington, D.C.: USGBC, 2011), viii.
  26. 26) Vilma Barr and Charles E. Broudy, Designing to Sell: A Complete Guide to Retail Store Planning and Design (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986), 126.
  27. 27) Woodcock, Introduction to Adaptive Reuse, ix.
  28. 28) Woodcock, Introduction to Adaptive Reuse, ix.
  29. 29) Richard Murphy, Querini Stampalia Foundation: Carlo Scarpa (London: Phaidon, 1993), unpaged.
  30. 30) Jäger, Old & New, 9.
  31. 31) Urs Peter Flückiger, Donald Judd: Architecture in Marfa, Texas (Boston: Birkhäuser, 2007), 42.
  32. 32) Flückiger, Donald Judd, 30.
  33. 33) Francis D.K. Ching, Architecture: Form, Space and Order (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), 94.
  34. 34) Francis D.K Ching, Interior Design Illustrated (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005), 97-100.
  35. 35) Ching, Interior Design Illustrated, 124, 129.
  36. 36) Ching, Architecture, 94.
  37. 37) The perspective for analysis is the author's, however the term was borrowed from Suzanne Stephens, "Extreme Makeovers," Architectural Record 194, no. 1 (Jan. 2006), 125.
  38. 38) Brand's connotations for each building type are slightly different than they are going to be interpreted here, so his concept of High and Low Road buildings have been adapted for the purposes of understanding the types of buildings that are adaptively reused for retail; Brand, How Buildings Learn, 23, 24-51.
  39. 39) Benetton [1997] The Phillips Johnson Group; 9 in Monica Geran, "Design by Detection: Unusually Extensive Research by The Phillips Janson Group Precedes the Renovation of a Landmark Building for Benetton's New York Flagship Store," Interior Design 68, no. 11 (Sept. 1997): 218-220; PhotoCrd: Peter Mauss, Esto.
  40. 40) Kate Spade [2001] Rogers Marvel Architects (architecture) and Steven Sclaroff (interiors); Chicago, IL in Edie Cohen, "Ace of Spades: Rogers Marvel Architects, With Interior Designer Steven Sclaroff, Embark on the Expansion Trail for Kate Spade," Interior Design 72, no. 4 (Apr. 2001): 198-205; PhotoCrd: David Joseph.
  41. 41) Caroline Evans, Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 31-32.
  42. 42) Evans, Fashion at the Edge, 33.
  43. 43) The 20th Century Shop [1959] Burk, Le Breton and Lamantia Architects; New Orleans, LA in Anonymous, "Town House Remodeled into Attractive Gift Shop," Architectural Record 125, no. 4 (Apr. 1959): 205-207; PhotoCrd: Frank Lotz Miller.
  44. 44) Anonymous, "Town House Remodeled into Attractive Gift Shop," 205.
  45. 45) The Kilkenny Shop [1970] Mack McDowell and Ira P. Kurlander; San Francisco, CA in Anonymous, "The Kilkenny Shop," Interior Design 41, no. 12 (Jul. 1970): 106-109; PhotoCrd: George Dippel.
  46. 46) Anonymous, "The Kilkenny Shop," 106.
  47. 47) Daniel Eastland Men's Shop [1974] Robinson and Mills; San Francisco, CA in Anonymous, "A Freestanding Element in Existing Space to Transform an Old Building," Architectural Record 156, no. 4 (Sept. 1974): 110; PhotoCrd: Michael McKaig.
  48. 48) Anonymous, "A Freestanding Element in Existing," 110.
  49. 49) Katharine Hamnett [1987] Norman Foster; London, England in José Manser, "British Design: The Katharine Hamnett Store in London Becomes a Mecca for Shoppers and Another Pristine Achievement for Norman Foster," Interiors 146, no. 3 (Mar. 1987): 130-33; PhotoCrd: Richard Bryant.
  50. 50) Manser, "British Design," 130, 132.
  51. 51) Contempo Casuals [1988] Morphosis; Los Angeles, CA in K.D.S., "Scene Stealer," Architectural Record 176, no. 5 (May 1988): 132-35; PhotoCrd: Tom Bonner.
  52. 52) K.D.S., "Scene Stealer," 132.
  53. 53) K.D.S., "Scene Stealer," 132.
  54. 54) Gianni Versace [1989] Laboratorio Associati; Florence, Italy in Edie Lee Cohen, "Gianni Versace: The shop in Florence by Laboratorio Associati," Interior Design 60, no. 3 (Feb. 1989): 244-45; PhotoCrd: D. Brun.
  55. 55) Cohen, "Gianni Versace," 244.
  56. 56) Workshop [1996] David Howell; Auckland, New Zealand in Judith Nasatir, "David Howell: An Auckland, New Zealand, Shop Showcases the Talents of Local Artists and Artisans," Interior Design 67, no. 5 (Apr. 1996): 144-145; PhotoCrd: Patrick Reynolds.
  57. 57) DKNY [1996] Peter Marino; London, England in Edie Cohen, "Peter Marino for DKNY," Interior Design 67, no.5 (Apr. 1996): 116-19; PhotoCrd: Chris Gascoigne.
  58. 58) Cohen, "Peter Marino for DKNY," 116.
  59. 59) Jil Sander [2003] Gabellini Associates; London, England in Shann Kelly, "In the Bank: Gabellini Associates Racks Up the IIDA's Top Honor for 2002, Remaking a Historic London Bank as a Jil Sander Flagship," Interior Design 74, no. 1 (Jan. 2003): 218-25; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol. 
  60. 60) Kelly, "In the Bank," 221.
  61. 61) Bloomingdale's Home + Furnishings [2003] Daniel P. Coffey & Associates (architecture); James Harb Architects (interiors); Chicago, IL in Theodore C. Thoerig, Best Practices in Development: ULI Award Winning Projects (Washington, D.C.: ULI-the Urban Land Institute, 2008), 20-25; PhotoCrd: James Steinkamp; Bloomingdale's Home + Furnishings [2003] Daniel P. Coffey & Associates (architecture); James Harb Architects (interiors); Chicago, IL in Anonymous, "Building Types Study: Adaptive Reuse," Architectural Record, July 2003,, accessed July 5, 2011; PhotoCrd: Jon Miller/Hedrich Blessing.
  62. 62) Thoerig, Best Practices, 21.
  63. 63) Nadel, "Temple of Domesticity." 
  64. 64) Julie Sohn Boutique [2007] CCT Arquitectos; Barcelona, Spain in David Sokol, "CCT Arquitectos Transforms an Ordinary Barcelona Interior Into the Fashion-Forward Julie Sohn Boutique," Architectural Record 195, no. 6 (Jun. 2007): 208-10; PhotoCrd: Eugeni Pons.
  65. 65) Sokol, "CCT Arquitectos Transforms an Ordinary Barcelona Interior," 209-10.
  66. 66) Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore [2007] Merkx + Girod Architecten; Maastricht, Netherlands in Frank Peter Jäger, Old & New: Design Manual for Revitalizing Existing Buildings (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010), 164-67; PhotoCrd: Roos Aldershoff Fotografie.
  67. 67) Jäger, Old & New, 165.
  68. 68) Gause, New Uses for Obsolete Buildings, 4.
  69. 69) Hermès Rive Gauche [2010] Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure; Paris, France in Erich Theophile and Steven Yee, "Hermès Rive Gauche," Architectural Record 199, no. 2 (Feb. 2011): 76-79; PhotoCrd: Michel Denancé.
  70. 70) Theophile and Yee, "Hermès Rive Gauche," 77, 79.
  71. 71) Claudio Marenco Mores, From Fiorucci to the Guerilla Stores: Shop Displays n Architecture, Marketing and Communications (Milan: Marsilio, 2006), 148-49.
  72. 72) Jäger, Old & New, 9.
  73. 73) Woodcock, Introduction to Adaptive Reuse, viii.
  74. 74) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Then Now in retail interiors was developed from the following sources: 1950 The 20th Century Shop [1959] Burk, Le Breton and Lamantia Architects; New Orleans, LA in Anonymous, "Town House Remodeled into Attractive Gift Shop," Architectural Record 125, no. 4 (Apr. 1959): 207; PhotoCrd: Frank Lotz Miller / 1970 The Kilkenny Shop [1970] Mack McDowell and Ira P. Kurlander; San Francisco, CA in Anonymous, "The Kilkenny Shop," Interior Design 41, no. 12 (Jul. 1970): 107, 109; PhotoCrd: George Dippel; The Kilkenny Shop [1970] Mack McDowell and Ira P. Kurlander; San Francisco, CA in Anonymous, "The Kilkenny Shop," Interior Design 41, no. 12 (Jul. 1970): 107; PhotoCrd: George Dippel / 1980 Katharine Hamnett [1987] Norman Foster; London, England in José Manser, "British Design: The Katharine Hamnett Store in London Becomes a Mecca for Shoppers and Another Pristine Achievement for Norman Foster," Interiors 146, no. 3 (Mar. 1987): 133; PhotoCrd: Richard Bryant; Contempo Casuals [1988] Morphosis; Los Angeles, CA in K.D.S., "Scene Stealer," Architectural Record 176, no. 5 (May 1988): 133; PhotoCrd: Tom Bonner; Gianni Versace [1989] Laboratorio Associati; Florence, Italy in Edie Lee Cohen, "Gianni Versace: The shop in Florence by Laboratorio Associati," Interior Design 60, no. 3 (Feb. 1989): 245; PhotoCrd: D. Brun / 1990 Workshop [1996] David Howell; Auckland, New Zealand in Judith Nasatir, "David Howell: An Auckland, New Zealand, Shop Showcases the Talents of Local Artists and Artisans," Interior Design 67, no. 5 (Apr. 1996): 144; PhotoCrd: Patrick Reynolds; DKNY [1996] Peter Marino; London, England in Edie Cohen, "Peter Marino for DKNY," Interior Design 67, no.5 (Apr. 1996): 117; PhotoCrd: Chris Gascoigne / 2000 Kate Spade [2001] Rogers Marvel Architects (architecture) and Steven Sclaroff (interiors); Chicago, IL in Edie Cohen, "Ace of Spades: Rogers Marvel Architects, With Interior Designer Steven Sclaroff, Embark on the Expansion Trail for Kate Spade," Interior Design 72, no. 4 (Apr. 2001): 203; PhotoCrd: David Joseph; Jil Sander [2003] Gabellini Associates; London, England in Shann Kelly, "In the Bank: Gabellini Associates Racks Up the IIDA's Top Honor for 2002, Remaking a Historic London Bank as a Jil Sander Flagship," Interior Design 74, no. 1 (Jan. 2003): 221, 224; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol; Bloomingdale's Home + Furnishings [2003] Daniel P. Coffey & Associates (architecture); James Harb Architects (interiors); Chicago, IL in Anonymous, "Building Types Study: Adaptive Reuse," Architectural Record, July 2003,, accessed July 5, 2011; PhotoCrd: Jon Miller/Hedrich Blessing; Julie Sohn Boutique [2007] CCT Arquitectos; Barcelona, Spain in David Sokol, "CCT Arquitectos Transforms an Ordinary Barcelona Interior Into the Fashion-Forward Julie Sohn Boutique," Architectural Record 195, no. 6 (Jun. 2007): 208; PhotoCrd: Eugeni Pons; Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore [2007] Merkx + Girod Architecten; Maastricht, Netherlands in Frank Peter Jäger, Old & New: Design Manual for Revitalizing Existing Buildings (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010), 164; PhotoCrd: Roos Aldershoff Fotografie / 2010 Hermès Rive Gauche [2010] Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure; Paris, France in Erich Theophile and Steven Yee, "Hermès Rive Gauche," Architectural Record 199, no. 2 (Feb. 2011): 76-77; PhotoCrd: Michel Denancé.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Malyak, Kristin. Then Now, "Theory Studies: Archetypical Retail Practices in Contemporary Interior Design," M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2011, 366-401.