“Today’s shoppers want to be entertained. Niketown is theater. And for retailers, that’s the key to the future”. You might think I pulled this quote out of a recent newspaper discussing the success of Niketown versus the trouble many retailers find themselves currently in.
It’s 20 years old. Back in 1992, it appeared in CNN Money. The article also mentioned: “Niketown is putting the fun back into shopping.” Nike is not the only company who realized the potential of a ‘store which entertains its shoppers’. Five years after the first Niketown, candy company M&M opened M&M’s World in Las Vegas. Currently, about 8 million people visit this Las Vegas store every year.
Several years later (2001), Apple opened their first Apple Store. In Apple’s own words: “The stores are designed to simplify and enhance the presentation and marketing of personal computing products.” Just as Niketown and M&M’s World, the Apple Store is a theater. A theater for shoppers.
The other day, I read an article about Dutch retailers struggling “because of the economic crisis”. People buy less. And when they do buy stuff, people tend to visit large well-known chain stores. Or shop online. Most retailers find it hard to compete with these large chain stores and the Internet. It’s hardly impossible to compete on price (they win). In order to survive, retailers need to find other ways of attracting customers.
Retailers should start (and win) the entertainment battle. Put the fun back into shopping. Turn stores into theaters, so to speak. Just like Nike, M&M and Apple did. These companies had tremendous success with it. So why don’t you?
Currently, Coop Himmelb(l)au is one of the most frequently used search terms to find this website. So it’s no surprise to me people want to learn more about this Vienna based architecture company. Back in July, I answered several questions about this internship at CHBL. Today, it’s time for part two. This time I’ll answer Antonio’s questions (which I received via email).
What are tasks interns usually do?
This totally depends on the team and status of the project. If you work on competitions a lot, this could involve model making. In my case, I worked on a project which was in the preliminary phase. So I made many diagrams, presentation books, et cetera. In other teams, the tasks can be more technical. Coop Himmelb(l)au assigns you to a team based on your own experiences/qualities and the job interview you (probably) had.
Were there many interns and young people besides you?
Yep. Coop Himmelb(l)au hires many young people. When I was in Vienna, I joined a group of interns who usually teamed up for lunch and/or spend evenings together.
What was the most remarkable thing that happened during your internship?
Hehe, good question. This probably is the evening we had an important deadline. We worked with about six people on a design which had to bee finished before 8AM (yep, 8AM, not PM). Halfway through the evening Wolf Prix joined us. Although he spoke German the entire time, I understood everything he said. Which surprised me, since I’m not so fluent in German. After a while, he made a joke so I joked back… in German. He looked at me… and asked an architect who I was. She told him I was an intern from the Netherlands. After which he spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. It sounded a lot like German, but it just wasn’t. And he left. So I asked the architect what Wolf Prix said. She told me he imitated my Dutch accent by speaking weird German…
How many hours did you usually work during a typical day?
In the example described above, I worked from 8AM to 3AM the following day (so 19 hours in total). But that only happened once. Mostly I arrived at 9AM and worked until 7 or 8PM.
Are they flexible in general? I mean, decisions, schedules, etc…
You can do many things besides your daily tasks. And the office/team can be very flexible… As long as you meet your deadlines. Sometimes the partner-in-charge has a meeting with a client (which mostly happens abroad, since it’s a very international company). In my case, the main architect was in Azerbaijan a lot. During those days our team played catch-up or relaxed a bit. After two or three of those days, the architect would return. And with him, many new tasks and project changes we had to take care of.
What was the best experience you could say that you got from here?
I did several internships in the past. Each of those internships differed completely from this one. Why? It’s the size of the company (about 150 employees), the number and size of projects abroad and their own invented architecture style (Deconstructivism). Also the fact that founder Wolf D. Prix still works at this company adds something special to the experience (as described above). And perhaps I should mention Vienna is a beautiful city and great to live in. But this all gets trumped by the people. Imagine 150 creative people trying to design the most awesome, craziest and sometimes weirdest projects possible. In my first week, I met people from Germany, the USA, Azerbaijan, Greece, Turkey, Britain, China, Denmark, Portugal, Spain… should I go on? It took me several days to meet the first native Austrian employee… So meeting all those people with completely different backgrounds and learn from them (while having fun) was the best experience I got!
The Netherlands, a country known for its windmills, cheese, wooden shoes, Delftware, dikes, tulips, bicycles and its giant two kilometer high mountain.
Huh? A mountain? I thought the Netherlands is the flattest country on earth.
Nope. Not any more. At least, not if a Dutch organization gets what it wants. This organization (Die berg Komt Er) proposes a two kilometer high mountain which will be erected somewhere in the Netherlands. Newspapers report ‘there’s probably enough space for such a mountain’. Also ‘there probably won’t be any negative side effects for the environment’. Yeah, right. Costs are expected to be around 70 billion euros (that’s over 90 billion Dollars). What the mountain will be used for? Agriculture, housing and skiing to name a few. Also the giant Dutch mountain will be used as a power plant. It should generate enough energy to power the entire city of Amsterdam with 100% renewable energy.
I thought the era of mega projects in the Western world was over. So kudos to the design team who had the guts of coming up with such a bold plan. Or is it just a publicity stunt? Are the architects of this Dutch mountain out of touch with the rest of the country? To be fair, the Dutch created 20% of their country themselves, by creating land from water. So there’s no doubt we’re technically capable (or find a way) of creating a two kilometer high mountain. But… let’s be honest, we (the Netherlands) don’t need such a mountain. Why not spend 60 billion euros to make the Netherlands the first carbon-neutral country on earth? Or why not build the Roadmap 2050 design of a carbon-neutral Europe, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas? There’s a saying, God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands. It’s ever more true when the Dutch create their own two kilometer high mountain… which I hope will never be the case.
Map of Eneropa, Rem Koolhaas’ renewable world: how a new power network could solve Europe’s carbon crisis. (image courtesy: OMA)
Here’s the deal. You pay me 150 million euros and you receive 300 million euros back. And it’s no scam. For
many all people, this would be ‘the perfect deal’. What would your answer be?
Surprisingly, many people (or companies for that matter) answer ‘no’ to this question. BMW, the German automobile company, did not. They decided to go for it!
Back in 2000, they were in need of a new corporate headquarters. After consulting several architecture companies, they picked Wolf Prix’s Coop Himmelb(l)au as architect of their choice. In 2007 their new headquarters, BMW Welt, opened for business. The building had a staggering price tag of over 150 million euros.
When I worked for Coop Himmelb(l)au, I spoke with someone who had been involved in this project. This architect told me there was quite some debate within Coop Himmelb(l)au and BMW. Is it worth erecting a building worth over 150 million euros? Can we build it for half the money? Does BMW Welt have to be this spectacular? Ultimately Wolf Prix convinced BMW to spend the money and build this ‘temple for BWM’ as he called it. The result: In the following years, BMW received free exposure and media coverage worth hundreds of millions of euros because of their new headquarters.
I’m not suggesting bigger is always better. However, sometimes, it can be worth spending a bit more money to reach your goal. Ultimately vision and courage of the client are factors that matter most. Which is even more true during times of economic hardship.