Air passengers are captive shoppers, a fact which airports have long known and which BAA acknowledges with its plush retail zones at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. But do they enhance the travel experience? asks Scott Billings
A retail experience – its design and integration – has been embedded in the long gestation of London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 from the very early stages. A retail designer was always present when architectural concepts were being tested, as was Nick Ziebland, retail strategy director for T5 at BAA, the airport’s owner. The project, claims Ziebland, has not only created a more coherent environment at T5 itself, but will also act as a process blueprint for the further development of Heathrow and BAA’s other airports in the UK.
The importance of retail for BAA is manifest. In the last nine months of 2006, retail income across its UK airports was almost £500m. In the vast, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners-designed T5 building, 22 000m2 of floor space is dedicated to shops, food and drink for its exclusively British Airways passengers.
But, refuting claims that T5 is essentially a giant shopping mall, Ziebland insists that the percentage of retail space is ‘quite small’. An exact figure is hard to pin down, because it depends on which zones of the building you include as the ‘whole’. Nonetheless, Ziebland defends the scheme. ‘Retail has not extended walking distances, there is no bottleneck. There are matrices of flow, but you don’t have to walk past any particular shops,’ he says.
Size matters aside, the retail offer is specifically designed to give passengers something a little special. ‘All the retailers had to make proposals to us with innovations in their concept designs or service. We made this quite explicit. In order to make T5 different, we’re looking for everyone to do something that’s not quite the same as what you’ve seen before,’ explains Ziebland.
As well as encouraging innovation in its tenant brands (see boxes), BAA has influenced the overall design with strict material quality and environmental standards, says Paul Elms, retail account director at Sheridan & Co, the consultancy which designed Sisley’s retail unit. BAA also maintains control over the public spaces outside the retail units. ‘A lot of work went into framing the bulkhead above the stores, which is up-lit. There are no extending or bus-stop signs because the space curves, with a clear delineation between retail and public space. The shops are on your way, not in your way,’ says Ziebland.
The collaboration between the T5 design team, the architects and BAA Retail marks out T5 as a benchmark for future developments, says BAA design director David Bartlett. ‘There is a common understanding of the passenger journey across arrivals and departures, where people have different practical and emotional needs at different stages. And it’s about integrating the retail at these different stages, as well as with the architecture. We’ve very carefully balanced what’s land-side and air-side,’ he says.
Moving air-side, the space divides into two main internationaldeparture lounge squares, each with its own character. The north square is informed by such adjectives as ‘high energy, upbeat and young’, taking Times Square as a design metaphor. The south square adopts the cues of a hotel lobby, with wood and leather. Each square sits under a ‘theatrical’ lighting scheme that complements its character, says Bartlett. The key retail and food brands are located accordingly, and the two squares are connected by a ‘high street’ of stores.
Bartlett likens the management of the T5 building to the staging of a production at London’s National Theatre, with terminal as theatre, floor plates as stages and the various environments acting as dynamic sets within. ‘T5 is an enabler to start, and sets a benchmark. We’ve reviewed all the retail design guidelines and we’ve done everything we can to integrate retail with the passenger journey, from the beginning to the end,’ he says.
London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 opens on 27 March
Thomas Pink/Mulberry – FOUR IV
Four IV has worked on T5 concession designs for both Mulberry and Thomas Pink, each introducing new design elements for the first time. The Thomas Pink store will showcase a ‘business bar’ – a back-illuminated counter housing products, with an LED ticker showing share-price information and news running across the bar and up a column into the ceiling. There will also be Thomas Pink-branded drinks and iPods. ‘It is trying to retain the customer for as long as possible,’ explains Four IV senior designer Marek Spencer.
For luxury handbag brand Mulberry, Four IV’s designs introduce softer materials, moving from stone to oak floors and lacquered wood, as well as a suede-like fabric called alcantara that provides the set for the bag displays. But the centrepiece is a bespoke, handmade, brass tree sculpture, flowing across the ceiling along the length of the store.
Sisley – SHERIDAN & CO
High-end materials have been employed by Sheridan & Co in its concession design for French cosmetics brand Sisley, installed as part of the World Duty Free offer at T5. ‘Sisley is already more of a “served” than self-service brand, and this is at the top level of its presentation, service offer and finish detail. The design uses white enamelled glass with a high-gloss reflective finish, and the counters are lined with pearlescent white mosaic tiles,’ says consultancy retail account director Paul Elms.