El Palacio de Hierro Taps Gensler for 13th Location
When Mexican department-store chain El Palacio de Hierro chose the city of Querétaro for its 13th location, company executives turned to an international retail expert: Gensler. (Which, coincidentally, had just opened an office in the nation’s capital, three hours south.)
“We design uniquely to each brand,” explains principal and creative director John Bricker, founder of Gensler’s 35-year-old Retail and Branding studio. In interpreting the El Palacio brand for its new site, the team looked to the local environment. “Because the weather is so temperate, people really live outside,” Bricker explains, “so we sought to bring the outdoors in. Landscape is always a wonderful premise to guide a project’s design direction.”
The architectural vocabulary drew on features common in the Yucatán Peninsula, particularly the deep subterranean pools known as cenotes. Created when cave ceilings collapse, the light-filled wellsprings possessed special significance in the past: besides depending on their waters, the ancient Mayans considered them portals to the underworld. (Nowadays, they’re explored by divers and archaeologists.)
In designing the three-story, 300,000-square-foot store—which anchors the Antea Lifestyle Center, the country’s largest mall—the team conjured visions of clear groundwater and jagged limestone leading up to a light-funneling opening. That image sparked the store’s heart: an 82-foot-high atrium with a fountain at its base. From here, shoppers can gaze up past the faceted powder-coated metal balconies that mark each level to a gemlike skylight that slices sunshine into prismatic rays.
The sales floors take cues from the outdoors, too, emphasizing regional materials such as handcrafted river-stone floors and wooden display elements. Some 260 brands populate the 40 departments, conceived as intimate zones; dramatic portals create transition spaces between them. “Shoppers travel from zone to zone,” says Bricker, “moving between interconnected worlds: men’s to women’s, shoes to dresses.” High fashion commands the corners.
With fractured daylight penetrating to the interiors, the spatial character constantly evolves. Notes Bricker, “environments that change have positive effects”—particularly on visitors. Within a week of opening, the store exceeded sales expectations by 50 percent.
Gensler: Robin Klehr Avia; Michael Gatti; Kate Russell; Katharine O’Toole; Peg Harris; Hyesook Auh; Joseph Fulco; Emily Ramirez; Juliette Poussot; Amberlee Isabella; Maisie Lee; Gael Audic; Helen Lieu; Ande Panicharoensakul; Andrea Plenter; John Bricker. Building Architect: Grupo Sordo Madaleno. Lighting Consultant: Lighting Workshop. Fixture Supplier: Grupo Stor. General Contractor: Grupo Riobòo.