Prada Epicenter: Architecture as Advertising

Prada Epicenter: Architecture as Advertising
By Rachel Gamble

Recently, companies have become increasingly creative with their marketing, in an attempt to stand out. Modern-day companies have begun to turn to architecture in order to establish their own unique public identity. Thus architecture has taken on a new role: that of an advertisement, through which companies can convey their message to the public. Now more than ever, architecture, like a billboard or signage piece, has the ability to define the image of the company.

Prada is an example of a company that has begun to employ commercial architecture to represent itself to the public. In the Prada flagship store in New York, we see how the design decisions of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA communicate the nature of the merchandise within to visitors. Like an advertisement, Rem Koolhaas’s 23,000-square-foot building infers the qualities and ideals of the brand. The New York store was part of a Prada project to rethink the brand’s image. The goal was a space that is representative of the new, revitalized organization that commissioned it. Thus, the building was designed to say that the Prada brand is luxurious, as well as experimental, unorthodox, and technologically advanced.

The architecture of the store thus becomes a kind of narrative – a personal statement on the brand. Rem Koolhaas combined architecture and retail in a variety of ways in the space. When visitors first enter the store, they enter at ground level via a curving, wave-like space that slopes downwards. Merchandise is situated at the bottom of this wooden “wave," in the basement. On the other side of the wave, there are oversized steps that double as a flexible space to display merchandise, and as seats for films, lectures, performances, and other public events. The space is not only a shop, but also a venue that can host cultural events. A concealed stage can unfold out of the “wave” for such occasions, simply by pushing a button. The space reinforces Prada’s new image as not only a brand, but also a cultured company that is innovative and forward-thinking.

The architecture communicates Prada’s image in other ways, such as the wall murals. The main walls were left clear and unobstructed, so that giant Prada wallpaper could be frequently changed to match the theme of the merchandise. Additionally, a transparent, circular glass elevator transports visitors from the top to bottom level. The elevator serves dual functions: a method of circulation, and also a display for accessories such as handbags. Thus, visitors can simultaneously shop and ride the elevator. Furthermore, the large metal display cases which are suspended from the ceiling can be reconfigured to open up space for cultural activities even more. The other display cases include visual and audio equipment to further support public events. The space is flexible: it can easily become more than a shop. Everywhere throughout the store, merchandise is interspersed with interesting interactive architecture and advanced technology. We can easily see how Rem Koolhaas designed the space to reflect the core values of Prada to customers.

The New York shop says a lot about the value Prada places on originality in its products. It also shows how architecture can become a powerful advertising tool. We see how now, more than ever, business owners are hiring architects to produce buildings that are revealing of their company ideals. A unique and creative space, like that of the Prada NY store, suggests that the company that commissioned it is equally unique and creative. It is the architect’s job to take the company’s needs and convert them into architecture. In the Prada epicenter by Rem Koolhaas, we see this unique new ability of architecture to function as a branding tool. 
Retractable stage

Unique wave feature
Movable metal display cases

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