By Andria Cheng, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — U.S. retailers posted their best October sales in more than a year, with sales up 2.2%, with discounters and department stores leading better-than-expected gains while teen retailers struggled.
The numbers, tracked by Retail Metrics, showed retailers’ best month since April 2008 and compare to a 3.5% decline in October 2008, when the start of the financial crisis sent consumer spending into a nosedive.
Gap Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!gps/quotes/nls/gps (GPS 23.03, +0.94, +4.23%) , helped by its discount Old Navy chain, led a better-than-expected 5.9% increase in the specialty apparel group, Retail Metrics data showed.
Discount group sales were up 2.3%, led by upside at Costco Wholesale Corp. /quotes/comstock/15*!cost/quotes/nls/cost (COST 58.87, +0.06, +0.10%) . Department store group’s decline was smaller than expected, after a surprise and better-than-expected gain each from luxury retailers Saks Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!sks/quotes/nls/sks (SKS 5.68, +0.11, +1.98%) and Nordstrom Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!jwn/quotes/nls/jwn (JWN 33.16, +0.56, +1.70%) .
Teen retailers declined a worse-than-expected 4.7%, after disappointments in retailers from Aeropostale Inc. to American Eagle Outfitters Inc. Aeropostale Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!aro/quotes/nls/aro (ARO 32.63, -5.40, -14.20%) and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!aeo/quotes/nls/aeo (AEO 15.82, -2.04, -11.42%) were each down 13% and 11% in late morning trading. American Eagle’s third-quarter outlook also missed. Aeropostale Inc. sales rose 3%, missing estimates of a 14% jump even as it raised its third-quarter outlook.
“It’s not a universal turnaround,” said John Long, a retail strategist at consultant Kurt Salmon Associates. “Caution is still in the air. Consumers are still being selective.”
Disney Stores More Like Disney World
By George Anderson
The Walt Disney Company, with an assist from Steve Jobs and Apple’s retail operations group, is undertaking a major remodeling effort at its 340 Disney Store locations in the U.S. and Europe. The plan is to take some of excitement of the Magic Kingdom and transplant it into the store environment. The new concept is called Imagination Park.
“The world does not need another place to sell Disney merchandise – this only works if it’s an experience,” Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores Worldwide, told The New York Times.
“The Disney stores were like museums that were all gift shop without the experience of the museum,” Richard Bates, chief creative officer at The Brand Union, told Brandweek. “Your goal is to immerse them in the brands so that, they aren’t just coming into the store, they want to buy so they can have a piece of that experience.”
Disney plans to spend about $1 million per store to create the new experience that makes use of interactive technology and entertainment to draw shoppers into locations and keep them there.
Kids will be able to choose film clips to watch in in-store theaters. They’ll also take part in karaoke contests or chat live via satellite with stars from shows running on the Disney Network. Computer chips embedded in packaging will activate hidden features.
Mr. Jobs, who serves on the Disney board, is said to have encouraged the company to “think bigger” when it came to the remodels. Disney was given access to proprietary information about Apple’s retail operations as it worked to create Imagination Park.
A piece of advice that Mr. Jobs offered and Disney followed was to build a prototype. The store located in Glendale, Calif., impressed Bruce Tobin, executive vice president with Simon Property Group.
“It’s truly spectacular – beyond our imagination,” Mr. Tobin told the Times. “These are going to be true destinations.”
Discussion Questions: Is Disney on the right track with the Imagination Park concept? What do you think of the role of Steve Jobs and Apple in the concept’s development? Will we see more Apple-like environments in retail going forward?
Architect Ken Yeang has been commissioned to design a 4,000-acre eco-city in the sea off the Shanghai coast. TR Hamzah and Yeang, the Malaysian sister company of Llewelyn Davies Yeang, is leading the design of the Shanghai Beach masterplan for an unnamed Malaysian client. The scheme, which is to be sited on reclaimed tidal flats, aims to create a “green community”, with offices, housing, theme parks, visitor attractions and hotels. The Shanghai Beach scheme is at a preliminary stage, and Web Structures, a Singaporean engineer, has been asked to do a feasibility study. Hossein Rezai-Jorabi, its group director, said: “The opportunity to reclaim almost 4,000 acres without damaging the eco-structure of the ocean is a challenge. If it’s feasible, and we believe it is, the plan is to create world-class architecture to revitalise the district as a tourist destination.” It has not yet been decided how many homes and offices the city will hold. The development is unrelated to the plans for Dongtan, the Arup-designed eco-city for 500,000 people that has been on hold since the Shanghai mayor, who backed the scheme, was arrested in 2006 on corruption charges. To read more, visit http://www.building.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=29&storycode=3139627&c=3.
The Mayor has revived proposals originally put forward in the Nineties. The original plans were by French architect Antoine Grumbach, who won a competition by the Royal Academy to design a habitable bridge and proposed building it between Waterloo and Blackfriars. However when Labour came into power in 1997 the plans were dropped, although some of the details were taken into account when the Millennium Bridge was constructed. It is likely a different location will be sought. Mr Johnson has regularly spoken of the need for a new crossing east of Tower Bridge and has asked advisers to investigate the possibility of building between Greenwich and Silvertown in the Royal Docks. The original plans were backed by business lobby group London First but a spokesman said they had not been consulted over the dusting-off of the old design. A spokesman said: “At the time our position was very much in favour and in theory that has not changed. However since the building of the Millennium Bridge we would much prefer to see one east of Tower Bridge.” Mr Grumbach’s designs had the bridge suspended from twin 35-storey towers on the north side of the river, containing flats with views over the city. It would be the first time London had a bridge with residential and commercial properties in 178 years – since the buildings on London Bridge were torn down. The medieval London Bridge, completed in 1209 in the reign of King John, contained dozens of packed-in houses and shops but as the bridge became further developed congestion meant crossings could take more than an hour. Mr Grumbach’s plans featured lifts, staircases and escalators to gain access to the bridge, including from water level. Called Garden Bridge, it also included proposals for hedge, trees and greenhouses, alongside spaces for live concerts and a “topiary café”.
To see a diagram of the proposed bridge, visit http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23685492-details/Living+bridge+over+the+Thames/article.do.
Abbey Apartments, opened on April 16th 2009, is where 113 formerly homeless men and women will try to rebuild 113 broken lives. Mike Alvidrez, executive director of the Skid Row Housing Trust, swings through the sunny courtyard, shows off the TV lounge, then climbs to the fifth floor sun deck where striped patio umbrellas sway in the afternoon breeze. In the distance: a panorama of the downtown L.A. skyline that would make most loft dwellers envious. These buildings raise intriguing questions about the power of design to change lives. Can the placement of a lounge really foster social interaction among people who often have lived for years, sometimes decades, in emotional isolation? If the street outside is a vision of urban grit, do residents really want a window to that world? If you put a nurse, a psychiatrist and a social worker inside a home, will residents eventually see them as extended family worthy of trust? For some initial answers, head to San Pedro Street and the new Abbey, designed by Santa Monica-based Koning Eizenberg Architecture, and the 2 1/2 -year-old Rainbow Apartments next door, by Los Angeles-based Michael Maltzan Architecture. Both are developments of the nonprofit Skid Row Housing Trust, which operates under the philosophy that the most effective and least expensive solution to homelessness is more homes — not a patchwork of shelters but permanent homes that feel safe, foster healing and look good.
Because most residents have at least two disabilities, and because substance abuse or mental health issues often caused or contributed to their homelessness, crucial services are provided in ground-floor offices. Residents can see a nurse, doctor, counselor or case manager in a setting that looks more residential than institutional. The Abbey’s polished concrete floor, board-formed concrete walls, exposed ventilation ducts and splashes of chartreuse paint all feel more like a loft than a waiting room. Alvidrez and Rysman say it’s no surprise that 2 1/2 years after opening, Rainbow has a sense of community that exists in none of the trust’s 20 previous projects, many of them rehabs of older buildings. Though studies haven’t quantified the connection between design and socialization in supportive housing, officials say the conclusion here is clear: The architecture builds relationships. Residents who once had little or no structure in their lives have formed a gardening group, an art class, a photography club and a women’s group, among others. Maltzan’s next building for the Skid Row Housing Trust is an eye-popping design that’s already garnering national attention in advance of its scheduled completion in late summer or early fall. Renderings of the New Carver Apartments near the Convention Center hint of the seemingly impossible: a dynamic, beautiful, livable home on a lot hemmed in by I-10. To read more about these projects, visit http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-hm-homeless25-2009apr25,0,7591925.story?page=1, or http://www.skidrow.org/.
At the start, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis envisioned their film “The Greening of Southie” as the tale of the architecture and design of South Boston’s first green residential building and its development in the tight-knit enclave that is renown for its hardscrabble past. Their documentary is indeed a story of people and their culture. The 11-story luxury condominum building is the centerpiece of the 72-minute film that debuted a year ago on Earth Day on “The Green” at the Sundance Channel. The Macallen attained LEED Gold certification as a green building and was named one of the American Institute of Architects’ Top 10 green projects in 2008. The building is made from recycled steel and filled with fixtures and amenities that are designed to be aesthetically pleasing as well as environmentally efficient. It has a distinctive sloping green roof and a rainwater catchment system, features that contribute to the expectation that resource consumption at the building will continue to be far less than that in traditional buildings of comparable size. Water savings has been estimated at more than 600,000 gallons a year, with electricity savings pegged at 30 percent. Cheney and Ellis tracked the project through its completion and recorded the triumphs, such as the ceremony to mark placement of the final beam and the receipt of green building certification, and the many challenges that emerged for builders. Those included bamboo flooring that buckled, had to ripped out and reordered, and green roof vegetation that did not take hold and also had to be replaced. To read more about the documentary, and to see a clip, visit http://www.greenerbuildings.com/blog/2009/04/22/blue-collars-in-green-building.
The past decade has seen a greater emergence of green roofs and vertical gardens created by artists, designers, architects and urban gardeners to combat the lack of flora in the city than ever before. Buildings around the world from the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris (shown) to the Queens Botanical Garden in New York have embraced green walls or roofs for all their economical, environmental, and aesthetic values. Vertical farms and gardens are also being envisioned as new ways to feed local and organic foods to city dwellers. Largely based on the principles of hydroponics, the logic goes that vertical gardens would also be mostly self-sustaining, because they would capture large amounts of natural sunlight and water, and could use wind as an energy source. These and other urban parks and gardens have many potential uses beside promoting energy-efficiency. They could provide locations for a city farm or community land-trust; an outlet through which hundreds of people can learn about farming and agriculture; and the addition of much needed plant and animal life to the otherwise concrete jungle. A project of SEA (Social Environmental Aesthetics), and conceived by Papo Colo, Vertical Gardens is an exhibition of architectural models, renderings, drawings, photographs and ephemera that depict or imagine a vertical farm, urban garden or green roof. It features over 20 projects, both imaginary and real, by artists and architects that envision solutions for building greener urban environments. The exhibit runs till May 23 at 475 Tenth Ave in New York City.
To read more about vertical gardens, visit http://www.exitart.org/site/pub/exhibition_programs/SEA/vertical_gardens.html.
The Architectural Billings Index rose to 43.7 in March, up from 35.3 in February. It’s the first time the score has landed above 40 since last September. The inquiries score, which in February was 49.5, climbed to 56.6. The index, one of the profession’s leading economic indicators, reflects a nine- to 12-month lag time between architectural billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects produces the index based on surveys sent to architecture firms. A score above 50 indicates an increase in billings, and below 50, a decrease. In January, the billings score dipped to 33.3, which is a record low in the ABI’s 13-year history. The March uptick “should be viewed with cautious optimism,” says Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist. “It will likely be a few months before we see an improvement in overall billings,” he says. “Architects continue to report a diversity of business conditions, but the majority are still seeing weak activity levels.” In terms of sectors, commercial/industrial scored 35.0, down slightly from February’s 35.5. The March institutional score rose to 42.9, up from 40.3, while multi-family residential increased to 39.4, from 35.7. The index also breaks down activity by region. The West had the lowest score (36.1) while the South had the highest (43.4). The score for the Midwest was 37.5, and for the Northeast, 41.8. To read more, visit http://archrecord.construction.com/news/daily/archives/090422abi.asp.
From the street, its four light-gray cubes, neon-green door and huge, perfectly square front window all look as if they could have been assembled from massive pieces of Lego. Inside, a three-story translucent staircase made of acrylic filters sun from the skylight up top to the basement below ground. Virtually every room of the 3,000-square-foot home has large windows displaying views of the city so vast they’re sometimes harrowing. James Zack and Lise de Vito, both architects as well as husband and wife, designed their house with the environment in mind. They used sustainably-harvested woods and solar panels to keep their average monthly energy bill to $80 a month. The couple also built much of the home’s frame off-site, shaving nearly two months from the 15-month project and keeping total construction costs to $1.5 million, or $500 a square foot which is moderate, by San Francisco standards. It was such features that led the American Institute of Architects, the profession’s trade group, to award the townhome a Housing Award, handed out each year to outstanding residential designs. The awards jury praised the couple’s house for its efficient use of a narrow lot, the “nice use of light,” and its many environmentally friendly features. It was such features that led the American Institute of Architects, the profession’s trade group, to award the townhome a Housing Award, handed out each year to outstanding residential designs. The awards jury praised the couple’s house for its efficient use of a narrow lot, the “nice use of light,” and its many environmentally friendly features.To see the slide show of the house, visit http://online.wsj.com/article/slideshow.
On May 4, 2007, a class EF-5 tornado (the highest rating, indicating winds of more than 200 miles per hour) destroyed 90 percent of Greensburg’s buildings. When the storm passed and the town’s 1,200 residents emerged from their basements, they faced a choice: Abandon Greensburg, or rebuild it in a way that would make sense for the future. Picking the latter, the town opted to become a model green community.
Working with Kansas City based design firm BNIM, town leaders adopted a sustainable master plan and mandated that all municipal buildings larger than 4,000 square feet be built to the equivalent of LEED Platinum. The plan also includes stormwater mitigation, a low-flow irrigation system, and the use of native plantings. And in an effort to address broader issues of sustainability, BNIM placed all civic buildings and activity generators along Main Street and recommended smaller lot sizes within a quarter mile of the thoroughfare. Now, nearly two years later, the first results of this eco-experiment are tangible. The initial wave of green buildings has gone up, and the world’s gaze continues to be fixed on this tiny town.
Greensburg’s boldest addition is the 5.4.7 Arts Center, built by University of Kansas students as part of Dan Rockhill’s Studio 804 program. Finished in May 2008, the 1,670-square-foot structure, which boasts wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, and geothermal climate control, received its LEED Platinum certificate a month later (the first for the town and the state). Soon after, the first townhouses in the Prairie Point development (LEED Gold) began rising along Main Street. They are now housing elderly residents and working-class families. The February 2009 opening of Dillon’s Quik Shop drew Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. While not up to LEED standards, the grocery and convenience store, which contains an ICF wall system and LED lighting, brought a modicum of normalcy along with its Yoplaits. Finally, residents didn’t have to drive 30 minutes, to neighboring Dodge City or Pratt, to get fresh fruit and a box of cereal.
Another slate of buildings should be finished by the storm’s second anniversary. Among them will be the BNIM-designed City Hall; the BTI-Greensburg John Deere dealership, on track for LEED Platinum; and the SunChips business incubator, started with $1 million donated by Frito-Lay. In addition, the concrete Silo Eco-Home, the first in the Chain of Eco-Homes will be up.
Given the financial challenges, it’s amazing how many houses have been rebuilt. Dozens dot the dirt lots around town, with 20 or so more in different stages of construction. Many are ranches and bungalows, styles typical for the area. But make no mistake, says Dixson: Beneath the traditional exteriors are energy-efficient elements, including passive solar heating, geothermal pumps, berm construction, and extra layers of insulation.
To read more about Greensburg’s rebuilding, visit http://www.architectmagazine.com/industry-news.asp?sectionID=1006&articleID=938849, or http://www.greensburgks.org/.