it’s curtains for retail (a proposal)

Liberty Regent Street: above a formal frieze, three stone figures apparently chat and watch the shoppers far below

Big city retail causes curious human behavior. Tourist & architects excepted, no-one inclines their gaze more than a degree or two above the horizontal, as if the world ceases to exist above four metres. Below that height, pushy product displays and shouty fascias browbeat the passer-by. But beyond this retail flat earth lies another dimension of visual enjoyment, as anyone who has noticed what’s going on at the very top of Liberty’s Regent Street façade will confirm.

One of the pleasures of London used to be driving around it (back when ‘driving in London’ was still a thing), low winter sun unexpectedly spotlighting a great building / detail. You can of course still discover gems of unsuspected above-the-line architecture on foot. Incomplete or invisible at ground level, how great must these buildings have looked when they were whole, before they were sawn off at the knees by the local Vodafone / Costa / M&S?

It has been a long time since high street retailers felt any need to consider context, and us graphic designers have always done our best to say look at this down here, not that up there. As late as the 1970s / 80s, some retailers still considered their presentation in the context of whole buildings, with signage and physical detailing offering at least a nod to the style / material / colour of the architectural setting. I was once involved in restoring some of the Truman pub estate – some beautifully decorated exteriors – to their pre-1960s-plastic-fascia appearance. These have now been sold and are again being neglected and / or covered up with iffy new signage. Once removed, this stuff is gone, gone, gone – London is awash with legless half-architecture in backlit / branded PVC skirts.

You can’t turn back the clock, but it would be nice if we could appreciate some of our better buildings as they were originally conceived; if we could switch off the visual noise for a bit; if there were something to encourage high street heads bowed with visual fatigue to look up, not down… So rather than simply carp on about this problem I have developed a solution of unparalleled genius: fit the West End of London (or other site of significant retail blight) with four-metre high weatherproof fabric curtains, digitally printed with reproductions of the ground floor of the buildings as they were, pre-graphic-design. Drawn out of sight during trading hours, these subsequently close, rendering their frontage ‘whole’ again. Above-the-line architecture reunited with original street level style. Respite from visual stress. Instant time travel. Imagine…

Drawn from life. The amazing Retail Curtain™ concept in thrilling lifelike action

So who will fund / research / co-ordinate / produce this breakthrough innovation? – details, mere details to be ironed out in the development phase. Nothing to worry about I’m sure. Certainly the visionary retailer wishing to score community-consciousness points is onto a winner supporting such enhancement of the urban environment. My modest fee for this life-enhancing suggestion to benefit all mankind will be covered by the provision of lifetime free storecards from participating retailers. Please form an orderly queue Alfa Romeo, Apple Store, Caffé Nero, Paul Smith, SpecSavers etc.






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