Design Research, the Apple stores and the Brooklyn Flea have in common?" /> Design Research, the Apple stores and the Brooklyn Flea have in common?" />
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Alexandra Lange

On DO: When Shopping Was Sociable


What do Design Research, the Apple stores and the Brooklyn Flea have in common? Read my latest essay on Design Observer to find out.

D/R’s founder, architect Benjamin Thompson, wanted to turn shopping into less of a chore, more of a creative enterprise. Thompson wrote in the Boston Globe in 1971, 18 months after his glass-walled, concrete-framed new D/R headquarters opened in Cambridge: “Just as Harvard Yard is an agora and Washington Street a fair, D/R lives in the tradition of the marketplace. Because good markets and fairs thrive on movement and action, they don’t happen in architectural “masterpieces” but in lively spaces that mix people and functions.”


Thompson’s thinking about “lively spaces that mix people and functions” led him to a second career, during and after D/R, as the joint inventor, designer and planner of the “festival marketplace” with wife Jane Thompson. As in the D/R stores, their idea at Faneuil Hall (and later Harbor Place and South Street Seaport) was to enliven old buildings with new shopping, eating and mingling experiences, curating (to appropriate a trendy word) the stores as he had curated the D/R merchandize for a mix of price points and audiences, and adding lots of free performances, classes, and good smells. However sad the festival marketplaces now seem, overrun with chain stores and tourist restaurants, the Thompsons’ ideas about retail — hand-selecting the goods, maximizing the sidewalk display, re-using past architecture — are still at work today.

If you like what you read, please buy my new book, written with Jane Thompson, Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes.



Posted in: Books, Design History

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Alexandra Lange Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.

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