Mod Market – Design for a New Retail Reality


April 21, 2020

KTGY Architecture + Planning’s R+D Studio Unveils “Mod Market” concept: Retrofitting vacant big-box retail spaces to accommodate modular components to minimize on-site build-out time and provide flexibility to retailers through small-format, mobile retail spaces.

Large, folding glass doors create a porous connection to the adjacent sidewalk. The entry ramp raises visitors up to the height of the retail modules and is wrapped with ever-changing, digital signage. Built-in seating can also support on-site special events and performances. Rendering courtesy of KTGY Architecture + Planning’s R+D Studio

With big-box closures shifting the retail landscape, some retail landlords have responded by tearing down large portions of their developments and redeveloping their unused land in new ways. However, last year, a record of 9,548 retail stores closed in the United States, according to Coresight Research data reported by Retail Dive, and that number is expected to jump to about 15,000 in 2020. With such high vacancy numbers, the demolition of the many vacant big-box spaces would create a vast amount of construction waste and require the use of new raw materials for the subsequent ground-up construction. KTGY Architecture + Planning’s R+D Studio’s Mod Market concept proposes to create a new type of retail space within existing structures left vacant by shuttered big-box retailers.

According to Marissa Kasdan, director, design for the R+D Studio at KTGY Architecture + Planning: “By infilling the existing building with service elements and an infrastructure designed to house modular retail stores, the Mod Market concept aims to support many of the recent trends impacting the retail economy: short-term leasing, connection to e-commerce, small-format retailers, pop-up shop marketing strategies, sustainability and experiential retail.”

Pop-up Modular Shops Create a Win-Win
Considering the current economic climate, small-format and short-term pop-up shops can fill the gap between traditional retailers and online stores. Pop-up shops create a unique buzz of excitement often building on a preexisting online presence. Short-term leases allow tenants to gauge the interest of their customers and test locations, concepts, seasons and marketing strategies. Brands of varying scales and budgets can catapult their businesses without committing to a long-term lease and tenant improvement investment of traditional brick-and-mortar retail stores. And, short-term space rental marketplaces like Pop Up Shops, Appear Here and The Storefront have made it easier for landlords and tenants to find each other.

By curating an exciting line-up of pop-up shops in a particular location, retail landlords can benefit from increased foot traffic, but must carefully balance and schedule the necessary tenant improvement time between leases, minimizing time with vacant storefronts. For some landlords, temporary pop-ups have become a permanent marketing and leasing strategy. However, while 6.1 million sq. ft. of pop-up retail space was requested by prospective tenants in 2018, only half of those requests were filled, according to Bisnow. Furthermore, roughly 20 percent of short-term leases were extended beyond their initial commitment, leading to less availability of space for new pop-up retailers.

Design for a New Retail Reality
The extended tenant improvement timelines and associated costs of typical retail models create limitations for achieving the recent retail trends toward short-term and small-format retailers. KTGY’s R+D Studio’s Mod Market concept is designed to minimize on-site build-out time and provide flexibility to retailers.

“By creating an infrastructure framework for retail spaces to use modular components, retailers can easily relocate their stores from one site to another, benefiting from increased exposure to new customers and markets while eliminating the need to repeat the long and expensive tenant improvement process,” said Kasdan.

Big-Box Retrofit
Beginning with a vacant, in-line big-box retail space, the Mod Market concept proposes providing an infrastructure designed to house purpose-built modular retail spaces. Maintaining the preexisting structure of the retail space, openings are created in the front and rear facades to provide access. A gravity roller conveyor system raises the floor system to receive the retail modules at the same height as a standard flatbed truck. Retail modules are designed to meet the unique needs of each retailer and constructed off-site to reduce the typical tenant improvement timeline. Flatbed trucks deliver the retail modules to the site, inserting them into the space through large, roll-up garage doors lining the rear loading zone. Modular walkway components can be moved around to adapt to a variety of store configurations.

Retail modules face toward a central walkway, lit by cylindrical skylight tubes. Interactive exhibits encourage visitors to linger. Digital signage allows for an easy transition to accommodate new retailers as tenants relocate. Rendering courtesy of KTGY Architecture + Planning’s R+D Studio

A 35-ft. typical column grid accommodates four 8-ft.-4-in.-by-40-ft. modules, allowing for a variety of store sizes, filling one to four modules each. Along the column grid, a 20-in. space between modules provides room for utility lines and connections to the modules. The restrooms, storage areas, ramps, and front and side walkways are fixed elements that remain in place throughout the conversion to new modular shops.

The front façade of the Mod Market welcomes visitors from the front sidewalk through large, folding glass garage doors. Stepped seating and an integrated ramp move customers into the space and up to the raised modular shops, framing gathering zones and providing spaces for special events. Fixed, shared retail storage areas and gender-neutral restrooms serve retailers and their customers throughout the changing of modular retail shops. Skylight tubes add natural light to the interior walkway that runs between the retail modules. Digital signage, directories and interactive digital displays can be easily changed as new retailers move in.

Kasdan notes that KTGY has a series of projects on-the-boards and under construction in the Los Angeles area using purpose-built modular units for transitional housing units. While site work and foundations are done on-site, the modules are manufactured off-site with customized interior finishes and fittings resulting in highly efficient, speed-to-market.

According to Kasdan, “Modules can be constructed domestically, but so far, our clients have found it more effective to have them constructed overseas and transported to the site. Modules could be also be repurposed from shipping containers, after any necessary cleaning and modifications are made, as long as the containers meet the predetermined size requirements.”

KTGY has also integrated modular construction techniques in their recent hospitality design work and sees great opportunity for these techniques to transform retail design as well.