De Bijenkorf (Dutch for 'the Beehive') is to the Netherlands what an upmarket John Lewis would be to the uk. Its latest branch, the anchor store in a new-build shopping centre in Amstelveen, near Amsterdam, has just been completed by London architect Greig + Stephenson. The three- storey, 7500m2 shop is the smallest in the chain but had to incorporate all the elements familiar to its customers.
Involved early on in plans for the centre, Greig + Stephenson negotiated with centre architect Atelier pro Architekten to, for instance, move the escalator from the underground station to nearer the de Bijenkorf entrance, and annex the atrium 'node' of the shopping centre as a dramatic entrance for its client. It also rationalised the original plans for the shop by combining the columns supporting the flats above with the columns for the store, and moving customer staircases.
'Developers are prone to inserting staircases in the middle of floors, reducing visibility and hindering orientation,' says Nigel Stephenson, one of the project architects. 'We reconfigured the stairs to go diagonally across the corners, thus increasing retail space, and emphasising diagonal views across the shop - a very important axis.'
To tempt customers to glide on escalators to the top of the store, and work their way down picking up merchandise as they go, orientation has to be straightforward. Long views and transparency, aided by natural light from the long walls of street frontage, tempt customers across floors to merchandise they might not otherwise have considered.
From the atrium, five 8m-high sliding transparent doors - chosen to form the minimum of barriers - reveal two floors of the store. This entrance creates a principal axis through a 400m2 column-free area and circulation void, which houses escalators to all floors and the car park, to a 10 x 15m stone wall at the rear of the store. Huge columns near the back of the atrium act as devices to flag up the storey level. High structural- glazing balustrading against the central void gives a smooth line and enables merchandise to be displayed against it, visible from all floors.
Materials reflect the trend towards providing a neutral backdrop against which merchandise can shine. Drama is achieved by contrasting light and dark limestones with white beech, for warmth, and satin stainless steel and laminated glass. The back wall of sheer Capri limestone, hiding the customer stair, features a customer lift with glass balconies allowing views to all levels.