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Designing Retail’s Future: Tres Birds Workshop, Sustainable Design, & The Burton Flagship Stores

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

When considering the overall shopping experience for the end consumer, retail design often plays a background, yet key role in the selling process. It might not be the first thing on the customer’s mind, but to shop owners, brand managers, merchandisers, marketeers and sales associates, the purchasing set-up can mean all the difference between a few tire kicks, a full-blown shopping experience, and anywhere in between.

Not only that, but as the global economy continues to shift and sustainability considerations become evermore prominent, how is sustainability factored into retail design and how do retailers balance the less desirable associations of consumerism with keeping a robust bottom line?

In the first of our two part series on Designing Retail’s Future, we catch up with Mike Moore of Tres Birds Workshop, the architecture firm responsible for the concept, creation and completion of Burton’s (including Channel Islands Surfboards) LA flagship, Chicago flagship, Vail, and Japan stores, in addition to three Burton showrooms completed in the California and Colorado territories.

Stay tuned next week as we catch up with Raul Pinto from Satellite Boardshop and Installation Shoe Gallery.

Mike Moore, Tres Birds Workshop & Sustainable Retail Design

Tres Birds Workshop has completed several Burton build-outs at this point. How did Tres Birds Workshop and Burton begin working together?

A friend recommended Tres Birds to Rockies Regional Burton Rep, John Damiano. We ended up designing and building his showroom offices in Denver, Colorado. We took a rundown industrial structure that was full of toxins and made it into a place of inspiration and fun. John planted seeds with the Burton executive team and after Jake experienced the showroom on a snowy Denver evening, they hired us to launch flagship retail nationally.

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The Vail store's boot wall

Did you have any prior experience with snowboarding or working with the snowboard industry before this?

I was always into skateboarding as a kid. When I was around 10-years-old, I had a Thrasher Magazine that I had picked up from this random little surf shop in Florida on a family trip. That was my first exposure to skateboard culture, since this was kind of pre-video times, and I had been playing around with skateboarding on my own.

In the magazine, there were these plans for making a half pipe that I had ripped out and I remember on the back of them was a Burton ad with a picture of Jake and this rope, spitting up snow and powder. We lived in Wisconsin where it snowed for six months out of the year and I wanted one. My Dad ended up getting me my first snowboard for Christmas that year and I was hooked. I have been snowboarding since 1982 and have always respected Burton, as their early ‘twins’ changed me.

What is your basic philosophy when it comes to retail design and architecture? How does this parallel snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding? How is this demonstrated in the Burton projects?

I believe that architecture affects how a person connects and interacts with the surrounding environment. Snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing also do this. Architecture is an opportunity for me to create positive change. The intention is to connect people to natural cycles through architecture and use of the senses to empower people to be positive by providing spaces and experiences that inspire through art.

The Burton projects were all done around 2006/2007. Snowboarding had made it to the Olympics and the sport was pretty blown out. In these projects, we really focused on the genuineness of Burton as a brand and showing their history. It was about highlighting the previous 30 years, as well as the future, and showing people who have been involved at different levels and progressing snowboarding.

For example, in the Chicago store, the main thing I did there was create this vertical circulation stairway called The Spirit Core. The Spirit Core is all about blood and family and oxygen, similar to the cultures it serves. One whole wall had all these different images of people living and doing things connected to snowboarding, which gives the customer an overall feeling of what it is about. Also, we always displayed the progression and lineage of the boards themselves and showing how the sport has changed and evolved in a creative way, based on style.

The usage of wood is prominent throughout the Burton projects. Still the best boards are made of wood. We used it in lamination-form, like how a snowboard is constructed. The wood sculpture in Vail conveys the idea of flexibility and potential energy. The energy hits the wall and doesn’t just die. It’s a floor, but also a sculpture. There is a lot of potential energy in snowboarding.

Building the Vail store's "wave"

Building the Vail store's "wave"

In all of the stores, we made sure that the boards were being displayed under natural light so that people could see the board the way they would outside.

Lastly, our projects result in buildings that have low embodied energy usage. We achieve this through solar design (on-site energy modeling and day-lighting) as well as the use of reclaimed materials to construct the building. These practices ultimately lessens our dependence on fossil fuels, mining, and destruction of landscapes.

That seems especially relevant to a group of industries who are so connected to the outdoors and natural landscapes.

They’re so important for everyone since we all have to lower our embodied energy in our lifestyles.

How does your approach facilitate or consider the retail sales process? How do you resolve the tension between consumerism and sustainability?

When Tres Birds Workshop is commissioned to design a project we start with a thorough research into the past, present and future desires of that brand. This information drives the design and makes the resultant space truly integrated…down to every detail.

With all of our work, our architecture is genuine and made of real materials with real function. Our projects are void of decoration or cosmetic use of materials. This creates a more direct experience for the customer.

Using the current social pattern of consuming is an opportunity to create it as a new, perhaps more cultural experience. There are things brands can do on their end as well to continue to refine the consuming process and create more sustainable cycles. Snowboarding is always going to involve young people and for me that’s who I would like to influence through these projects the most, since they are going to be the activators of sustainability in the future.

With Burton it was like, let’s set the example. How do you, through creativity, go forward with sustainable architecture, for the kids coming in and give them a standard to expect in the future? I have to give a lot of credit to Jake and the other Burton executives for employing a great deal of trust in our process. In a similar way, I think that is how Burton has become such a successful and progressive brand over the years.

In all the stores, I wanted to create some spaces that were for lounging, where kids could go and just hang out. Chicago, LA, Osaka all had lounges and a backlog of Burton videos, Guitar Hero, hot cider and hot chocolate dispensers, for free. This promotes the feeling of community, like a club house, and again, creating an experience.

With Burton we literally made all their stores out of reclamation, whereas the rest of the culture at the time was/is all about imported hardwood, imported white marble, etc. Think of Louie Vutton and Prada. From an energy usage standpoint, that kind of design is so out of control. We were setting up in the same neighborhoods as those stores.

A look inside Burton's Chicago store

A look inside Burton's Chicago store's "The Spirit Core"

That’s the cool thing, that you can sit next to those stores and hit that same level of design, but it is just coming from a completely different place.

Yes. Through composition, light and shadow, we can make something beautiful out of what some might consider trash. I don’t need to start with gold and mahogany. I mean those are nice materials, but…

They cost too much, environmentally and economically speaking. You are an architect, but also an artist. If you weren’t an artist, that probably wouldn’t be possible, to turn ‘trash’ into ‘treasure’?

Yes, creativity has a lot to do with it. The reclaimed thing, I’m doing it because I believe in it. In LA, we were super righteous in terms of obtaining reclaimed building materials. I would skateboard down to the nearby airport to look at materials to use, this was a way of sourcing local materials and lowering the embodied energy cost of the project. I was a total policeman about where the materials were coming from.

Material use in Oakland's Big Dreams Showroom - curved steel tube pieces for pod frame/ pod sheathed with straight and curved plexi panels

Material use in Oakland's Big Dreams Showroom - curved steel tube pieces for pod frame/ pod sheathed with straight and curved plexi panels

What is the greatest emphasis for any business owner considering sustainable options in retail design?

Embodied energy and natural light. It’s all about lowering energy, time and resources for an overall more lean and healthy product. People would be surprised to learn that in many instances, these factors contribute to a very competitive price advantage for us to do this kind of work.