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The Department Store comes at the retail experience from an entirely new angle, offering patrons an encounter that challenges indoor-outdoor perceptions

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Destination shopping is usually associated with large-scale malls that offer patrons a raft of diversions that go beyond the purely retail. However, the term equally applies to an emerging and distinct retail experience – the concept store.

Dedicated to a particular lifestyle theme, concept stores are a collection of related trades that cross-sell their products in the same location, thereby creating a specialised destination for shoppers. The Department Store is Auckland's latest concept store.

The brainchild of Karen Walker, Stephen Marr and Dan Gosling, The Department Store focuses on artisanal retail and services – be they in fashion, design or beauty.

Located on the top floor, the Stephen Marr salon exemplifies the concept that pervades the building and reflects Marr's own resolve to offer all clients an ecologically sound experience.

Upon entering the salon, it is impossible not to notice the 10m-long greenwall that bisects the space. Comprising more than 1000 individual plants, the greenwall is a New Zealand first, says Peter de Jager of landscape company Natural Habitats.

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"This is the first commercial interior greenwall in New Zealand. It is also distinctive in that it is double-sided and stands 2m tall."

In the cavernous, open-plan space the greenwall serves to absorb sound. It is also a screen, adding functionality to the space, which has been the setting for fashion events.

Plants for the greenwall were selected from the more than 3000 natives and exotics that have been identified as suitable for this style of planting, says de Jager.

"Each plant was propagated for two months before being placed onto the marine-grade aluminium frame. The plants sit within a light-weight growing medium in a series of aluminium baskets and are fertigated – fertilised and irrigated – several times a day, via an automated monitoring system."

A number of skylights were installed to ensure the greenwall receives the maximum amount of natural light available and to keep man-made lighting requirements to a minimum – in keeping with Marr's environmentally responsible outlook.

Ongoing maintenance includes a weekly checkup to ensure each plant is thriving.

"The beauty of this greenwall system – which was developed in France more than 20 years ago – is that upkeep can be carried out by the client, making it a cost-effective option for most businesses," says de Jager. "In fact, a minimal amount of infrastructure is required to incorporate a greenwall into an existing office or commercial environment."

Aside from space for a plant room to house the irrigation system, the only other requirement is drainage for the waste water.

While the Stephen Marr greenwall comprises a variety of flowering and nonflowering plants, de Jager says such a wall can just as easily be made up of edible plants, adding a further dimension of usefulness.

"Aside from the aesthetic benefits of being surrounded by an array of plants, there is also the benefit of improved air quality – which has been linked to increased productivity, and, for those interested in ESD, this contributes to a Green Star rating," says de Jager. "Greenwalls can also be used to moderate solar gain and to filter stormwater."

First published date: 17 March 2010

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Credit List

Location Stephen Marr salon, The Department Store, Auckland
Architect Jack McKinney, McKinney + Windeatt Architects
Interior designer Katie Lockhart, Katie Lockhart Ltd
Construction company Bellclark Construction Ltd
Mechanical and electrical engineer Allendale Electrical
Fire consultant Holmes Fire & Safety
Lighting designer Lumen Design Ltd
Staircase manufacturer Fairbrother Industries
Cabinet makers First Edition Cabinetmakers
Tile flooring Heritage Tiles
Furniture Emeco; Aalto; Jamie McLellan; Grant Featherston; Franco Albini
Bathroomware Inovo
Signage Sharp Signs
Graphic designer Brogan Averill