Virgin Megastore

The new megastore has become an icon for the retailer
and a draw for the public, thereby increasing business for the entire shopping centre.
Virgin Records, the British-based retailer and record company, has begun to break into the American market with stores in existing buildings in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Being a relatively new company in America, Virgin was looking for a strong and identifiable architectural image with which to project its market identity - particularly in the light of Sacramento being the first home of Tower Records, the chief competitor which takes its name from the city's historical Art Deco theatre.

The programme called for 22,000 square feet of space on two levels adjacent to a well-established retail and entertainment centre. The design had to provide solutions to a variety of complicated requirements in the context of severe site constraints; the very tight and relatively narrow lot, for example, did not offer an appropriate frontage. This was resolved by extending the second floor over and above the adjacent existing buildings, doubling the perceived length of the facade.

The overall composition is essentially made up of two forms. The front portion facing the main street is a steel and glass wedge, expressing lightness and movement. The principal body of the building behind is more solid and firmly rooted, anchoring the composition to the ground.

The two forms are connected via a sinuous curving steel wall that appears like a flexible and folding 'bridge', almost as though it could accommodate movement of the lighter form.

A dialogue is created between the two elements, similar to that between the stability and solidity of an airport terminal, fixed as it were to the ground, and the mobility and lightness of an aeroplane; connected to one another by flexible coupling or a gangway. The sleek, steel shell structures of aircraft, which are light and fragile but strong and rigid in performance, were a source of inspiration. Their structural form, if viewed anthropomorphically, is more akin to the externally carried structure of the insect family than the internal frame system of mammals, which is a more typical analogy for building structures.

It is this external expression of structure and shell that gives language and articulation to the form. The massing of the north side of the building is more solid but still carries the sculptural movement of the front façade while expressing the stair tower and second-floor cantilever in a three-dimensional abstract composition.

Not only does the sculptured three-dimensional form of the building provide an efficient engineering solution to the complex structural problems involved but it gives Virgin Records a distinct presence and identifiable image. The composition appears much larger as a result of the sweeping curve of the structure and the dynamic vertical truss. The detailing and reflective metal surfaces do not allow the familiar frame of reference and scale with which to judge the size of the building. From the outset, the signage was incorporated into the design process for the facade - while giving Virgin prominent identification, the graphics are an integral part of the massing and form and meant to enhance and embellish the composition. The relationship between the signage and the building form afforded another opportunity to reinforce the association of brand name with the building itself.

Special attention was given to the second entrance facade at the rear of the building which accommodates half the available parking. Making this a dynamic entry point encourages use of the parking spaces and improves overall traffic circulation in the centre.

The new megastore has become an icon for the retailer and a draw for the public, thereby increasing business for the entire shopping centre.