Can Generative Design Save Brick-and-Mortar Retail?

Using new technology from Autodesk, Dutch firm Stamhuis designs retail stores that maximize each shelf, hoping to stave off e-commerce competition.

Courtesy Stamhuis

Ron Rijkers loves the board game Battleship, wherein players “design” and deploy multiple ships of various sizes with colored pegs across a grid, hoping their configurations best those of their opponents. Rijkers likens the game to his work as a retail store designer for the Utrecht, Netherlands–based design firm Stamhuis. In the battle for brick-and-mortar customers in the era of online shopping, Rijkers and Stamhuis must have powerful digital tools to present clients with several options for designs that can shore up customer loyalty.

Enter architecture software giant Autodesk. In 2018, Stamhuis, a longtime Autodesk customer, participated in the program Project Refinery, which was part of the software company’s effort to integrate generative design into its Revit software.

Courtesy Stamhuis

“Generative design is a workflow, designing a parametric model, deciding what the ranges and limits are going to be and using the computer to help you through it,” says Lilli Smith, senior project manager of AEC generative design at Autodesk. With Autodesk’s new generative design tools in Revit 2021, properties such as the location and size of the cash register area, the ratio of shop to inventory storage, shelf spacing, aisle size, and buyer’s field of vision are all studied algorithmically and can be presented in multiple variations—far more than would be possible manually.

“Generative design is the future,” says Rijkers, team manager for BIM and innovation at Stamhuis, which completes more than 1,200 retail projects per year. “It would take one of our designers four hours for a typical design of a liquor store and the standard layout. Now in the span of 15 minutes we can gather the information, run a script, and receive 40 optimized design options.”

Courtesy Stamhuis

Autodesk’s Smith avers that the application, now available, has relevance far beyond retail: “It could be as huge as a stadium or as small as a tile pattern on a floor.”

But for now, Rijkers is just happy he can apply it to his retail jobs. “This won’t take away the challenge of online selling,” he says. “But we hope our designs will generate the most revenue from each shelf.”

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