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Competition: Buying – Alternative designs for shops

An open international ideas contest has been announced to rethink the future of retail around the world (Deadline: 27 April)

The anonymous competition seeks imaginative concepts which respond to major technological advances – such as augmented reality, apps, automation, cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence – and show how retail experiences, spaces and services could be radically transformed in the future.

The call for concepts – organised by the online think tank Non-Architecture Competitions – aims to promote a wide-ranging discussion over the evolution of shops and places of consumption. Submissions may take any form and a €1,000 prize fund will be shared between the winners with the top entries also featuring in a publication.

A Fred Meyer hypermarket in Portland, USA

A Fred Meyer hypermarket in Portland, USA

Source: Image by Lyza Danger

A Fred Meyer hypermarket in Portland, USA

According to the brief: ‘The aim of the “Buying” competition is to develop design proposals for the shop typology, intended as a space – either material or immaterial – where goods or services are available to the public. Participants are asked to create innovative and unconventional projects on this theme, questioning the very basis of the notion of the shop. In recent years, a series of new initiatives have emerged in relation to the shopping experience.

‘Within this context, with critical thinking and creative attitude, the participants are urged to investigate how the shopping experience can be reformed in the future, and respectively, how the concept of the shop as a space with material and immaterial characteristics can be reinvented.

‘Designers are asked to create an artefact, merging considerable programmatic innovation and valuable design tools. The proposal can be a device, a piece of furniture, an interior design project, a pavilion, a building or an urban plan. Scale of intervention, program dimensions and location are not given, and they can be arranged by the participants to better suit their project.’

Retail has played a major role in human societies for at least 10,000 years and is central component of the global industrial economy. Total retail sales worldwide are expected to reach $27.73 trillion by 2020.

In recent years augmented reality apps – such as IKEA Place – have transformed shopping experiences by allowing consumers to visualise products in their homes prior to purchasing. Elsewhere retailers have focussed on enhancing their physical premises by integrating craft coffee stalls and skate parks.

The ‘Buying’ competition invites participants to draw up radical new concepts for how retail could evolve in the future. Submissions should be ‘innovative and unconventional’ and respond to major social, political and technological changes in recent years.

The contest is the ninth and final instalment of a series run by Non-Architecture Competitions. Previous open calls included ‘Dancing’ which launched last year and sought new ideas for the future of nightclubs around the world.

Judges include Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and founder of Carlo Ratti Associati; Seetal Solanki, founder of Ma-tt-er and visiting tutor at the Royal College of Art; and MICROCITIES founders Mariabruna Fabrizi and Fosco Lucarelli.

Three winners, to be announced in late May, will share a €1,000 prize find while nine honourable mentions and 38 finalist prizes will also be awarded.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 27 April and submissions must be completed by 30 April


Regular registration from 16 March to 15 April: €60

Late registration from 16 April to 27 April: €75

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Non-Architecture Competitions

The organiser discusses their ambitions for the competition

Why are your holding an international ideas contest to rethink the idea of a shop?

‘Buying - Alternative designs for shops’ is the ninth and final competition of a series that was first launched in 2016 and their goal has been to produce new ideas and concepts around how conventional building typologies will be reformed in the future.

The particular one looks at the building typology of a shop and in broader terms, encouraging the participants to ponder upon how contemporary society is reflected on the spaces of commerce and at the same time, bring about ideas about potential futures – where we are heading or how we can shift from that route and make space for new paradigms to arise.

The stall at Hong Kong's Yau Ma Tei wholesale fruit market

The stall at Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei wholesale fruit market

Source: Image by Srameitcoinm

The stall at Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei wholesale fruit market

As with our other projects the most important thing is Thinking and Learning – so we have formulated this broad research question as a contest. In this way, Non-Architecture functions as the mediator that sets the frame for the production of progressive unfiltered ideas by the participants, then receives that information, organises and publishes it with the purpose of finding dialogical relations that can produce a narrative replying to the original question. In this particular instance the focus is: What will buying mean in the future in spatial terms?

For this reason, we always choose to work on topics that are ‘universal’ in a way, or have multiple applications/interpretations, and we encourage contributions without any particular profile requirements. Both objectives help us maximize the potential diversity of applicants and push the limits of the research. At the same time, our platform hopes to bring out and support creative thinking and design talent, by publishing and promoting the projects through our channels and events.

A 'self-scan' service at a Waitrose supermarket, UK

A ‘self-scan’ service at a Waitrose supermarket, UK

Source: Image by Dan Harrelson

A ‘self-scan’ service at a Waitrose supermarket, UK

What is your vision for the innovative alternative shops?

With the latest competition, we are keen to see ideas that surpass the limits of merely shop design and dig deeper to engage many issues that concern contemporary societies, and perhaps produce new understandings of the spaces we inhabit. It is an open call to utilize design thinking to interpret how contemporary culture – technology, habits, politics etc – reshape spaces and provide useful insights into current issues. In this case, this could touch upon various aspects of economic activity such as the rise of cryptocurrencies, the concept of debt and indebtedness, consumerism, and the gradual shift from disposable matter to environmentally friendly materials etc.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The competitions that we develop are always open to anyone interested in sharing their ideas, regardless of profession, age or cultural background, yet we do realise that it is more likely for people with a design background to apply. Judging from the outcomes of the previous competitions, we expect a large range of participation from first year students through to practitioners. This is very interesting, as we have noticed that even practicing architects feel the need to work on utopian and visionary projects from time to time, that can take them away from the pragmatic issues of their daily job but remain still within their available skillset.

Perhaps this time, that we have decided to really let loose of the submission constraints, we could reach out to an even more diverse range of creative thinkers who can contribute to the discussion. The simple articulation of the topic of the competition is helpful in that sense, and could benefit from the insights of people from the fields of sociology, marketing, app development, etc.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

As mentioned before, the ongoing competition Buying – Alternative designs for shops is the last of a series of 9 competitions around functionalities. Obviously, although this cycle has come to an end, we are already developing different ways to challenge the community that we have been building for the last three years. The feedback that we have been receiving all this time has been amazing and that’s why we don’t want to disappoint the community. We want to reinvent ourselves and for that we need to find new ways to challenge the restless minds. But people will need to wait and see what surprises we have in the works.

A historic shopping arcade in Chester, England photographed in 1895

A historic shopping arcade in Chester, England photographed in 1895

A historic shopping arcade in Chester, England photographed in 1895

Are there any other innovative retail projects using you have been impressed by?

We all have projects that we admire, either because of their aesthetically pleasing design, such as Apparatus’ showroom in Los Angeles which evokes the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, or because of their very unconventional nature, such as Fast Food Aid, a pop up by a healthy fast food restaurant in Tokyo, where customers could exchange the receipt from their latest fast-food purchase with vitamin supplements, accompanied with professional advice about the health issues associated with these foods. At the same time, there are many innovations that don’t always manifest in physical shop. For example, the way that crowdfunding has transformed the market, employed by young independent designers who reach out to the online community to fund their projects, or large super markets that want to include in their product stock local products suggested by the customers. We hope to see even more exciting ideas from the participants of the competition that might perhaps inspire future applications in commerce.