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Cheungvogl Architects Hong Kong Au Pont Rouge Saint Petersburg Russia

Inner Space.

Tim McKeough interviews Cheungvogl on Au Pont Rouge and the Robotic System for Azure Magazine, November/December 2016.


Cheungvogl has created an open exhibition retail space around a robotic system within the restoration of the 110 year old iconic department store, Au Pont Rouge in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  

Completed in 1907, Au Pont Rouge located along the Red Bridge on River Moika was built in the tradition of great European department stores such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris or Selfridges in London. Following the revolution in 1919, the building was renamed and converted into Volodarsky Sewing Factory and in the 1930s, the original cupola was demolished. In 2011, the cupola was reconstructed and the building underwent functional and architectural transformations to restore Au Pont Rouge to its original state as a world class department store in Saint Petersburg.

Read more about Au Pont Rouge here



Tim McKeough: When was Au Pont Rouge completed?

Cheungvogl: The ground floor of Au Pont Rouge opened in late 2015, dedicated to pop-up stores with a café that overlooks onto the river Moika. Gradually fashion pop-ups and multi-space galleries on the upper floors opened to the public in mid-2016. We are currently working to introduce cosmetology, treatment and spa areas as well as other uniquely dedicated spaces and functions within the building. In its second Phase, Au Pont Rouge will be extended by four additional floors.


Tim McKeough: Can you explain how the employment of the Robotic System changes the retail concept and customer experience?

Cheungvogl: Classical department stores are challenged by the competition they face from online stores. Online shopping offers more freedom, individuality and endless variety of products from all over the world at very competitive prizes.  As a result, the current model of the department stores is rendered obsolete, leaving many stores closing or being forced to reinvent themselves, like the currently ongoing redesigns of great department stores, such as the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, KaDeWe in Berlin and Selfridges in London.

The retail sector in general lacks the innovation to adapt to technology and changing social and cultural shifts. Redesigns are mostly reduced to aesthetical changes to generate short-term attention instead of focusing on long-term investigations or reinterpretations of the actual role they play or impact they have on society.

In Au Pont Rouge, the conceptualisation and adaption of a completely automated logistic, operating and payment process allows us firstly, to translate the hustle-free and hands-free online shopping experience into a real world experience, making offline shopping much more enjoyable. The market concept, where customers see piles of stocks and carry shopping baskets through the store seems outdated. Comfort and convenience must be the top priority when rethinking the contemporary notion of physical shopping experience.

Secondly, by removing physical and visual clutter from the store, we can focus on the products. Au Pont Rouge offers a wide variety of very special items, each are hand-picked and curated, with many of them being highly engineered niche products. We don’t channel customers through crowded paths between displays and shelves as it is very common, even in upscale department stores, but create a spacious exhibition experience with relation to the urban and historical context. The physical space is the greatest potential of the department store compared with online shopping.

Thirdly, the generous use of space and the elimination of operations from the store allow for staff to take on the role of professional consultants, rather than sales personnel. Staffs are highly trained to provide interested customers with information. The human interaction and exchange is made possible by the robot taking on all the labour and conducting the operations silently in the background.

The utilisation of the automated robotic system enables online and offline experience of Au Pont Rouge to be truly interconnected. Items, which are bought online, can be forwarded by the robotic system for in-store pick-up or delivery.


Tim McKeough: Can you describe the robotic logistics? 

Cheungvogl: The robotic system currently handles small to mid-sized items. Many of these products are specific in their applications that would require professional consultations and demonstrations. We are using the robotic machine to its full potential by freeing the consultants from operational and trading tasks, allowing them to provide customers with the greatest attention and dedicated services.

The robotic system is located on the second floor, freeing the ground floor for the changing pop-up events and eventually allowing all purchases and logistics related operations of the upper floors to be handled there. A separate robot is already in place, which is capable of handling bigger items. This system is interlinked with the main robotic operating system.


Tim McKeough: How does Au Pont Rouge compare to a conventional department store?

Cheungvogl: We conceptualised Au Pont Rouge as a truly public space. In addition to the redefined and enhanced shopping experience, we have put a strong focus on the architectural and historical heritage of the place and its social and cultural role in Saint Petersburg.

Historically, department stores did not only introduce the early modern retail model and redefined the role of consumerism in the late 19th century, but also acted as a catalyst for social exchange, which made them anchor points for public life within the urban grain of the society. This key factor was lost with department stores becoming generic places for merely consumerism.

To regain the social importance of the department store, the concept evolves around social activities, cultural and gastronomic offers and a variety of treatment services interlinked with the core values of the retail concept. The generous spaces allow for multiple interpretations. The store invites public to engage in unexpected programs and events such as workshops, fashion shows, screenings, lectures, exhibitions and art performances, transforming Au Pont Rouge from a niche retail environment into an interactive social and cultural destination beyond its historical meaning to Saint Petersburg.

Au Pont Rouge is a place where visitors would enjoy spending time apart from sheer shopping. Along the entire periphery is a salon or a long gallery between the building façade and the interiors, inviting visitors to spend time and socialise, literally between the city and the store. 


Tim McKeough: Can you elaborate on the check-out bar and the robotic delivery there?

Cheungvogl: The check-out bar is emblematic in terms of how we reinterpreted each function and aspect in Au Pont Rouge. The check-out point is typically the least desirable point in any retail environment, not only because this is where you finally have to pay for the purchases, but fundamentally spending time queuing up for payment seems like a long process compare to online shopping.

The check-out point in Au Pont Rouge works differently. The robot systematically delivers the purchased items. The process becomes one of the main attractions for customers to see the whole robotic system in operation. With the check-out locating adjacent to the historic staircase, it also becomes a meeting point before or after people explore the store. We provided seating adjacent to the check-out bar and drinks are served. This works well with customers, whether waiting for friends or seeing their purchases being delivered by the robot while sipping a drink.


Tim McKeough, Azure Magazine, November 2016











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