Tim McKeough interviews Cheungvogl
on Au Pont Rouge and the Robotic System for Azure Magazine,
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
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.
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.
Tim McKeough: Can
you explain how the employment of the Robotic System changes the retail
concept and customer experience?
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
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
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.
McKeough: Can you describe the robotic logistics?
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.
McKeough: How does Au Pont Rouge compare to a conventional
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.
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
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.
McKeough: Can you elaborate on the check-out bar and the robotic
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.
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.
McKeough, Azure Magazine, November 2016
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