Burdines, the hot quintessential Florida retailer owned by Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores, recently opted for a cool new 21st century look. The update resulted in a new generation of clean, crisp, streamlined white stores highlighted with elegantly appointed, custom-made translucent palm trees. This break from the pink buildings of the past signaled a new design era for Burdines, with its more than 50 Florida stores.

During the past 15 years, Burdines effectively established branding and design motifs by highlighting visual elements from the natural environment. Florida's colors and textures, inspired by beaches, palm trees, sun and sky, have long been essential to the Burdines design palette. Across the Sunshine State, savvy shoppers approaching large pink buildings surrounded by palm trees know a Burdines store before they see the lettering above the entrance, says Rob Unger, Burdines' senior vice president of visual merchandising/store planning and design.

Atlanta-based architects Cooper Carry designed the three-story, 225,000-sq.-ft. anchor store at North Miami's Aventura Mall to attract shoppers and reflect Burdines tradition as “the Florida store.” The building envelope consists of several white materials, intentionally selected to contrast with the deep blue Florida sky and signal a new updated look from the pastel pink exteriors on the previous generation of stores, says Gar Muse, principal, director of retail at Cooper Carry.

The Aventura store, opened in 1999, is one of four new prototypical Burdines buildings, site-adapted to meet local conditions. This popular “kit of parts” approach, used in many building types, allows owners to maintain an ambiance and image at different venues through consistent use of color, materials, textures, lighting, landscaping, entries and architectural design features. At the four newest Burdines stores, the prototypical design elements — white precast panels above entries, acrylic palm trees, cladding materials, and lighting concepts — maintain a similar character, while creating buildings with different proportions. The palm tree motifs on the exterior are reflected on interiors as well.

The white concrete panels, embedded with three-dimensional palm leaf patterns, frame customer entries. “We wanted durable, high-quality materials near entrances,” says Muse. Inspired by fabric designs, the 8-ft. by 8-ft. precast molds are pieced together to achieve a consistent overall pattern. The palm frond indentations are 1.5 inches deep, to provide visible shadow and contrast on the wall. The previously mentioned panels are made from white Portland cement mix with white quartz aggregate. The custom molds were cast in Denver, the panels were installed by a local manufacturer.

“White is more Floridian — cleaner, not trendy, with more longevity, and appears bigger. We like the freshness of a white building against the blue Florida sky,” says Muse. Aside from the decorative panels, the rest of the building is clad in Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS). The material system is designed with horizontal bands in two shades of white, separated by 1.5-inch-deep by 1.5-inch-high rustication joints between panels to provide interest, scale and shadows.

The entry is the most important part of the department store because it directs people. At Aventura, the building's only front elevation faces a lake, two sides face a parking deck and the fourth side abuts the mall entry. The architects emphasized the entry by raising the parapet height above the front door to create a silhouette against the sky. Square openings reveal blue sky against the white building by day. At night, roof mounted metal halide fixtures highlight the punched openings at the sides and soffits.

Clear, laminated, energy-efficient, low E glass, with a green tint — installed with mullions, maximizes visibility on the façades. South Florida building codes require glass to withstand 100-mile-per-hour winds and missile projectiles, such as a wind-driven 2×4, as might occur during hurricanes. Only those exterior systems and materials approved on a Dade County building code list may be used for local construction; testing generally takes six months. Burdines used approved materials to facilitate a 13-month construction schedule.

Palm trees — the Burdines icon — are a recurring design motif carried through on exteriors and interiors, but with a high-tech new twist. Full-height, translucent, stylized palms encased in green glass display windows, flank the customer entrance. They accent the front elevation. Strategically placed stage lights dramatically illuminate the palm trees as art objects, beckoning shoppers.

Exterior lighting consists of metal halides with narrow beam fixtures. There are five each in a floor-mounted, three-story window box placed at the corners of the building edging the entry. Ground lights highlight the real palm tree trunks and fronds. These same lights emphasize the precast panels at the entries to accentuate and reveal frond relief patterns. The edges of these panels contain cathode lights for added contrast. At the entry canopy, glass lights shine on the walkway.

Three other new Burdines stores reinterpreted these common design elements on different sites. The two-level store in upscale Wellington is on a split site, with grade changes and fewer entries; the Citrus store, in Tampa, is a 1.5-story top-hat design, while the Orlando store has two stories. “We are totally happy with this design because we can implement refinements at any time,” says Unger.

Barbara Nadel, FAIA, is principal of New York City-based Barbara Nadel Architect, and national 2001 vice president of the American Institute of Architects.

High-tech palm trees

When Burdines updated its store image, new palm trees were part of the package. After searching for more than a year for a manufacturer of glass palms, Simtec, of Salt Lake City provided a solution. “The glass designs were too heavy, costly and delicate,” says Simtec CEO Raymond Goodson. Both Burdines and Cooper Carry architects chose the manufacturer's material to produce a group of 40-ft. palm tree icons because of the visually appealing three dimensional surface and structural qualities.

The Elements line, with an embedded fabric, achieves the desired visual results, and exceeds the parameters for strength. The product is 42 times stronger than tempered glass and a fraction of the weight. Because Elements is so easy to work with, the project designers captured the shapes they wanted, from the round tree trunks, the capitals and the delicate palm fronds.

Palm fronds four feet long, made of high resistant laminated polymer, form the centerpiece of the Burdines Aventura store. Palm fronds are crafted in a heat draping process, from white silk voile fabric laminated with polymer resin to create a glass-like translucent effect. Sub-surface screen-printing highlights the natural veining.

These elegant translucent acrylic trees are resistant to the Florida sun's drying ultraviolet light. From a design standpoint, they exude kinetic energy and change color with different lighting, providing a strikingly modern look.
— Barbara Nadel