re-telling retail


In this report in partnership with Retail Focus, James Breaks, Associate Director of Design at rpa:group, takes a close look into the past, present and future of our relationship with brands, and how we engage with them.

Topics covered include:

What is storytelling?

Genuine and enduring engagement is the ultimate goal,to truly connect with your audience or customer.

The dangers of a one-way narrative

Historically, story-telling in print, radio and TV advertising meant that the narrative only flowed in one direction and that was outwards.

The online revolution

The World Wide Web created a feedback loop by opening channels of communication and interaction never before dreamed of.

The vital role of psychology

Empirical work in retail psychology forged the way for measurable decision making, and the basis of genuinely engaging narratives.

The impact of the pandemic

Physical isolation and the scale of the pandemic profoundly affected perception in our lives, playing out a storyline that we were nearly powerless to do anything about.

Our new relationship with brands and what the future holds

Looking ahead at what we demand of Brands, the stories Brands should tell and the role of technology.


To access all the full piece, click here:

RE-TELLING RETAIL by Retail Focus – Issuu

Why modular in MMC is on the rise

Modular construction has made huge progress in recent years and the advantages are numerous. It is time to banish the misconception that it has a shorter lifespan and is of poorer quality than traditional construction methods, and to start exploring the various options available and their respective benefits.  

The key advantage of using modular in full or part of a project is that it saves time and reduces construction waste, because modular elements are manufactured to spec in a factory. For investors, the speed of production and assembly means that they present a faster return on investment.  

Once you have decided that volumetric construction is a viable option for your project, it is vital to understand what you are actually buying as not all volumetric systems or manufacturers are equal.  For example an SFS system offers a plug and place solution with the strength of structural streel, but is very difficult to alter post construction, whereas a hot-rolled steel system has greater adaptability.  SIPS panels can be designed and manufactured to have everything in place, from pipes, electrics, windows and finishes before they even leave the factory. Timber frame is an increasingly popular option of choice for certain projects, but is limited by how tall you can make a wooden structure. Then there are modular elements such as bathrooms and kitchens, which can be designed to size and spec and constructed offsite as pods, which will speed up the installation process on site.  

When installed correctly, most modular builds come with high-efficiency heat recovery ventilation systems and superior insulation, which help negate the need for gas and fossil fuels for heating, which reduce household costs and help address the impact on climate change. In addition, better insulation creates a cleaner and more dust and damp-free environment, which will enhance the health and well-being of its occupants. 

The off-site construction process can eliminate unnecessary waste and helps deliver a verifiably sustainable construction process from beginning to end.  Modular’s carbon footprint is further neutralised when the components are produced locally, so that transportation is kept to a minimum.  

It is time to change a previous misconception that modular buildings are boring and limiting and to look more closely at how adaptable they are. A pre-fabricated single occupant modular dwelling can provide a safe and secure living space, with scope to be modified by having additional living space and bedrooms added, to fulfil different housing needs.  Given the social housing shortage, more homes can be provided quickly and cost effectively, with modular being the answer. In fact, entire apartment blocks can be erected relatively easily in appropriate locations.  

Modular construction isn’t only limited to budget housing and student accommodation. Advancements in innovation and technology means that increasing numbers of hotels and luxury homes are being constructed using modular techniques, which enable custom-made designs to fit with exact space and budget requirements limited only by what can be transported. We see this with a luxury home on the coast of Lewis in the outer Hebrides as featured on a recent television series “Build Your Dream Home in the Country”. The house was designed and constructed in a factory in several sections, complete with bespoke and quality fixtures and fittings, and the kitchen and bathrooms already installed, before it was transported and assembled in its chosen location. This negated the costly delays that this area’s harsh weather conditions can have on build projects.  

Airspace is also seeing an increase in modular construction because these can be assembled swiftly with minimal disruption to existing residents. Because they are more lightweight, they won’t compromise the existing structure of the original building, provided that the building has suitable MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing), load and access to lifts and stairs.   

Schools are also more regularly turning to modular construction for expansion/ refurbishment schemes, with research showing that when classrooms are constructed using passive Haus methods, they provide healthier teaching and learning environments, with a reduction of CO2 emissions and space heating by 80%.   

Whatever the purpose, it is still important to ensure that any modular project has the correct team behind it. Good design management from the early stages is essential to avoid costly mistakes. Careful consideration also needs to be given to planning. A common mistake is not factoring in that the modular footprint can be larger than expected due to various components, and a misjudgement of this can cause planning issues.  As a business, we are familiar with all forms of MMC, having provided Architecture and Project and Cost Management services on a large number of schemes.  

Comments Peter Kilby, Director of Project and Cost Management at rpa:group, “The lead time for modular can be quite long, but build time on-site tends to be faster and although modular cost can be higher, site duration is lower so savings can be made here. One needs to consider that once a modular design is signed off, further design changes can be expensive and time consuming and are not always possible. Therefore, it is important to have someone in place such as a reliable project manager, to ensure that the advantages of modular pays off and that no avoidable costs are incurred.” 

Annie Ky, Senior Architect agrees. “With modular construction, there are challenges to overcome such as space and logistics and licensing. All the design work needs to be carried out up front with details such as the location of sockets and accessories decided in advance.” She adds that lead consultants, M&E and Structural engineers should be appointed to work collaboratively on a project, to ensure a successful outcome and highlights a current architecture project that rpa:group is undertaking. “A former petrol station in London’s Southwark has been demolished to make way for the construction of 24 new homes and three retail units. The scheme has a hybrid construction, utilising modular elements from pre-cast concrete. Although the initial design and manufacture phase was more time consuming, this method is really speeding up the actual construction process onsite.”  

Ben Foran from MY Construction Group, which owns MY-Fab, a specialist volumetric and MMC manufacturing business, highlights the importance of visiting  manufacturers’ factories, assessing their quality control procedures, and finding out about their warranties and procedures if something should go wrong. Other information to get clarity on includes finding out what technical and financial backing they have and what control a client will have over the manufacturing process, as well as whether the design and coordination of the manufacturing elements will work with on-site construction works? Comments Ben “MMC has multiple benefits, including the potential to give you better quality, higher performing buildings, shorter construction programmes plus reduced construction waste and an overall lower carbon footprint.  But none of these is a given, so spend some time working out not just the build methodology, but really get under the skin of your construction partners.“  

While modular construction is not necessarily new to the UK, uptake has still been  slower than in other parts of the world. However, a surge in investment by large financial backers such as Goldman Sachs has resulted in accelerated UK growth. This is helping to make it more commercially viable, driving further innovation and is helping to make modular construction fast become more mainstream with an exciting future ahead. 


If you need our help with your next project, please get in touch with Sasha Fraser at or visit 

Ben Foran from MY Construction Group can be reached at or visit 

Make it personal when it comes to hotel design

Tailor-made design doesn’t need to be expensive, but it should be specific to a project and the resulting space for the people who will be using it. There is also no denying the increasing importance of sustainability and the challenges to make high-end sustainable as well. In fact, designing with quality means longevity, which is in itself sustainable. It is all in the details that create “Moments of delight,” where the magic happens and where guests start to see, appreciate and enjoy a space. 

Although there are various expectations that need to be upheld, to provide familiarity such as quality, levels of service or experience, there still needs to be a little element of uniqueness to each location.  Boutique and stand-alone hotels can perhaps more easily achieve this, but there is also scope to create individuality within the larger chains. Giving an hotel a “personality” by providing a local experience through architecture, typography, textures and materials, creates moments that resonate – and help make guests part of the story. 

But first hoteliers and designers need to understand how people live now and how they will in the future. There was an opportunity during the pandemic for people to stop, take stock and reassess everything in what can be referred to as the “The great reset.” There are now big socio and economic transitions underway that are shaping emerging trends – whether they are social-political, fashion or cultural. The hospitality industry needs to be aware of these changes and hotels more than ever need to adopt a more humancentric approach,  as this period post the covid pandemic reinforces the need for human contact.  

Things need to become more personal, but personalisation is not just about the individual and the here and now – it is about futureproofing for the unknown. Whatever space they create has to be meaningful and impactful long-term too. 

The challenge facing designers is installing timelessness in design.  Because things happen so quickly, there is a danger that things can soon become outdated. Trend driven flourishes can be added or altered through soft touches such as textiles and accessories,  but the expensive structural elements need to be able to stand the test of time, and be designed to be experience driven – for the location and the market.  

The architecture and the foundation of the spaces forms a sustainability standpoint that should last for at least a decade to halt our “throwaway” behaviour. It is all about creating a “Wow” factor that has longevity, because while Instagrammable moments work once,  if guests don’t make an emotional connection– things can become gimmicky.  

Although it can be challenging to anticipate change 10 years ahead, we need to bear in mind that hotel rooms haven’t changed in that they are still places for people to sleep. Yet how people use the rooms and integrate with the different elements and spaces of hotels has changed. We are seeing how hotels are not just responding to the needs of their overnight guests but are also increasingly becoming social hubs for the local community, as places to work, eat, meet and relax.  

There are  also “layers” on the experience people now typically expect such as more of a focus on health and wellbeing. This is especially true in luxury hotels, where you are giving yourself permission to indulge. Bathrooms for example are evolving to be more of a sanctuary and a place for wellbeing. Even business hotels that used to be very functional and task oriented, are seeing customer expectations continue to evolve and designers need to anticipate them.  

This is where research is key. Digital can aid the progress through retaining algorithms to feed back information to designers. They can use this to help them create hotel environments and experiences that make the all-important emotional connection with guests that go far beyond just a bed for the night. 

Why hoteliers should be refurbishing during a pandemic

This is when operators who have planned for a refurbishment scheme have the upper hand. One of the key factors when undertaking works is to avoid disturbance to guests.  With many hotels now at low or zero occupancy, disruption is at a minimum and works can happen more quickly and efficiently.

The government is currently assisting the hospitality industry by helping with staff costs, and this support offers an added reason why hoteliers should be using this time to carry out refurbishments, if they can afford to – it’s as simple as that.

Having a strong procurement plan and committing to a programme with realistic deliverables and timescales is essential. This is where it is prudent to obtain the support of an experienced Project Management and Cost Management team. After all, there is no point in undertaking a rejuvenation scheme if it becomes sabotaged by spiralling costs and unnecessary delays.

Thinking ahead, what customers will need more than ever is reassurance that the hotel they are checking into is a safe place to stay. Aside from reconfiguring guest flow and ensuring communal spaces adhere to social distancing guidelines, some operators are installing thermal CCTV systems, where cameras can take up 30 people’s temperatures as they walk through the door.  Guests are also more likely to spend increased amounts of time in their rooms, where they feel more secure and so these need to offer more than just somewhere to sleep. This could require repurposing areas of bedrooms, for the provision of adequate working facilities. Other increasingly important criteria will include proper entertainment, fast and reliable Wi-Fi and up to date technology.

So, whether hotel operators can embark on large-scale refurbishment schemes, or a series of small but important upgrades, they should be using this time to implement these, ready to entice and reassure future guests when normal travel resumes.