Project Spotlight: Whole Foods Market — Chicago, IL

BRR has collaborated with Whole Foods Market for 10+ years and has had the opportunity to work with the brand on a variety of unique projects. Recently we completed the design of a multi-level urban project in downtown Chicago; our team is always motivated by the complex challenges these types of projects present. We began working on this high-rise location back in 2017, so it was rewarding to the BRR team when the location celebrated its Grand Opening in April 2022. Our design team shared some key takeaways from this project and how we were able to navigate these design challenges successfully.

Moving Pieces

Urban grocery projects typically have a long runway, especially for a 77-story high-rise like this. This project endured many different challenges over its five-year timeline, including client team changes and a global pandemic. With client restructuring occurring, our team collaborated with new teammates at every step to keep the design process moving.

Like with any project occurring during 2020, COVID had an impact on this project, surprisingly in a positive way. The construction team leading the shell of the building was able to expedite the schedule, which subsequently kept the tower construction on pace. This also allowed the BRR team to enter the space earlier and collaborate with the shell design team and WFM’s contractor.

Exterior Restrictions

A unique aspect of this store was that the building itself was an all-glass tower, which meant the entire perimeter of each level consisted of glazing. As a result, our design team had to be very precise with the layout of each space and mindful of what would be visible from the exterior of the building. One of the main areas impacted by the windows was the taproom on the second floor. The client had requested that a large ‘Whole Foods Market’ sign be affixed to the windows on the second floor, meaning they would be visible from inside the taproom. At first, there was concern that the sign’s lettering would block the view from the taproom and look strange in the space. However, our team used virtual reality technology to view the inside of the space during its design; we discovered through the digital model that the lettering created a great urban and industrial design detail for the space.

Urban Location

The urban location of this store posed interesting challenges which typically are not present in a suburban project. The receiving dock consisted of a recessed turntable – where delivery trucks pull in and then rotate as needed to park at their respective docks. Therefore, the store’s receiving area had freight elevators that led up to the main store. As the elevators were centrally located, it meant that product was arriving in the middle of the store and not directly adjacent to the key cooking departments.

The design team also worked to create spaces that catered to varying shopping of the customers. WFM intended for the main lobby to serve as a grab-n-go area with coffee, seating and more convenient food offerings. Then, above the main lobby, the team created a specific ‘wing’ of the store to house food bars, pizza, a taproom, and other selections for meals and quick pickups. The remainder of the upper floor demonstrates a typical grocery store, in which the shopper starts at produce and flows through the remainder of the store to select their items.

Shoppers arrive at the store from the main entrance ‘hub,’ accessible by an escalator connected to the parking garage or via the street entrance. The hub creates a ‘fork’  in the layout where the shopper can either start shopping the whole store by heading in one direction or take another path to the food bars and the grab-n-go-go prepared foods. These two distinct pathways create a smoother flow for customers no matter which experience they seek.

Overall, through extensive coordination with the entire project team, this location successfully opened to positive reviews from the local press and neighborhood residents — residents which welcome another option to do their food shopping. BRR was so pleased by this successful collaboration with the WFM client team; we produced a location that serves a variety of customers in the area and which celebrates the aesthetic of the nearby neighborhood.

About the authors:

Mark Scherrer, AIA, graduated from the University of Kansas with a Master of Architecture degree. Mark has been with BRR since 2010, and has spent a majority of his career working on remodel, takeover and new construction projects for grocery and retail clients. He currently leads one of BRR’s studios which supports one of our largest grocery client accounts. Mark plays a critical role in managing projects throughout multiple regions in the U.S. He goes the extra mile for his clients daily and collaborates with them at every step of the design process to fully understand their vision, and delivering best-in-class client service at the same time.  Email him.

Katy Hilbert, NCIDQ, graduated from Kansas State University with a Master of Interior Architecture & Product Design degree. Katy has been with BRR since 2019, and works closely with one of our largest grocery clients to support projects nationwide. Day-to-day, Katy works with clients to cohesively merge their brand with the built environment through clear standards and quality execution of her work. Email her.