Pirie Associates and Denali Reinvent the Brick and Mortar Retail Experience with Biophillic Store in Rhode Island

Date: 09.13.18

While many brick and mortar retailers are shutting down, Denali has plans to open up several new stores over the next decade.

Providence, RIDenali retail store is throwing an all-day block party this Saturday to celebrate the opening of their eighth store, designed by Pirie Associates from Connecticut. The 9,000-square-foot space adjacent to Brown University on Thayer Street offers a new paradigm for brick and mortar retail introduced to the private chain by founder Laura Pirie and her team in New Haven.

The new store reflects a design language developed over a 14-year collaboration between the architecture firm, Denali and other partners—including Cornerstone Design/Build Services, Inc. Forging community in common interests, each store connects customers to nature’s elements.

“All you need to do is get people in the store,” Denali’s owner and founder Chris Howe told architect Brady Stone. But he and Pirie took that missive further, seeking to transport customers to a new state of mind with a biophillic interior “kit-of-parts” they’ve now used in several locations.

Changing slightly with each site, the Denali approach taps into a rich, earthy, reclaimed material palette that includes barn doors, corrugated sheet metal, and, in the case of Providence, 20 birch tree poles — bark intact. Positioned to guide customers upstairs, two 32-foot-tall poles reach dramatically from the ground floor through a U-shaped stairwell to the top floor’s ceiling.

“Because we’re so experientially oriented with the environments we design,” says Pirie, “this kind of retail is a natural for us. Working with nature for health and well-being is a hand-in-glove fit for the challenges of brick and mortar. Plus it reinforces Denali’s commitment to connecting people with the outdoors.”

Further uniting the two floors and creating the illusion of plants spilling out of an aging barn is a two-story living wall. Self-irrigated and low maintenance, it is populated with plants that one would encounter in a New England forest: ferns, vines, and rhododendrons. Daylight pours in through overhead skylights, similar to a woodland canopy.

Save paint, electrical, and HVAC materials, almost nothing in the stores is new, in keeping with a joint commitment to genuine sustainability. Further reinforcing the chain’s environmental stewardship, each location has unique amenities, including yoga rooms, community boards, and a constant roster of inspiring activities and speakers.

When Pirie puts in a request for certain materials, Cornerstone president Bob Sanford says he sends his guy out to source them in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Craigslist. Sometimes they’ll see a dilapidated barn and ask the owner if they can take it down for them.

With this kit of parts, Howe says Pirie and the rest of the team have helped create a place that is its own ecosystem, allowing customers to feel comfortable and at ease—possibly without realizing why.

“And to do that with reclaimed materials, to code, on budget, and to make it unique,” he adds. “That’s a package.”


Pirie Associates is a multi-disciplinary practice that creates environments to help clients and communities take what they do to the next level. They engage a highly collaborative process that begins with the clients’ mission and purpose and ends with exacting attention to detail and execution with the result of making places that are transformative. A certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) based in CT and practicing nationwide, the foundation of the firm’s solutions are focused on health and well-being. This includes striving to assure the resources consumed in making and operating environments are balanced and restored by the resources they give back: physically, intellectually, and in service.


Want to learn more? Check out the Denali project


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