From Building to Interface: Reframing the Supermarket to Unlock Climate Transition Pathways

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Supermarkets are a ubiquitous building typology in the UK and Ireland. Typically, they are described as a big-box store filled with trolleys, aisles, and checkouts, situated out-of-town with a dedicated car park. They are rarely admired for their architectural character, yet they are culturally significant spaces because we buy most of our food from them. Supermarkets have perfected an efficient and convenient system for selling food, but this current model is far from perfect: in fact, it's precarious, murky, monopolistic, and unhealthy for both people and the planet. Despite this, it is hard to imagine a radically more sustainable food shopping model that could fully replace it because they rely on a complex, locked-in food system. Therefore, imagining a new typology requires a new approach; one that reframes it as an interface to wider social, technical, economic, ecological, and political systems. In doing so, the space and food system are holistically reimagined to achieve better alternatives for both. Much like Reyner Banham’s seminal text, A Home is not a House - a supermarket is not just a building; it’s also a meeting space, a waste producer, a refrigeration node, a public health actor and much more. In the race to net-zero, thinking and designing in this way, reframing the supermarket from building to an interface, opens opportunities to reveal previously unconsidered climate transition pathways.

Through research-by-design methods and the application of systems thinking, this chapter uses the supermarket as a case study to imagine new ways of seeing and redesigning architectural typologies in the context of a rapid climate transition. In the text, the supermarket is first defined from an architectural standpoint, then in its relationship as an interface to wider local and global systems. This informs a thematic lens-based investigation through which a climate resilient and sustainable supermarket is imagined. Though some interesting ideas are presented, the results highlight the complexity of the challenges faced by supermarkets and explores the value of design to navigate pathways towards better solutions.
PeriodApr 2023
Held atAll-Ireland Architecture Research Group, Ireland
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Research by design
  • Design Research
  • Systems Thinking
  • supermarket
  • Food systems
  • Global flows
  • Shopping
  • Architecture
  • Scenario-building
  • Slow Food