Total area: 300,000 sf
Number of departments: 40+
Age of retail chain: 125 years
A store with a few people.

Rooted in Place


Two hours north of Mexico City is Querétaro. As the capital of the most diverse of Mexican states, Querétaro is attracting investors with big plans for the historic colonial town. When Mexican retail chain El Palacio de Hierro asked Gensler to design a 300,000-square-foot luxury department store there, it set out to uncover the region’s DNA through site and field research. “The client wanted a deeply rooted, yet updated, more modern interpretation of Querétaro,” explains Gensler’s Michael Gatti, who led the New York-based team with assistance from Gensler’s office in Mexico City.

To begin, Gensler created a story line that spoke compellingly to Querétaro’s varied landscape and rich spirit. “We took into account the characteristics inherent in the Palacio brand—that it’s authentic, natural, classic, and modern—and how those four ideas are manifest in Querétaro,” says design director Kate Russell. Gensler developed the story line with an eye toward Querétaro’s remarkable landscape, including a high desert, tropical forests, and lush jungle to the east, and dusty brown hills and tumbleweeds to the west. The team also looked closely at the region’s native materials and took inspiration from influences such as its natural wellsprings.

Collaborating with the building architect, Javier Sordo Madaleno, Gensler created a true indoor-outdoor effect. “The garden at the entrance extends into the building, while the building reaches out into the garden,” says Russell. Inside, each floor offers a different experience, with the journey beginning at ground level, mirroring Querétaro’s own rocky foundation. The tropical forest–inspired second level evokes the local climate and indigenous plant life. The third floor emulates a celestial experience, representing the night sky through ceiling and lighting treatments. The heart of the experience is the central atrium and fountain, complete with water features and hand-cut marble forms that resemble river rock.

Following the Querétaro store opening, sales exceeded projections by 50 percent, reports Palacio Marketing Director Carlos Salcido. “It truly captures our DNA,” he adds. “It’s given our brand an exceptional head start in one of Mexico’s fastest-growing markets.”

Aryn Beitz, a New York City-based writer, is pursuing her MFA degree in Communications Design at Pratt Institute.