A Marijuana Dispensary That’s Serene, Not Shady

A Marijuana Dispensary That’s Serene, Not Shady

For medical marijuana provider Surterra’s first retail location, Toronto design firm figure3 created an environment that feels more like a spa than a pot shop.

Therapeutic cannabis may well be the fastest growing retail category of the decade. Enter Surterra, a U.S. company that last November launched the first of what promises to be an extensive chain of stores selling medical marijuana products to sandwich-generation caregivers and their baby-boomer elders looking for relief from such maladies as cancer, Parkinson’s and ALS.

Toronto’s figure3 developed Surterra’s inaugural retail outlet, slotted into a 218-square-metre space in a strip mall in Tampa, Florida. Before any of the actual drafting took place, the firm’s researchers employed a generative design process that studied the clientele’s needs and subconscious assumptions in depth. They soon discovered that they had to shed some preconceptions of their own.

“Before going into this project,” says design and research strategy lead Tyler Gilchrist, “we knew we had to get far away from the shady history of illicit drug use. We pictured the new look as a sort of cosmetics environment in a sterile pharmaceutical setting.”

But the science vibe turned out to be all wrong too. People want to have their issues dealt with by someone caring and compassionate, not to be talked down to by a person in a white lab coat. So figure3 latched onto more positive metaphors – ones that centre on the family home, nature and personal connection.

Vice president of retail design Marjorie Mackenzie was in charge of translating these frames of reference into reality. “We wanted the company to own the mental model of food, home, and the nostalgic warmth they contain. Since family connections are often centred around meal preparation, we built a kitchen-island sales counter. And on the left is what we call ‘the garden.’”

The merchandise – mainly lotions, tinctures and patches – is housed in the trelliswork that, along with grass-green carpeting and soft, recessed lighting, helps define the garden. Other natural colours such as slate and sky-blue (provided by laminates and a wall covering from Carnegie) predominate in the “kitchen” and in the more private consulting areas of the “dining room” and “den” beyond.

The space’s seating – cushioned, curvilinear forms of various heights and a mishmash of wooden chairs around a dining table – is intended to trigger positive associations and a sense of ease. These elements all contribute to figure3’s informed design, what Gilchrist calls “leveraging cognitive science to understand how people experience space.”

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