In the constantly evolving world of architecture and design, repurposing unconventional structures has emerged as a captivating trend. One notable trendsetter in this field involves the conversion of retired aircraft beyond their original use in commercial airline service. These innovative repurposing encompass a range of possibilities, from transforming them into hotels and waterpark attractions to crafting presidential jet replicas and even establishing restaurants that specialize in regional cuisines.
In regard to this growing trend, a former Lufthansa Boeing 747-200 has undergone a remarkable transformation into a branch of the American retail chain Coach. This transformative project, known as the Coach Airways Store and Cafe, was brought to life through a collaborative design effort between Spacemen, an architecture practice based in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur, and Coach New York. The concept behind this project is to transport visitors back to the opulent era of air travel during the 1970s.
The grand opening of the Coach Airways store took place at the Freeport A’Famosa Outlet Mall on June 19th, 2023. The event was attended by local dignitaries, mall owners, members of the Malaysian media, and the general public. During the opening ceremony, the Chief Minister of Malacca, Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Bin Yusoh, emphasized the significance of this addition to the state’s tourism offerings, aligning it with the objectives of Visit Malacca 2024.
Repurposing abandoned planes into stunning interiors holds significant importance on both environmental and aesthetic aspects. Firstly, it contributes to sustainability by repurposing materials from decommissioned aircraft, thus reducing the environmental footprint. Additionally, the visual impact of repurposed aircraft interiors can be profound, serving as sources of inspiration for architects and designers while also capturing the imagination of the public. Beyond their aesthetics, these repurposed spaces can become unique attractions, fostering tourism and economic growth in the areas where they are located, further underlining their importance in the realms of sustainability, design innovation, and local development.
The Transformation Journey:
The project to convert the Boeing 747 into a high-end store commenced in April 2021 and was successfully completed in May 2023. It encompassed the acquisition, precise dismantling, meticulous relocation, and expert reassembly of the venerable 1981-vintage Boeing 747-230B aircraft right within the premises of the Freeport A’Famosa Outlet Mall.
The Aircraft’s History:
The Boeing 747-230B Combi variant in question was initially delivered to Lufthansa in December 1981. It had various roles throughout its flying career, including passenger and cargo service, before being retired in 2009. After being in storage at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, it was purchased by Freeport A’Famosa Outlet Mall in 2021.
The World’s First Coach Airways Store:
This transformed Boeing 747, now known as the Coach Airways 747, marks a historic milestone as the world’s inaugural Coach outlet store housed within a repurposed airliner. The aircraft, once celebrated as the largest civilian aircraft globally, now serves an entirely different purpose in the heart of Malaysia.
A Fusion of Aviation History and Shopping:
The Coach Airways 747 offers a captivating blend of aviation history and retail therapy. This concept is expected to attract both aviation enthusiasts and shoppers alike. With a staggering length of 231 feet 10 inches (70.6 meters) and a wingspan spanning 195 feet 8 inches (59.6 meters), this Queen of the Skies retains an imposing presence.
Immersive Shopping Experience:
To enhance the shopping experience, customers receive an entry pass resembling an air ticket upon entering the store. This pass mimics the experience of boarding a plane via an air bridge. Inside the aircraft, visitors can explore the cockpit, passenger, and lounge cabins while browsing a curated selection of ready-to-wear bags and travel accessories inspired by modern-day fashion designers.
Unique Retail Experience:
The Coach Airways store in Malacca offers a distinctive and value-added shopping experience, attracting a broader customer base and driving sales. In addition to the retail space, the aircraft features a welcome area, an immersive gallery, and a contemporary café, providing guests with a unique ambiance to relax and enjoy refreshments.
The 420-square-metre space inside the abandoned plane was transformed into a retro-futuristic homage to the 1970s air travel experience. The predominant orange colour is accentuated by bright lighting and clean, pastel-toned surfaces and details, creating an immersive atmosphere.
Spacemen’s ambitious endeavour envisions the Boeing 747-200 as more than just a shopping venue. Their goal is to craft an immersive experience where visitors can delve into the aircraft’s storied history while enjoying a bout of retail therapy. This groundbreaking concept takes the idea of ‘buy-on-board’ to an entirely new level, seamlessly blending aviation nostalgia with contemporary shopping.
“The plane’s design pays homage to the illustrious golden era of air travel in the 1970s, weaving in elements of retro-futurism for a one-of-a-kind experience,” said Spacemen, the firm behind the project. “The aircraft houses four experiential cabins with design cues and a colour palette that would look perfectly at home in a Wes Anderson’s movie set,” the firm added.
A Radiant Orange Palette:
The entire aircraft has been meticulously coated in an eye-catching shade of orange, further enhanced by the strategic use of bright lighting and clean pastel surfaces in every detail. Inside, visitors are treated to an exploration of four themed cabins, each thoughtfully designed to evoke the ambiance of a bygone era. From a first-class cabin meticulously simulating the interior of an aeroplane to retail booths featuring curved pastel walls, offering a nostalgic and enjoyable shopping experience.
This project redefines the concept of a retail space by incorporating multiple functions. Beyond its retail area, it cleverly houses a small café in a rounded-like volume at the rear of the plane. The front section of the plane is transformed into the store’s first-class cabin, while retail class cabin 1 and retail class cabin 2 seamlessly extend the store, providing visitors with an expansive shopping experience. The strategic placement of cashier and storage rooms between retail class cabin 2 and the café ensures a smooth and efficient flow for both shopping and dining.
Spacemen, the architectural firm behind this project, has skillfully blended elements of retro-futurism, paying homage to the glamorous 1970s air travel era. The aircraft is ingeniously divided into four experiential cabins, each reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie set. This design approach not only invokes nostalgia but also transports visitors to an era characterised by a sense of optimism and futuristic vision.
The journey with Coach Airways begins in the First Class Cabin, where guests are treated to a truly unique experience. This section features a 2-seater faux pilot cockpit and 12 retro passenger seats, inviting visitors to indulge in the fantasy of commanding an aircraft while enjoying top-notch first-class service. This immersive setting offers a delightful blend of history and luxury.
Gridded Glass Flooring with Warm Lighting and Membrane Ceiling:
The concept of gridded glass flooring combined with warm lighting and a membrane ceiling creates a design approach that seamlessly blends elements of the past and the present, resulting in a harmonious and visually captivating environment.
Gridded glass flooring is a design and construction technique where individual glass panels are arranged in a grid or pattern to create a floor surface. This type of flooring is typically used in architectural and interior design to achieve various aesthetic and functional goals. Gridded glass flooring can allow light to pass through, creating a sense of openness and enhancing natural lighting in a space. This transparency is symbolic of the “new” or contemporary design ideals, emphasising openness and fluidity.
In contrast, the warm lighting and membrane ceiling lights introduce a touch of warmth and nostalgia reminiscent of traditional or classic aesthetics. The warm lighting softens the overall ambiance, evoking a sense of coziness and comfort. The membrane ceiling lights, with their gentle diffusion of light, add a layer of sophistication to the design, akin to the timeless elegance found in older architectural styles.
Together, this combination of elements achieves a sense of balance between the old and the new. The gridded glass flooring retains a modern and sleek appearance, while the warm lighting and membrane ceiling lights infuse a sense of familiarity and timelessness. This synthesis creates a space that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also emotionally resonant, offering a bridge between contemporary design sensibilities and a nod to the rich design heritage of the past.
Thoughtfully Curated Retail Spaces:
The Second and Third Cabins are transformed into thoughtfully curated retail spaces, where curved cabin walls are adorned in pastel colours. This design choice creates a nostalgic, fun, and immersive shopping experience. Visitors are not only shopping for products but also immersing themselves in a captivating and playful retail environment.
The Heart of the Aircraft:
The Fourth Cabin is truly the heart of the aircraft, housing the enchanting Coach Airways Cafe. It exudes an ambiance drenched in vibrant orange, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. This space invites passengers to savour delectable treats and unwind, evoking the essence of a bygone era when air travel was synonymous with sophistication and leisurely enjoyment.
The transformation of a retired Boeing 747-200 into a designer outlet store in Malacca, Malaysia, is a testament to creative innovation and offers visitors an extraordinary blend of aviation history and shopping. This venture stands as a testament to the endless possibilities of repurposing and pays homage to the enduring allure of aviation.
References- Worldarchitecture.org,, fahrenheitmagazine.com, simpleflying.com