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Natural Wonder

El Palacio de Hierro expands its footprint to Mexico’s booming Querétaro market




The Spanish colonial town of Querétaro, Mexico, is home to more than 1.8 million residents. With an influx of young professionals, particularly in the engineering and aerospace sectors, city planners envision exponential growth and social and economic revitalization. At the vortex of this urban evolution is the new mixed-use Antea Lifestyle Center, anchored by two quintessential Mexican department stores, El Palacio de Hierro and Liverpool, both headquartered in Mexico City.

El Palacio de Hierro partnered with San Francisco-headquartered design firm, Gensler, to provide an upscale, experiential shopping environment consistent with the brand’s heritage and luxury product mix. “The client wanted a deeply rooted, yet updated interpretation of Querétaro,” says Michael Gatti, principal, Gensler. Toward that end, the first phase of the project entailed an exhaustive study of the region’s varied and remarkable landscape that comprises a high desert, tropical forests, a verdant jungle and dusty brown hills replete with caves and windblown tumbleweed.

Additionally, Gensler collaborated with the retailer’s in-house store planning, marketing and advertising teams to conduct a comprehensive demographic analysis. The research findings led to a design solution offering a sophisticated, abstract interpretation of the local terrain and community characteristics.

The biggest challenge facing the design team was the magnitude of the store’s space: 40 departments housed within a 300,000-square-foot envelope spanning three floors. While each department demanded its own signature, the holistically designed space is united by one universal theme seamlessly integrated throughout.

Upon entering, customers are invited on a journey of discovery, evocative of a voyage through a natural wellspring similar to those found in the Querétaro landscape. “The ground floor references a wellspring, or cenote, with design components inspired by a riverbed and natural cliff face,” Gatti explains. “In addition, we incorporated indigenous materials such as river rock and marble.”

References to the lush regional surroundings are evident at the store entryway to the mall with water features and garden-like plantings.


The department store’s focal point is a grand atrium featuring angled escalators and a geometric skylight referencing the crystal-like facets of the area’s surrounding cliff face. This dramatic architectural statement provides a connection to the community, serving as a central meeting place and recognizable store element. The wow factor is a vertical two-story digital screen that spans the open space below the skylight and projects images and targeted messages onto a pool of water.

In a classic example of experiential retail, the second level features individually designed departments sharing a common element: references to the specific foliage found in the surrounding forests of Querétaro. The customer journey culminates at the upper level, housing technology, home goods, gourmet food and luggage, with surface treatments evocative of the night sky. 

With the luxury retailer’s flag firmly planted in this burgeoning Mexican metropolis, Marketing Director Carlos Salcido reports that sales after the October 2014 opening exceeded projections by 50 percent. “This store undoubtedly captures our DNA,” Salcido says. “It’s given our brand an exceptional head start in one of Mexico’s fastest growing markets.” 

El Palacio de Hierro, Querétaro, Mexico 

Design and Architecture
Gensler, New York: Michael Gatti, senior director; Kate Russell, design director; John Bricker, creative director; Katharine O'Toole, space planner and project manager

General Contractor
Grupo Rioboo, Chapultepec, Mexico


Exterior Architecture
Sordo Madeleno Architects, Chapultepec, Mexico

Ceilings, Fixtures
Grupo Stor, Mexico City

Porcelanosa Group, Castellon, Spain

Grupo Stor, Mexico City

Amerlux, Jersey City, N.J.

Innovations in Wallcoverings, New York
MDC Wallcoverings, New York


Outside Design Consultants
Sordo Madeleno Architects, Chapultepec, Mexico

Audio/Visual, Furniture, Signage/Graphics
El Palacio de Hierro, Mexico City

Photography: Charlie Mayer, Chicago & Hector Armando Herrera, Mexico City




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