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At NYC's First Pot Dispensary, Transparency Informs a Modern Design

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What does it take to design a medical marijuana dispensary? Transparency, as it turns out. The design firm RPG, which specializes in conceptualizing retail stores (their clients include Burberry, Belvedere Vodka, and Birchbox), worked with Columbia Care, the group behind NYC's first pot dispensary, to take on the challenge. "This was a great, new experience for us," says Bruce Teitelbaum, the CEO of RPG. "We're really happy that we got to partner with a company that is groundbreaking and game changing in the field of natural therapy, and a company that is bettering people's lives."

In its design, RPG wanted to create a space that was devoid of too many barriers. The waiting room an open-concept rectangular room, with a contiguous green bench running along one end, a few chairs with brown upholstery placed in the middle, and posters depicting nature on the other side of the wall. Even in the dispensary, which is located in the space past the waiting room, the only barrier is in the form of a short, glass wall that separates the pharmacist from the customers. There are tables in the middle of the dispensary where patients can discuss their ailments with the pharmacists or peruse the tablets placed in front of them to learn more about different forms of treatment. "Columbia Care wanted their patients to feel a sense of community," Teitelbaum told Curbed. "The space offers more opportunity to be social. It doesn't feel like there are too many physical barriers, you can stand there with a pharmacist and ask questions or do your own research." Of course, in any medical situation, there are also concerns about privacy. To address that need, there's a also a private consultation area beyond the dispensary.

One of the toughest challenges for RPG was working with the strict guidelines the Department of Health provides for the creation of such a dispensary. And while the spaces might be open, they are also distinctly divided, and customers need to pass through several 'layers', so to speak, before they can actually consult with a pharmacist. For one, customers need to present their requisite papers and be identified via video outside the store. A staff member at the receptionist's desk then verifies that information as you wait in a vestibule outside the waiting room. It's only after that that patients sit in the waiting room, and eventually make their way to the dispensary.

Keeping some of those limitations in mind, RPG wanted to create a calming environment and as a result has focused on a simple yet modern aesthetic, using materials like wood, marble, and bronze, with white finishes throughout. The designers also emphasized soft lighting to create a welcoming environment. "We wanted to make the design contemporary," Teitelbaum explains. "The touches of wood add a warm element, and the images in the waiting room and pharmacy provide good deal of education so patients are able to learn on their own terms. All the elements we used underscore the organic nature of the product and the natural therapy being provided."

Also notable is the use of potted plants in slender wooden boxes in the waiting room, and in geometric glass terrariums in the dispensary. While the company is not allowed to display the Cannabis plant, the architects used greenery to ensure that the space didn't look sterile, Teitelbaum said.

Columbia Care approached RPG to design the store, and were drawn in by their extensive background in retail design, according to Teitelbaum. "RPG took Columbia Care's vision to create a consistent but unique patient experience by balancing our compassion, medical mission and connection with one of nature's most powerful medicines," Nicholas Vita, the CEO of Columbia Care, said in a press release. "Their collaborative approach resulted in a design and final product that exceeded our expectations."
· Go Inside NYC's First Medical Marijuana Dispensary [Curbed]