Design Choices Behind the Chocolate Avenue Stores

Angelina Memmi, Layout

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Many people only see the final look of architecture, without pondering why a building looks the way it does, but a designer for the Chocolate Avenue stores uncovers the reasons and design choices behind the new addition to Downtown Hershey.

Kyle Solyak, a Director of Architecture at TONO Architects, explained that a great deal of thought and consideration went into the design. Solyak and the architects at TONO have a number of design aspects to consider when starting a new project.

The inspiration for the Chocolate Avenue stores stemmed from two main elements.

“The location of the site which sits between Hershey Park and Chocolate Ave., both represent an almost constant motion,” Solyak said.

Solyak also tried to capture that in a continuous rhythm throughout the building. Those passing by can see this in what Solyak called the “Ribbon,” which are the dark, linear overhangs that extend from grade (ground level) to rooftop and rise and fall across the exteriors of all three buildings.  

Each store has black edges incorporated on some its edges, which Solyak called the “Ribbon.” These edges are supposed to represent a “constant motion,” and tie each building together. (Broadcaster/Angelina Memmi)

“While the owner wanted a uniquely modern structure, [TONO] felt strongly that it still needed to identify to the surrounding architectural vernacular (theme) of Downtown Hershey,” said Solyak.

To achieve the look of modern yet classic Hershey, Solyak observed the materials used in the neighboring buildings. Brick and stone is intermixed with modern aspects to give the stores a traditional, yet present-day appearance.

“While the building is certainly its own architecture, the materials used, tie it into the surrounding buildings,” said Solyak.

When designing a nearly 30,000 sq. ft. space with 13 future tenants, many challenges could arise. However, Solyak said they did not have any trouble with the Chocolate Avenue stores, but explained that with any project, there is an unquantifiable amount of items that need to be coordinated. This involved a lot of communication between all parties involved to make sure we were addressing all the requirements while still maintaining budget and design intent.

The original design for the stores was actually completed in about a week.

“However, that [original concept] was modified and developed to the final built design over a period of approximately 9 months. Many aspects will appear throughout the process, such as cost and city/town approvals, that will change the design. While the built version maintains the original design ideas mentioned, the final construction is drastically different from the original concept,” said Solyak.

The largest conflict that TONO ran into while designing the Chocolate Avenue stores was the expensive cost and Derry Township’s disapproval of an original idea that was included in the (whole) project.

“The original design had apartments for up to four floors above the first floor retail. So in that regards, our biggest design hurdle was to overcome the loss of the apartments while maintaining the integrity of the design in the original concept,” said Solyak.

The loss of the apartments was not the only regret TONO had. A small one still lingers in Solyak’s mind.

“On this project, for me, it came down to the minor details, probably things that most people will never notice, but that I know could have been established better.  Some of those items were how some of the materials came together to meet another material or making sure electrical, mechanical, and plumbing equipment was located properly,” said Solyak.

But after years of the Chocolate Avenue stores development, Solyak said TONO Architects is very proud of the outcome. Before this project was established, the property was a void in Downtown Hershey, with an entire block empty and little pedestrian activity.

TONO worked with RVG Management and Development to transform the look of Chocolate Avenue. They had the goal of building a modern structure that still reflects the unique look of Hershey, and Solyak said TONO feels that they were successful in that nature, and having been there to see the stores open, downtown Hershey had more people walking the streets than we witnessed all summer long. A good sign for all the new and existing businesses in and around Hershey Towne Square.

Solyak also explained that the challenges of designing architecture do not come from creating something beautiful, but from creating something beautiful that will also work. A structure must stand the test of time, be safe and meet the needs of the occupants, and must be able to be realistically built.

“Designing something that looks beautiful, to me, tends to be the easy part. Where it becomes architecture over art is having to make that beautiful creation meet the functional parameters of the project,” said Solyak.

Specifically for the Chocolate Avenue stores, he said that the challenges came from the site parameters, working with the existing grades, being able to fit all of the requirements on the site based on the owners need and desires, balanced against the Township Ordinances and building code requirements. Along with maintaining the communication and requirements of all 13 tenants.

“Architecture is an interesting thing,” said Solyak, “In one way it can be considered art, in others it’s purely functional, a means to work, to live, to provide shelter and comfort. But regardless of how it’s viewed or defined, it has an impact on our everyday lives.”

The original design of the stores were first shown in early Feb. 2018. As Solyak said, the concept and final outcome both include the mix of stone and brick, but the finished project lost the apartments on the upper stories. (TONO Architects, via Downtown Hershey)