The ever-popular Japanese lifestyle brand, MUJI, has finally made its way to Portland. Established in 1980 with a strong emphasis on simplicity and sustainability, MUJI had 454 stores in Japan alone as of 2017, with an additional 474 stores throughout the rest of the world (17 of which are in the US). Its first store in the Pacific Northwest now occupies the ground floor in the historic Meier and Frank building adjacent to Pioneer Courthouse Square. MUJI, a shortening of the phrase “Mujirushi Ryohin,” means “no brand quality goods.” and its stores stock over 4,000 different products including household items, apparel, and food items, all with little to no packaging.

Background + Scope of Work

R&H worked with Bora Architects to transform 13,000 square feet in the of the former Macy’s Department Store into a one-of-a-kind flagship store for MUJI. With a nod to the region, design features include locally sourced reclaimed lumber, local products like coffee, pastries, and essential oils, and artwork created by Pacific Northwest College of Art students. The project team successfully navigated many challenges, including unknowns of the existing building, material sourcing, site access, remote communication with the Japan-based client, and an accelerated project schedule.


The local MUJI retail store would not only reflect MUJI’s culture, values and vision, but would also incorporate aspects of Portland’s unique culture and history. Unlike other stores around the world, which are designed to mimic the look and feel of one another, MUJI wanted the Portland location to be a one-of-a-kind flagship store that incorporated aspects of Portland’s distinctive culture and history. Realizing this unique vision required the collaboration of eight firms around the world including local partners KPFF and PAE. The tenant improvement transformed the empty, half-block, ground-floor retail space into an open concept environment evoking a Japanese open market and enhancing the rich experience of discovering MUJI’s wide range of products. Upon entering the store, shoppers are greeted by the aroma of locally sourced essential oils. MUJI aims to encourage shoppers to slow down, relax, and enjoy the store’s atmosphere. Throughout the store, reclaimed timber benches offer integrated USB ports for charging iPhones and the heart of the store houses a coffee bar, featuring rotating beans from local roasters, for customers to enjoy.

Three different tones of hand-scraped wide plank oak flooring and polished concrete seamlessly transition between the ten different departments showcased in the Portland store. White wood floors define the women’s apparel area, dark wood floors flow through the men’s apparel section, and polished concrete floors house the stationary and home goods products. The schedule required the early sourcing and installation of the wood floors, which were laid well before other installations, and had to be carefully protected by plywood sheets during the remainder of construction.

The Portland store also boasts unique art installations throughout the space. Above the main staircase, a glass jar art piece containing 1,203 mason jars is suspended from a wire mesh ceiling, illuminated by dozens of LED light fixtures. An art wall at the back of the store features a 30-foot-long installation of translucent storage containers, backlit to illuminate the surrounding space. Stationary papers are suspended in a whimsical fashion above the journals for sale. The final art installation features an art wall created by twelve students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art that features unique “tangible memories” donated by Portlanders, paying homage to the city’s identity.

Challenges and Obstacles

Executing this large scale, complex tenant improvement posed numerous challenges for the project team including the pressure to differentiate the vision of this location. One of the most distinctive elements of the Portland store is the use of heavy timber wood beams throughout the interior of the store. Beams were handpicked and locally sourced from Pioneer Mill Works in McMinnville, Oregon. From there, each beam was tagged and labeled for the exact location that it would be placed within the store. Each beam was selected based on color, structure, cross-section, and length, some up to 42 feet long. Once all lumber was sourced, each piece had to be inspected and graded to confirm they were structurally acceptable. Axiom Custom Products, R&H’s subcontractor, tediously scrubbed each approved beam down with a wire brush, cut them down to their individual lengths, and stained them to match the aesthetic within the store.

To maneuver the beams into the site posed a number of obstacles. The loading requirements of the existing slab could only withstand the weight of light-weight lifting equipment, which meant that each beam had to be erected by hand into position. Not only was it a challenge to hand select beams that would fit in the different areas of the store, the existing building conditions posed a challenge in itself. The floor within the space sloped 11 inches within 83 feet, creating issues when cutting and erecting beams. To offset the obvious slope of the floors, Axiom Custom Products built a 3-D model of the existing floor, allowing them to measure and cut every vertical member to a unique length and establish a consistent, level ceiling datum.
The project site, previously the ground floor of Macy’s, also posed a set of challenges for the project team Challenges within this historic building included:

  • Historic building limitations. Because the Meier and Frank Building is on the historic building registrar, permitting and approval through the city was a much longer process. Exterior signage on the building included an extensive design review. Because of the time this process took, the project team took a leap of faith and ordered signage early to get it up on the building in time for opening day.
  • Sloping floors. Before construction could begin, the bumps and divots in the concrete needed to be smoothed. The floor sloping created several issues with maintaining a constant ceiling height throughout the space.
    Open ceiling overhead coordination. MEP systems had to be coordinated in conjunction with the open ceiling to be aesthetically pleasing, meet code required clearances, and work with the timber structures which reach up to the ceiling deck.
  • Site location. MUJI backs up to the SW Fifth Avenue MAX line and valet drop-off for the Nines Hotel on another side, which limited parking and deliveries to a short 100 foot stretch of SW Alder Street
  • Working in an occupied building. This active project site included other teams completing tenant improvement projects within the building as well as Oregon State University staff and students who were occupying the space right above MUJI. We had to carefully schedule work to minimize noise during class times. The basement floors below MUJI are fully finished, containing amenity spaces for the building – a fitness center, conference and event spaces, and locker facilities. The infrastructure required for the coffee bar and restrooms (waste lines and grease interceptor) required careful coordination and rework of finishes to the basement ceiling.
  • Working in tandem with Portland’s only 5-star hotel. The Nine’s Hotel is situated next to and on top of the MUJI site. Our project team carefully considered the needs of hotel guests, including safety, inconvenience, and noise. Some areas of work took place in the middle of the night to minimize disruption.

An integrated project team allowed us to mitigate and successfully tackle these obstacles and challenges.

The project team was made up of eight firms from around the world. Super Potato (Japan, designer), Bora (Oregon, local architect), MUJI (Japan, owner), ERI Project Management (New York, owner’s representative), PAE (Oregon, MEP engineer), KPFF (Oregon, structural engineer), Conceptual Lighting (Connecticut, lighting designer), and our R&H team. With the sixteen-hour time difference to Japan and three-hour time difference to New York, both teams faced early mornings and late nights. This time difference greatly influenced the documentation process with communication taking place mainly on PDF and document markups. RFI’s and issues that arose typically needed to be dealt with in less than 24 hours, so that Japan had ample time to respond. The team held bi-weekly conference calls after business hours between Oregon, New York, and Japan to review and address shop drawing comments in order to allow for 48-hour review periods between all parties.

Budget and Schedule

The overall project was delivered on an accelerated schedule, four weeks ahead of a traditional schedule, just in time for the holiday shopping season. This was accomplished by maintaining a collaborative relationship with owner, designer, architect, and contractor team throughout the duration of the project, and with many hours of overtime, the project team worked 60-70 hours a week for the entire duration of the project. Trades worked every Saturday and 10-12 hour days for four months. These extra man hours helped drive the schedule to the finish line and MUJI was able to open on time for Black Friday.

In order to be fully operational in time for the holiday shopping season, the owner requested that the project team accelerate the project schedule. This included expediting materials, early release packages, and significant overtime for the trades. In the end, MUJI made the decision to increase their original budget to meet this new deadline. This accelerated schedule also presented safety concerns due to the large number of trade’s people working in the space at one time and the necessity of high level trades coordination (at one point, there were 15 scissor lifts within the site at one time, while flooring was being installed.) Upon project completion, there were zero safety incidents or injuries during the duration of the project.

MUJI launched with an invite-only grand opening event on November 16th to great reception with all major work and the majority of punchlist completed, and opened to the public the following day. With lines around the block to get into the store opening weekend, MUJI has been busy since day one. With this momentum, this location should become a long time Portland establishment with roots tied to both the local community and its Japanese origin.

Photos Credit: David Papazian Photography and © Axiom Custom Products 2018, Photo by Sarah Abbott