I believe in a holistic design approach.
To me, planning, architecture and gardens are different aspects of the same overall design, they depend on each other and follow the same design principles.
Recently, I co-authored an article entitled "Current Trends and Design of Lifestyle Shopping Centers." It is a cover story and featured article for Mall China magazine, and it is also available at MallChina's website. I think you may be interested.
For your convenience, I also the entire article below:
Current Trends and Design of Lifestyle Shopping Centers
Lifestyle shopping centers, over the last few years, have become very popular among consumers; as a result they have been very successful for developers and owners alike. In the United States alone, there have been over 150 lifestyle shopping centers built since 2002. China and other countries around the world, are also finding themselves apart of this trend and it has shown great momentum with developers.
A lifestyle center is an "undercover" mall. It may appear as a public space, but it is often a commercial space owned by private parties. It removes the confines of the roof and corridors of a mall, and opens up to the sky with plazas, broad sidewalks, fountains, sculptures, colorful & decorative pavement, and themed or nostalgic facades. The centers often have an urban inner city street (Main Street) theme, with automobile parking on either side of the street between shops, and one or more anchor building(s) located at the ends of the street as vistas. On occasion the street may be used exclusively for pedestrians, but more often they utilize the more dramatic shopping experience of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Lifestyle centers have been successful at attracting family shoppers with funds to spend. They do this by incorporating in the design nice site amenities such as fountains, landscape, sculptures, kiosks, benches, play and entertainment areas. A successful and well-designed lifestyle shopping center will not only attract people from its immediately neighborhood, but also people from across the city and hopefully beyond, "a Destination" if you will. It is a safe and pleasant place where mothers can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, while watching their children play, have fun and do a little window shopping. For this reason, features like outdoor stages, amphitheaters, merry-go-rounds, koi ponds, playgrounds or even ice skating rinks are frequently integrated into lifestyle centers to attract those families with children. On the other hand lots of people simply go to a lifestyle center, to hang out and have fun!
A lifestyle center's initial investment may cost a little more to build, but they have proven the ability to bring in higher returns; because of the traffic and exposure generated by a good design. People also feel they are closer to nature because of the landscape features and open-air environment of a lifestyle center. This also creates the likelihood of substantial energy savings and reduced operation and maintenance costs, because of the lack of the need for a roof and enclosed corridors that have to be air-conditioned.
Please note, we are NOT saying an open-air lifestyle center is better than a traditional enclosed mall. Each has its pros and cons. A traditional, enclosed mall is very valuable and can create a pleasant retreat in areas with extreme weather conditions like snow, heat and humidity. In these areas, the air-conditioning costs are justified and can bring back very high returns.
In current design trends, there are three basic layouts for lifestyle shopping centers:
1. A "T" Street layout with shops along the legs of the "T" and anchor buildings at the top of the "T". The street can be designed as pedestrian-oriented, with the parking and service entrances placed at the back of the building, out of sight from the street. The main advantage of this layout is shoppers can see all the shops along a street at a glance and freely move between them. The intersection of the three "legs" of the "T" street is a focus point and an important element of the design. A fountain or sculpture is often placed at this focal point. The anchor, at the end of the street, is commonly an iconic building with impressive unique features that shoppers will be drawn to and remember. In addition, as part of this iconic building, we often include a tower to create vertical interest and draw attention to the heart of the lifestyle center.
For example (See Figure 1a, Site Plan for "The District"), for "The District" project at Green Valley Ranch, we use the "T" Street layout and place parking at the rear of the buildings. We worked with the developer and place a nice abstract sculpture at the intersection of the "T" streets, and added a four-sided clock tower next to it. The use of brick pavers and textured concrete creates interesting patterns for the hardscape. We were able to use differing facade setbacks, texture, colors, decorative trim, tile roofs, pre-fabricated bridges, and domes to create cohesive and appealing building elevations (See Figure 1b, Elevations for "The District"). On the first floor to gain flexibility for the shops and restaurant spaces, we used pedestal (concrete deck over steel framing) construction to keep the space wide open which increased the usable areas. For the offices on the second floor and the residential units on the third and fourth floors, we utilized either light-gauge metal or wood studs to reduce construction cost. "The District" turned out to be a tremendous success; it is filled each day with people and full of life and excitement, but more importantly happy shoppers. It was the first truly mixed-use project in Las Vegas and has become an attractive tourist destination.
2. A "Cross" Street layout. This layout is similar to the "T" Street layout, except the intersections or plazas can be more powerful and it can provide more flexibility with the size of the development. With the possibility for multiple "Cross" streets and additional anchors, this affords the designer and developer with the ability to create larger centers efficiently, all at once or over time with careful use of construction phasing of the overall project. This can be accomplished with the layout of the main street and adding (phasing) multiple cross streets along the axis as the center develops over time.
3. A "Loop" layout. The "loop" can be a regular or an irregular shape. The shops are arranged around both sides of the "loop" street or pedestrian mall. This layout takes advantage of the shopper visiting the entire center without having to back track along the same route again. It creates a very refreshing feeling for them. For example, we use an irregular shape "loop" layout in our project, the Shops at Boca Park (See Figure 2a, Site Plan for the Shops at Boca Parks). Two rows of palm trees are planted along the wide pedestrian walks, and form the main "loop." Small entrances and alleyways, to provide areas of mystery and exploration for shoppers to browse, are created along the "loop." The layout incorporates a large landscaped open space on the East side of the "loop," in front of one of the anchor buildings. Again, here our iconic building applies a tower element to serve as a focal point, for visitors to find comfort, fun and many ways to spend their money. The Anchor building was themed after a very nice train station in a metropolitan area and sets the theme for the rest of the center. (See Figure 2b, Site Plan U-1, the Shops at Boca Parks)
People bring life, and therefore the meaning of the word "life", in lifestyle shopping centers. We strive to create lifestyle centers, for our clients, which provide a pleasant environment with lots of enjoyable, entertaining spaces that attract a broad cross section of people looking for a wonderful shopping experience. If we grasp and exploit this fact by incorporating it in the research, planning and design for lifestyle shopping centers, our clients have the greatest chance for success.