There's no denying that architecture plays a central role in the success of a retail property, and it's expected that the Lakes Mall's design — from its rustic style to its nautical themes — will contribute to endearing the center to local residents.

“Our goal is to create a place so that the people from this region — not necessarily someone from New York who happens to be shopping in Muskegon — will say ‘this is our mall, this is right for us. It's not like the one in Chicago or Detroit, but our place,’” says Darrell Pattison, director of design for KA, Inc. Architecture in Cleveland, the design firm for the Lakes Mall. Other building team members include general contractor EMJ Corporation, Chattanooga, Tenn., and civil engineer Gosling Czubak Engineering Sciences, Inc.

Environmental cues

Creating that sense of place and an appropriate scale, theme and ambiance for the Lakes Mall started by taking cues from the area's environment and history. The major influence was its association with water, including the nearby shore of Lake Michigan, as well as a series of smaller lakes and rivers and also woods. After the great Chicago fire, many local lumber barons became millionaires, thanks to the increased demand for wood to rebuild the city. In fact, Muskegon was once nicknamed the Lumber Queen of the World because of its numerous sawmills.

“Michigan is famous for the woods, lakes, hunting, fishing and summer resorts, so all of these things were circulating in our mind when we were deciding what to incorporate,” Pattison says. What emerged was a one-story plan encompassing 700,000 sq. ft., with a design evocative of the region. Given the region's long association with wood and furniture manufacturing, the design team opted for a rustic, lodge-like craftsman style of architecture that Pattison says was prolific in the Midwest. “The style was almost a precursor to the prairie style that Frank Lloyd Wright fostered and ran with,” he explains.

The exterior is distinguished by masonry walls that resemble stonework and a porte cochere at the main entrance that looks like timber and captures the feeling of a lodge. Pattison points out that, as always, the budget was a driving force. Yet the design team did not want to end up with a ho-hum, flat-roofed mall with low ceilings. Moreover, the Midwest is known for its long, gloomy winters, so a closed-in, somber feel inside was undesirable. “The challenge was to find a fairly inexpensive way to create some volume and a sense of grandeur within the space,” he says. It was accomplished through a series of skylights, clerestory windows and some 25-ft.-high pitched roof sections that seem like wood trusses to open up the interior and introduce natural light. “It becomes a bit more dramatic so that when you arrive at the center court, for example, not only does the space expand horizontally, but also vertically,” Pattison says.

Local themes

The palette and materials, too, were chosen to give the mall a specific sense of place. “A lot of the earth tones — green and a deep brown — convey a richness and warmth that would be very much in place in a heavily wooded area,” Pattison says. Other hues, like purples and reds, represent wildflowers. And rather than sleek, modern fixtures and furniture, the design team chose Shaker-style seating in wood and metal light fixtures that recall an assembled, craftsmen style.

A nautical theme, inspired by the local lakes and rivers, is most prominent in the food court, which includes a play area for children and the restaurants Chicago Grinders, Little Easy Cajun, Manchu Wok and Sbarro. The ambiance is that of a lakeside beach, and food court tenants are strung throughout the space like beach shops along a boardwalk. The theme is reinforced with green-gray clapboard, a replica of a lighthouse, ship-style light fixtures and a nautical map of the Great Lakes on the ceiling.

And rather than relying on the old standbys of mallard ducks or Canadian geese, the design team opted for a blue heron for the Lakes Mall's logo. “They're very dramatic, elegant birds and it's one of the more distinctive animals of the region. And it's distinctive enough so its profile was easily identifiable,” Pattison says.

Pattison expects that the Lakes Mall's design will serve the center well in attracting and keeping customers. “When there is competition, the way your center presents itself — its theming, warmth and friendliness — are the things people will relate to and why they'll adopt a mall and say ‘this is my favorite place to shop,’” he adds.