Strolling Main Street, wandering through the square, sinking onto a bench for a moment of respite under the shade of a 100-year-old oak or soaring palms ... For Americans of all ages, this is shopping the way it was meant to be.

At the recently opened Citrus Park Town Center in Northwest Tampa, that tradition emerges fresh and new because of a design concept that turns the mall inside out, while also attending to the details that create experiential places. The environmental graphic design and theming component of the project was critical in creating a street ambience that sets Chicago-based Urban Shopping Centers Inc.'s Citrus Park Town Center apart from other new regional mall developments. Grand facades, colorful canopies, exuberant shop windows and billboards peeking above the tops of stores, together with limestone floors, stone monument directories, splashing fountains and custom-designed furniture combine to create a grand downtown shopping thoroughfare indoors.

In creating the furniture for Main Street USA at Citrus Park Town Center, Baltimore-based RTKL and ID8, the firm's thematic design division, brainstormed about how best to capture the spirit of the project. Classic street benches were appropriate, but a twist was needed to make them unique to Citrus, not to mention a bit more whimsical than the average bench.

The result: a series of wood and cast-aluminum benches that combine the classic lines of a street bench with waves that mirror those in the shopping center's logo, which was also created by ID8.

Maple slats are anchored into cast-aluminum end frames, with the red waves and white star reinforcing the overall identity of Citrus Park Town Center. Some of the whimsy is apparent in the arms of the benches, which are tapered wood. They emulate the profile of a baseball bat, one of many examples of American iconography that reveals itself as shoppers stroll through the center.

Groupings of benches are arranged around planters along the center's East and West Main street, as well as at exterior entrances of the project. In the major intersections (courts) of the center -- Citrus Boulevard, JCPenney Avenue and Sears Avenue -- backless, semi-circular benches wrap around stone-clad, built-in planters that accommodate giant palm trees.

The Manufacturer's Challenge Once the designs for the various benches were down on paper, RTKL searched for manufacturers, ultimately selecting D.M. Braun & Co., a Santa Fe Springs, Calif., firm that specializes in public space furnishings.

As expected with any custom design product, the firm faced a number of challenges in converting the architect's concept into reality. The firm had to take a sketch and turn it into a comfortable, durable, low-maintenance piece of furniture with all the features one would expect in a standard product.

D.M. Braun also had to meet budget for a whole family of mall furnishings, including a full-circle bench, a three-quarter-circle bench, a straight bench for both interior and exterior spaces, and a litter receptacle for both indoor and outdoor use. None of these pieces had one single, standard part.

Lastly, the firm faced the challenge of delivering on schedule. This is made difficult because the firm had to allow time for design development and final drawings that required approval by all parties, not to mention engineering, new tooling for all metal parts, manufacturing, finishing, assembly and shipping.

After reviewing options, D.M. Braun determined that casting was the preferred method to manufacture the furniture frames because it provided the most economical way to produce the details of the design. Aluminum was selected as the casting material for its overall durability and because it could be used indoors or outdoors without rusting.

Maple slats on interior benches best met the design criteria for a natural wood that was light in appearance. Alaskan yellow cedar was selected for exterior seating, as it both fit the color palette and possessed the natural durability to withstand outdoor exposure.

To provide high durability, a clear polyurethane finish was applied to the maple and a clear acrylic sealer to the cedar. The aluminum frames received a catalyzed polyurethane paint finish in custom-mixed colors selected by the architect.

"Project-specific" and "concept to reality" are phrases architects frequently use to describe an overall approach to design. While many manufacturers tend to push a standard design or put forth extremely high, custom-fabrication charges, D. M. Braun's engineering and manufacturing staff thrive on building new and unusual furnishings that are an integral part of the design theme.

As a result of their efforts and a close collaboration between all members of the design and development team, Citrus Park Town Center effectively brings the outdoors in. The team has produced a lively shopping environment that captures all the timeless pleasures of shopping along downtown thoroughfares. Their innovative approach to crafting these elements helped create the Main Street effect.