Gone are the days of simply paving a lot from curb to property line. With techniques that include earth mounding, landscape planting, lighting and environmental graphics, curb appeal is more than a courtesy to property guests; it's a marketing tool for property owners. You're sending out an invitation.

Because the functional role of the space between a commercial building and the property line is primarily driving and parking, landscape architects must meet the fundamental need with durable and safety-promoting products while making this area welcoming to customers. These durable construction products are often aesthetically harsh materials such as concrete and bright overhead (general) lighting.

One way to add warmth to this austere environment is to incorporate manmade earth-mounds to create visual interest, add visual barriers and produce soft curves. To make concrete parking surfaces more interesting, add variety to the design with concrete colors and scoring or by incorporating stone pavers. Using pavers as accents to concrete enhances durability while adding to the pedestrian-friendly feel of the lot. It also lends nice transition between the property site/parking lot and the building.

The plants, grass, trees and shrubbery - both surrounding the buildings and on self-contained islands - also soften the landscape. It's best to select sturdy, low-maintenance species such as deciduous trees (oak, maple, ash, etc.) and evergreens. Today, evergreens are used more for accent plantings and less for screening - an exception to this being the generation of a visual barrier between the retail property and its residential neighbors. A heavy use of perennial as opposed to annual species makes economic and aesthetic sense because these types spread more easily and are usually self-propagating, which results in a significantly reduced cost for annual plant/flower purchasing and planting over time.

With the inclusion of more vegetation in these areas and considering recent weather trends (excluding the recent El Nino), irrigation is extremely important, even in the Northern, typically cooler, states. Places that are hot, dry and arid for even part of the year need a good irrigation system in place to protect the turf and landscape plantings.

Further diminishing stark exterior edges and balancing the general overhead illumination for driving/parking areas, landscape architects working with lighting consultants create accent or ambiance lighting. The architect shares with the lighting specialist the concept or mood desired by the client and seeks advice on the best means and products for accomplishing the goal. Options include uplighting trees, shrubs or signage or selection of specific light types.

The impact of signage and environmental graphics should not be underestimated. This is another instance in which an architect specializing in landscape design/site planning works closely with another design specialist toward an end result. The landscape architect paints with broad brushstrokes, letting environmental graphic designers fill in the white space. The landscape architect usually sets the parameters for the graphic designer regarding theme, size, general shape, actual location, etc.

Environmental graphics refers not only to thematic signage, which can serve to unify the property and the purpose of the building by incorporating names and logos, but it can also be used for wayfinding, helping direct traffic and reminding customers where they parked. This may be as simple as using different-colored graphics for different areas of a parking area to stimulate visual recognition.

Utilizing various materials, property owners can soften the edges and enhance the transitional areas between the building, the property site and the surrounding community. Making certain that materials fit the location (geographically as well as thematically and with regard to physical size) and by utilizing colors and textures that complement building and interior design, landscape architects and owners can create curb appeal that encourages customers to visit the strip center or mall.