Retail design — more than a decorative package

“When I review projects we've handled in the last eight or nine years, I'm amazed at the diversity,” says James Ryan, president of JPRA Architects in Farmington Hills, Mich. The firm has achieved success by tapping into a variety of retail ventures including designing regional malls, power centers, lifestyle centers as well as food court renovations.

Set to open this summer in Plano, Texas, is JPRA's new, upscale Shops at Willow Bend, a mall with a Texas mission style that's breaking the Taubman Co. mold. “They worked hard to get away from doing the same thing they've done at their other malls,” Ryan says.

Another of the firm's projects is the Mall at Robinson near Pittsburgh. This Forest City 870,000-sq.-ft. value center will offer retailers including JCPenney and Kaufman, as well as specialty shops and some big boxes. “We chose what we think is an elegant palatte for this middle-market mall,” Ryan explains. He believes the design will carry the center comfortably for at least 10 years.

Demographics play a crucial role when making architectural decisions. For instance, the Mall at Millenia in Orlando, Fla., generates nearly half of its potential customer base from tourists visiting nearby Disney World, Sea World and Warner Brothers entertainment venues. JPRA concluded the visitors and locals might respond more favorably to an education-oriented setting — so that's what they are getting.

Ryan says the Millenia retail environment is about man and man's existence. It's also about beauty. The design features a 1,200-ft.-long dome with a gentle S-curve some 60 ft. overhead. There will be a winter garden and a water garden with 35-ft. fountain. The central court features a circle 60 ft. in diameter, with dark green terrazzo and fish silhouettes from three to 20 inches in size. Twelve stainless steel masts, each with a canopy 35 ft. high, represent the months of the year. LED screens on the masts “can bring the world to the doorsteps — it's a wonderful way to educate the public,” Ryan says.

Closer to home, JPRA Michigan projects include the 730,000-sq.-ft. Fountain Walk in Novi and the Palladium in upscale Birmingham. “The Novi center has a Galyan's, a Sears Home Store, several restaurants, an 18-screen cinema and a skate park for skateboards,” Ryan says.

While the staff at JPRA is committing itself to several current retail projects, Ryan has taken a moment to step back and evaluate the future. “Retail is slowing down very fast,” he says. “We're lucky to have three regional centers under construction. Though Ryan would love to do churches and schools, “I go where my bread is buttered and retail is our core market — it's 90% of JPRA's business.” JPRA is always looking for new relationships. “I believe we will team in a way that hasn't been done in the past.”