Today's centers become focal points for social interaction

Nadel Architects Inc. is a multi-discipline architectural firm with divisions for retail, office/hotel, multi-family, residential, public/institutional, and interiors that are all overseen by division leaders. During the 28-year history of the firm's retail division, Nadel has specialized in single-story suburban neighborhood centers, power centers, and multi-story urban mixed-use developments.

As the trend toward social interaction at retail centers evolves, architects are designing more varieties of common areas that draw shoppers and keep them on-site longer. Waterscapes, landscapes, pedestrian pathways, sitting nodes, performance areas, and other amenities are all part of a retail architect's repertoire today.

“Fifteen years ago a few shopping centers might have dedicated 10% of their acreage to social interaction areas, but today more centers are using this concept and dedicating 25% to 30%,” says Jerry Kramer, executive vice president of the retail division, Nadel Architects, Los Angles.

At the 417,000-sq.-ft. Amerige Heights Town Center in Fullerton, Calif., for example, nearly 40% of the 41.5-acre site is dedicated to outdoor social interaction areas. A major part of the common area consists of a main street that ties together retailers and pedestrian areas with the proposed residential area. Nadel's recreation of two-story, brick and awning storefronts also fulfills city officials' request to replicate the Fullerton downtown district's 1930s-era design.

Amerige Heights is a true power center in that 75% of its GLA consists of big box retailers. However, Nadel's design successfully gives the large retailers modest storefront appearances in the Main Street area along with 60 smaller tenants.

Even the supermarket-based neighborhood center format is receiving more social interaction designs. For example, The Promenade at Town Center in Valencia, Calif., is a 22-acre neighborhood center anchored by the supermarket Vons-Pavilions and Home Goods. Even though it's a neighborhood center, it has an abundance of landscaping, plaza areas and sidewalks that encourage walking and gathering by patrons. The 190,000-sq.-ft. center has three plaza fountains, one which opens into a lagoon, plus sidewalks that are eight feet wider than those of a typical neighborhood center.

The trend toward more common area amenities is encouraging because it continues to drive competition within the retail industry. New centers continue to offer the public something more than just shopping, and older centers that want to remain competitive are renovating to include more social interaction.

“I'd say that at least half of our projects today have some type of enhanced area,” says Kramer. “In the near future I think you'll see things like kiosks being used outside strip and neighborhood centers. I think big box retail design is changing, too. They'll modify their shapes to encourage more social interaction. We're already seeing retailers like Lowe's open up its storefronts with more windows that will be more inviting to pedestrians.”