New generation of mixed-use

Consumers expect more from their retail centers today than they did in previous decades. Pedestrian neighborhoods, transit-oriented developments and urban villages are all concepts that are having an impact on what consumers expect and what architecture firms are delivering. Baltimore-based, multi-disciplined firm RTKL is no exception. It has had a strong hand in shaping retail for more than five decades.

According to Jeffrey Gunning, VP and director of RTKL's retail/entertainment sector, the firm's retail design focus is returning to a mixed-use nature, not unlike concepts embodied in some of its projects — Reston Town Center in Virginia and Tower City Center, Cleveland, for example — completed in the early 1990s. “Suddenly our urban design experience, coupled with a growing portfolio of residential work, are integral to a new breed of mixed-use.”

In fact, one of RTKL's most recent projects, Mockingbird Station, Dallas, is described by Gunning as “a textbook example of the new trends toward urbanism, living above the shop and transit-oriented developments.” The $90 million project, which opened in May, is a 10-acre mixed-use village that ties directly into the Mockingbird Lane DART commuter station. The neighborhood is only eight minutes by rail from the city's central business district. It includes restaurants, office space and more than 90 shops. The central piece of the project is a 1930s brick warehouse that has been converted to 211 loft apartments, and at the ground floor are retail and restaurant spaces. The project takes its design cues from the warehouse, with exposed brick and concrete dominating the construction.

Another project, the Woodlands, Texas, is a planned community that was built in the 1970s. A new RTKL masterplan creates a town center that accommodates retail, residential and major public spaces adjacent to a canal, as well as an open air expansion of an existing mall. At one end of the canal is a waterside residential and commercial component and at the other end will be a high-density urban core, with office, hotel, retail and residential components.

For many years, RTKL has also exported its expertise to all parts of the globe, and sees new opportunities in southern Europe, Japan and Australia. Among RTKL's international work are the Printworks, an urban entertainment district in Manchester, United Kingdom; the 1.85 million-sq.-ft. Lalaport Shopping Center in suburban Tokyo; the Gateway Shopping Center, the central piece of a new town center planned for Umhlanga Rocks, a coastal suburb north of Durban, South Africa; and the 1.3 million-sq.-ft. Chadstone Shopping Centre, Melbourne, Australia, to which the firm recently added a 354,000-sq-ft. fashion galleria. Its international foothold also puts the firm in a good position to ride out the economic uncertainties that a slowing market at home presents. According to Gunning, international projects account for more than 30% of RTKL's annual billing. “Our international work tends to help shore up weaknesses in a U.S. economy and vice versa,” he says.