Baltimore, Maryland

Exceeding customer expectations

The retail center is in a constant state of evolution. Pedestrian neighborhoods, transit-oriented developments and urban villages have had a marked impact on consumer expectations in the past several years, and retail designers and developers have been called upon to respond with innovation to the new aspirations and inclinations of shoppers. A Baltimore-based, multi-disciplined design practice, RTKL is no exception to this trend. The firm is a leader in the design of retail centers that defy the traditional mall diagram.

Many of RTKL's retail projects owe a clear debt to the principles of humanistic urban design on which its practice was founded more than five decades ago. “We're fusing the knowledge that helped us shape prominent areas like Baltimore's Inner Harbor, in the 1950s and 1960s, with our acquired knowledge in retail design to create destinations with a true sense of place,” says Jeffrey Gunning AIA, VP and director of RTKL's retail/entertainment sector.

This sense of place pervades the firm's most recent hybrid mall projects. The highly successful Streets at Southpoint, in fast-growing Durham, N.C., is one example.

“The Streets at Southpoint really embodies the next generation of retail destinations,” says Gunning. The 1.3 million-sq.-ft. development integrates a 160,000-sq.-ft. open-air Main Street, a 345,000-sq.-ft. regional mall, and five major anchor stores into a cohesive retail/entertainment destination.

“The owners, Urban Retail Properties, wanted to explore the boundaries between indoor retail and the traditional Main Street,” says Gunning. The result is a fluid boundary between center and streetscape. The outdoor segment accommodates a mix of lifestyle- and entertainment-oriented retailers, restaurants, and an 18-screen plus IMAX theater. It establishes a Main Street feel that flows into the enclosed, two-level mall at the opposite end of the development, where pedestrian streets and storefronts are evoked through creative design details.

Design details lend a regional authenticity to another new hybrid project in a high-growth area, Bowie Town Center in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. Architecture, colors and materials throughout recall the City of Bowie's early railroad heritage. Storefronts are distinguished by period details such as overhangs, awnings, and ornamental metalwork, and the streetscape incorporates head-in parking, large street trees, traditional light poles with banners, freestanding planters, benches and special paving.

But according to Gunning, these details aren't the only distinguishing feature of the project: “This is Main Street with a twist: department stores anchor it at each end, while smaller shops open onto a two-lane retail street and three cross streets.”

Even in a relatively new and largely untapped market like South Africa, there is room for a twist of innovation. RTKL recently provided the architecture, imaging, landscaping and graphics for the 1.6 million-sq.-ft. Gateway Shopping Center in Umhlanga, South Africa. To meet the needs of a large and diverse consumer base, the three-level project weaves in both indoor and outdoor elements. RTKL developed separate graphic identities for Gateway's individual zones, which include a traditional enclosed shopping mall, a multiplex cinema, seven anchor tenants, a hypermarket, an outdoor retail and restaurant arcade, and three structured parking decks.