Beyond returning retail to the community and making centers pedestrian friendly, a benefit of the Main Street movement is that more natural light can be used to illuminate interior spaces, says Randolph R. Croxton, AIA, president of Croxton Collaborative Architects PC, New York.

In the past, retail designers have blocked natural light for fear it would increase ultraviolet rays, glare and a building's heat load. But, according to Croxton, new glazing and orientation technologies can eliminate daylight's downside.

His firm is helping one developer save energy and protect the environment with a prototype redesign of two centers. Cambridge, Mass.-based Gravestar has commissioned the firm to design the redevelopment of two of its Boston-area strip centers, Woburn Mall and Sudbury Plaza. Six other Gravestar strip centers will follow suit, gaining not only updated looks but also sustainable, energy-conscious designs.

"Each design uses natural light as an energy-saving device," says Croxton. "We're directing natural light into the stores and improving light levels in the store, as well as reducing the mirror-like glare associated with it."

With a computer simulation of natural light as it passes through a store each day, Croxton's designers were able to fine-tune its orientation and behavior in the space to make sure "it's a good citizen."

In addition, current glazing technologies reject 99% of ultraviolet rays, so the light coming in is not elevating the temperature - or damaging a retailer's products. By shaping well-glazed windows in strategic smaller openings, Croxton increased natural light without increasing electric output for air conditioning.

Solar savvy Gone are the expensive, ugly solar panels that first appeared in the '70s. Current models are reaching price points that make them affordable to a broader range of owners, including shopping center owners. "Ultimately, centers will run in renewable instead of fossil fuels," Croxton predicts. "These centers are very large horizontal areas with huge roof areas. Photovoltaic panels are a natural."

Croxton hopes that, as prices drop, solar technology will move from its "totally untapped" status.

In that vein, programs such as Virginia Solar Energy (VASE) are under way to support solar introduction. VASE is funding two-thirds of the solar costs at a center for which Croxton Collaborative is designing the conversion. The New Jersey center's developer, New York-based Renewal, and Gravestar are both incorporating dramatically supported solar systems, says Croxton, who senses that other developers will follow as prices and technology reach their peak appeal.