According to Darrell K. Pattison, director of design for Cleveland-based KA, Inc. Architecture, there were numerous skeptics when KA answered yes to the question, “Any chance of designing and building Polaris Fashion Place on an aggressive 15-month schedule?” But KA, Inc. Architecture's ability to turn out high quality drawings at breakneck speed, coordinate with construction manager Whiting-Turner, Baltimore, and a vast array of other design and building team members allowed the center to see its last steel beam raised on March 28, 2001.

Despite the compressed schedule, KA delivered an elegant, hospitable design that is a true departure from the glass-chrome-marble ambiance typically associated with retail centers. “Buildings elsewhere — our competition — are very commercial in feel and not inviting and they don't encourage people to stay long periods,” says Mike Powers, Glimcher's vice president of leasing. “We wanted to do something that hadn't been done before.”

Rather than looking to existing retail models for inspiration, KA took its design cues from classic hotel and country estate home architecture. Such an atmosphere would be a natural, given that the Columbus area is home to a large number of country clubs and golf courses, three of which are ranked in Golf Digest's top 40 U.S. courses.

The prestigious hotel/estate home theme starts outside, with an approach to the site that feels similar to the arrival to a country club. According to Cheryl Armstrong, design architect and John Burk, project manager, large limestone monument signs and glowing lanterns set the tone as drivers come to the center from the main drive, Polaris Parkway. “The landscaping and hardscaping feel reminiscent of an old estate home in a country club setting,” says Burk. “Polaris Parkway, for instance, mimics a fairway and as you approach you can see two different heights of grass, representing the rough and the fairway.”

Customers' arrival at a porte cochere and a main entrance that looks like a grand hotel lobby — replete with a reception desk — reinforces the image that people are entering a retail environment different from what they're used to visiting.

Inside, the design team was challenged to create a sense of intimacy in the center's 1,350-ft. length. Rather than designing a massive, intimidating galleria-type space, the two-level center follows a large sweeping curve and stores emerge as people walk the length of the building.

“Country clubs and estate homes are upscale, small, intimate spaces, not grandiose places,” says Pattison. “To maintain the intimate feel, we had to pull down the volume of the space and break it into a collection of rooms.”

In terms of interior finishes, the design team brought some residential thinking to the project. The aesthetic is heavily dependent on soft materials — upholstered couches, love seats, chairs and ottomans for seating, oversized non-commercial light fixtures, and a sedate, neutral palette of taupe, gray and white.

Other features include colorful patterned carpeting with inlays of elegant stone and tile, wood and/or terrazzo for flooring, molded and coffered ceilings, wood railings with fabricated metal and/or etched glass balustrades, and abundant natural light through a combination of clerestory glazing and skylights.