The nation's top architectural firms report that urban development and miced-use projects have joined the strengthening trends of streetfront, Main Street-style shopping and open-air spaces in the design of shopping centers today. As a result of the open-air aspects of these projects, shoppers are encouraged to make themselves comfortable, shop, be entertained and stay awhile - without being strictly confined to the indoors.

In the profiles that follow, top executives in leading firms across the country discuss current retail projects influenced by these new design deals.

Anthony Belluschi Architects A full-service planning and design firm specializing in commercial, retail and mixed-use urban projects

The principal of Chicago-based Anthony Belluschi Architects notes several specific trends in the booming retail industry today. In conjunction with the increasing presence of urban, mixed-use projects, Belluschi foresees a movement toward what he calls generic entertainment.

"All the changes in retail today have led to more forms of visual entertainment - ways of inducing the shopper to stay longer," Belluschi explains. And these entertainment forms run the gamut. Large-scale retailers such as Disney, ESPN or Sony Metreon have become a real phenomenon. So, too, have high-end, well-designed coffee shops.

No matter what the scale of the project, the real question, Belluschi says, is "How do we best serve the public?" That line of thinking applies to food courts and good restaurants, bookstores and coffee shops, or a full-blown cinematic experience. "Even more than entertainment, the essential ingredient is well-designed amenities that help shoppers have a really memorable experience," he adds.

Another aspect of change that the firm notes is the penchant for pure size in the industry today. As Belluschi explains, "Retail should not be just token. Shopping complexes need to have a critical mass and be very well designed to work - 100,000 sq. ft. or more for urban projects."

As such, several of the firm's current projects include large regional centers. "We have four or five new super-regional shopping centers with 1 million sq. ft. or more in the planning or design phase, which many people said wouldn't be built anymore," he continues. "There is a saturation point in specific markets, and there are probably a lot of older centers that aren't going to make it, but many of them will be adapted for re-use and given a new life."

When asked to list the firm's most successful ventures, Belluschi points to a project from 1996. "We had phenomenal success with Park Meadows in Colorado," he says. "The project raised the bar of design, made use of good materials, and made a statement by creating a great sense of place."

A new complex the firm currently has under construction in Chicago is a portion of the multi-block North Bridge project at 520 N. Michigan Ave. "We've created a large, 85-foot high, public atrium as the main entry," Bellusch i says. "The project combines a five-star hotel and more than five levels of retail with a reconstructed landmark facade, and connects to the new Nordstrom right on the Magnificent Mile."

Arrowstreet Inc. A 130-person, multi-disciplined design firm specializing in architecture for commercial development.

The re-emergence of shopping venues in urban areas is a major design style noted by John Cole, principal of Somerville, Mass.-based Arrowstreet Inc. One of this style's most notable variations is the urban entertainment center, the key ingredient of which typically is a multiplex cinema working in concert with restaurants and lifestyle retailers, such as book and video stores that can thrive on cinema traffic.

Cole points to an Arrowstreet project recently completed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as an example of the quintessential urban entertainment center. The 12-plex Hoyts cinema - with stadium theaters stacked on two levels, connected by a dramatic five-story lobby - links to a specialty retail center in the heart of the downtown area via an urban plaza. The project features a readapted use of a regional, downtown produce market built in the 1930s.

"We have things to learn from the foreign experience, where retailing has remained primarily an urban downtown phenomenon, without the extensive suburban expansion found in the United States," Cole says. "The price of land in some countries is astronomical, forcing development to be more vertical, more dense and integrated with other uses, such as streets, sidewalk activity, office and residential complexes, transportation centers, etc. This type of urban development is happening in the United States today, but abroad, it has been an uninterrupted architectural evolution."

Arrowstreet applied a similar, mixed-use strategy to the design of Friendship Place in Friendship Heights, Md. This eight-acre project features a balanced mix of street-front retail; a major department store; a high-end, 270-room hotel; an office tower; 1,235 units of housing; and community-function space, including a one-acre public park. The project features an open-air, pedestrian street system as opposed to the traditional, enclosed mall model.

"Friendship Place reflects the typical urban development patterns of the pre-World War II period," says Cole, "with an anchor store and specialty retailers all fronting an open-air sidewalk."

Beame Architectural Partnership A full-service planning and architectural firm specializing in retail and retail/mixed-use projects.

More and more of the projects designed by Beame Architectural Partnership of Coral Gables, Fla., are responding to smaller, 150,000 sq. ft. to 300,000 sq. ft. sites that blend with existing urban fabrics, says Lawrence Beame, president of the firm. The look and feel of these projects is strongly influenced by the existing, surrounding communities.

"In urban markets in which large populations are underserved by retail, our designs respond to and are comfortable within the communities; they are not foreign and unusual, grandiose sites," he reveals. "There are lots of great neighborhoods in great communities that could still use retail development, evidenced by the strong leasing of these new projects."

Beame also says there are more medium-sized tenants in the urban retail mix today, averaging between 8,000 sq. ft. and 15,000 sq. ft.

One project the firm has under way, tentatively called "Brickell," located just south of Miami, will be an upscale leisure and lifestyle center catering to surrounding homes, families and communities. It will provide a low-density, comfortable place to walk, with trees, a plaza, fountains and a community center in the middle of a dense urban area. The architecture reflects the old Miami environs, Beame reports, with two-story buildings, wooden verandas and long overhangs for shade and weather protection. This smaller, 180,000 sq. ft. project is scheduled to open in less than two years.

Callison Architecture Inc. An architectural and interior design company with a focus on stand-alone retail and shopping centers.

"Avoid the generic, enclosed mall at all costs," asserts Bob Tindall, president of Callison Architecture of Seattle. "Consumers favor more specific solutions that reflect their communities and lifestyles." He also notes an attraction to downtown, urban-like retail environments, even if they are in rural communities, because these projects effect more activity and interaction with community residents.

Similarly, Tindall sees a tenant desire to deliver more of a village-like, town-square environment to the traditional shopping center. For example, the 600,000 sq. ft., Phase I expansion of NorthPark Center in Dallas will blend the existing indoor shopping center with an outdoor retail and entertainment village of storefront shops, restaurants, a cinema and a plaza to create a vibrant, civic destination. The plaza will offer an environment for art exhibits, lectures and other cultural events for community residents and provide a link to NorthPark's retail stores.

At the same time, tenant space is becoming more vertical rather than deep, while utilizing the same amount of square footage per store, reports Tindall. In this newer configuration of multiple stories, customers can see more about a store one level at a time, rather than be overwhelmed by a single, larger space. He points to Crate & Barrel as a good example of this approach.

Cooper Carry Inc. A 190-person design firm comprised of architects, interior designers, planners and environmental graphic designers.

Today's increase in mixed-use development, with retail as a heavy component, along with office, residential and hospitality elements, is affecting how and where people shop, maintains Gar Muse, principal and director of retail for Cooper Carry of Atlanta.

"Shopping center development traditionally has taken place on the outskirts of suburban markets," Muse explains. "As those markets grew, a shopping center's success became dependent on the automobile." Current traffic congestion, air quality issues and increased commute times are drawing both consumers and developers to projects that are less dependent on auto travel.

"Mixed-use projects provide a more dynamic sense of place in which people can shop, work, be entertained, and sometimes live," he continues. "We're seeing these projects being developed in urban CBD settings as well as in first- and second-generation cities."

One of the mixed-use projects Cooper Carry is now designing is Lindbergh Plaza in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. This 30-acre site will include 300,000 sq. ft. of retail, 1.2 million sq. ft. of office, a 300-room hotel, 290 condominiums and 320 apartments in Phase I. It will also include restaurants, a movie theater and a grocery store.

This "very urban, live/work/play project," as Muse describes it, promotes the use of mass transit, with the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) as a primary client. "Lindbergh Plaza is being designed around a MARTA station and is also on the main stops for a bus route in Atlanta," he adds.

Muse says the Buckhead area has experienced an increase in urban living and is a strong residential market. Local newspapers report that BellSouth is likely to be the major tenant in the project's office segment.

Cope Linder Architects A landscape architectural and planning firm comprised of 45 professionals specializing in retail, mixed-use and hospitality projects.

Stan Cairns, partner in this Philadelphia-based firm, declares that one of the biggest trends in shopping center architecture is the use of a city's best, existing components and locations for urban projects, rather than the creation of civic ambience on waterfronts and other perimeter sites. The urban projects his firm is cultivating today "are sited in a way that rebuilds the urban fabric by enhancing the existing retail street - and re-emphasizes the Main Street aspect using current public spaces and pedestrian and transit patterns," he says.

A complementary trend in urban development is providing tenant space designed with maximum flexibility for today's volatile leasing environments, in which just a few national tenants no longer define the overall project.

"The diverse tenants in urban-based projects all are focused on getting their activities out onto the street, rather than internalizing them in an enclosed mall," Cairns says. "To help tenants generate life on the street, the buildings must allow more latitude in creating individual expressions. Rather than providing a strong architecture, the design of these urban projects must be neutral and flexible, with plenty of room for major tenants to create their own images by using storefront signage and lighting systems, for example."

Philadelphia's Pavilion at Market East provides such flexibility in an existing urban ambience, reports Cairns. The six-level, 560,000 sq. ft. retail and entertainment project, to be completed in 2001, utilizes a vacant site along a main commercial street to generate new traffic and create a synergy with existing convention center and tourist traffic in the area. All tenants will face outward and merchandise off the street.

Both the site and storefront positioning were critical in bringing in the project's key tenants, says Cairns. Exterior space design allows flexibility in scale and 3-D qualities - unlike traditional city projects - allowing tenants to rely on the visual impact of individual themes and images to create their presence on the street.

Crawford McWilliams Hatcher Architects Inc. Provides planning, architectural and graphic design services for retail and corporate projects throughout the eastern and central United States.

Until a few years ago, most retail projects reflected three standard design types: power centers, anchored malls and neighborhood centers. Today, retailers from all these development types are being combined into newer "lifestyle" projects, located in prime real estate and driven by excellent demographics.

Fashion retailers are moving from malls to open-air, upscale formats; department stores sit in-line, rather than in anchor positions; value retailers are migrating from traditional power centers; and grocery/deli tenants, formerly found almost exclusively in the neighborhood center, are flocking to lifestyle projects to provide a wealth of prepared food for the working family, observes Everett Hatcher, executive vice president of Birmingham, Ala.-based Crawford McWilliams Hatcher Architects Inc.

"New lifestyle centers are breaking down traditional formulas and redefining the retail centers of the past," Hatcher says.

In the most successful examples of the lifestyle format, the sidewalk becomes a mall concourse, with fountains, benches and other amenities - putting convenience at the core of the project. These developments mirror the communities in which they are located, yet may look completely different from each other. A common bond between all lifestyle projects is convenience as well as an emphasis on the shopping experience, which is where architectural design plays an important role, Hatcher says.

He adds that office and residential uses also are being combined with lifestyle formats to bring together a successful mix reminiscent of the downtowns of yesteryear.

Dorsky Hodgson + Partners Inc. A full-service firm specializing in the design of retail centers, focusing on architecture and environmental graphics.

The Main Street concept continues as a strong trend in bringing an urban feel to suburban shopping centers, according to David Parrish, partner of this Cleveland-based firm. One of the group's current projects is the de-malling of Winter Park Village in Winter Park, Fla. Opening this fall, the project will capture the ambience and scale of a neighborhood Main Street, complete with a 20-plex Regal Cinema and an Albertson's Village Market, at a cost of more than $25 million.

"Another strong trend is shoppers' ongoing requirements for a combination of entertainment and retailing to coincide with their lifestyles and reduced amount of discretionary time," states Parrish. In response,Dorsky Hodgson's design for The Works, an extensive redesign and redevelopment of the 10-year-old, 1.8 million sq. ft. Forest Fair Mall in Cincinnati, mixes entertainment and retailing in a trend-setting, value-oriented alternative to typical mall shopping.

A critical element to the reconfiguration of the center is the placement of a movie theater in the center of the project's two-acre, two-story common area.

As Parrish notes, "People are bored with the same stuff. The design professional's role as trend-setter is to constantly inject interesting and fun concepts into the mix to maintain a high level of consumer interest in the shopping environment.

"There are many properties out there in good locations that are just getting by," he continues. "With a sensitive approach to design and renovations, these centers can re-emerge as fresh alternatives that will recapture the local market's attention and buying dollars."

Herschman Architects A 'retailer's architect,' the firm brings a unique perspective via a strong background in national retail tenant experience.

"The focus of traditional regional malls has become a collateral casualty of the shift in social and consumer attitudes, resulting in their change, expansion and conversion into new retail concepts," says Jud Kline, vice president of Herschman Architects in Cleveland. "Today, there is a de-emphasis on mall-based retail and an emergence of convenience retailing, with a growth in developments that combines power, convenience and category killers.

"Ten or 15 years ago, many of our retail clients were moving from strip centers into the malls," Kline continues, "but today they're moving back for three reasons: 1) convenience; 2) economies of scale, since it's cheaper to operate in a strip center; and 3) identity. Retailers want to establish their own brand identities and customer attractions, and can do so by creating a 'place on the street' in a strip mall."

All three benefits are provided to tenants of the refurbished Severance Town Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Built in the early 1960s, this project had been losing customers despite a solid demographic market. With facilities such as the city hall, post office and others built on the perimeter of the center, the community demanded that the center respond to the commercial needs of the residents. In the early 1980s, the developer added a food court and cinema to the development to enhance traffic. Despite these efforts, the center did not enjoy greater attraction, and growth continued to decline.

Owners responded with a more radical approach and "turned the mall inside out," states Kline. "The project was eliminated as a mall, and transformed into a strip-like power center anchored by desirable, large-box retailers, including Wal-Mart and Home Depot." The two-story project connects the anchor stores by a visually-inviting, outdoor pedestrian walkway and activities. An existing supermarket and the convenience wing of the mall also remain, but are completely refurbished to reflect a more contemporary image. Final reconstruction of the 800,000 sq. ft. Severance Town Center is scheduled for spring 2000.

JPRA Architects A 70-person office practicing planning, architecture, interior design and environmental graphics primarily in the retail sector.

"The biggest trend in shopping center design is determining how to get out of the box," insists James Ryan, president of JPRA Architects of Farmington Hills, Mich. "Department stores are building boxes then trying to plug them into 'Anyplan U.S.A.,' rather than executing customized designs for customized locations.

"Unless department stores - which have a big influence over a center's overall planning and design - start adapting the nature of their spaces," he continues, "we'll be planning the same developments forever. The industry must break through this archaic box, beginning with higher floor-to-floor ratios and a migration from end positioning."

Ryan also notes the increase in more civic-looking projects, with more public spaces in which people can interact, such as coffee shops, fountains, bookstores and cinemas.

"Twenty years ago developers tried to bring in cinemas and other public-oriented facilities, but they weren't successful because the public wasn't ready for these elements. Today's more active, educated customer wants to interact during the shopping experience, and public-oriented spaces allow that involvement."

Ryan reports a return to the cities, with the cinema as the critical element. "Cinemas play the single most crucial role in bringing people to an area," he asserts.

The focal point of Palladium City in Birmingham, Mich., opening next July, is the 12-plex cinema, which will also draw people to the coffee shops and restaurants. "People want to be where people are," he says. "People-engaging elements are an important part of where this industry is going. It's really a continuation and escalation of what's been happening over a long period of time."

KA Inc. Architecture A full-service, developer-oriented, retail-based architectural firm.

In every project designed today by KA Inc. Architecture of Cleveland, there is an increasing need to portray retailers' images on the exterior of the project, states President Jimmy Heller. This approach brings the architectural expression of a tenant's store outward as well as inward, helps developers deliver more excitement to the project, and gives architects the ability to create more interesting design statements than yesterday's simplistic, flat facades that do not entice consumers.

At Rivertown Crossings in Grandville, Mich., opening this November, KA Inc. Architecture brought the inside of the mall to the outside with a substantial exterior architecture around the major entrance to the mall, effectively portraying existing tenants and enticing potential ones, reports Heller.

For the food court segment of Arbor Place Mall in Douglasville, Ga., a large glass expanse brings what is happening in the project to the outside, enticing customers to the food court.

The firm also is implementing a multi-level glass exterior for Bloomingdales in a new urban retail project in San Francisco, currently called 835 Market Street. In collaboration with two other design firms, KA Inc. Architecture is incorporating a multifloored glass facade - "extremely unique for a department store," says Heller - which will create an enticing image for shoppers.

At Polaris Fashion Place, breaking ground later this year in Columbus, Ohio, a restaurant and retail tenant will flank the major entrance. Both will carry their internal themes, materials, overall imageries and statements of quality to the exterior architectural character of the project.

MCG Architecture Balances innovative design, advanced technology and personal service to provide creative, practical solutions that enrich communities and build client businesses.

"The era of mixed-use development is here," declares Rick Gaylord, CEO of MCG Architecture of Beverly Hills, Calif. "Creating these town centers is a common theme that runs through all of our projects. Retail development that gains the affinity of its community and is also successful for the developer is shaped by filling consumers' practical needs while contributing to their quality of life."

The 1.1 million sq. ft. Galleria at Roseville, scheduled to open in August 2000 near Sacramento, Calif., parallels this trend, states Gaylord. The Main Street-oriented, open-air lifestyle/entertainment project includes lush landscaping, arcades, outdoor rooms, vine-covered trellises, topiary and rich stone paving that add to the project's architectural expression. The project reflects Roseville's rich history with a relaxed, yet elegant hometown character achieved with traditional architectural elements interwoven with forms abstracted from Greek Revival, such as dramatic arches and columns.

Construction also is under way on Studio Plaza, a 100,000 sq. ft. European village-style neighborhood shopping center being built to serve the retail needs of an increasing local population. A collection of village-style buildings is complemented by a public plaza that gives way to the streetside arcade front of two adjacent thoroughfares. To reinforce the village concept and encourage pedestrian activity, MCG situated parking behind the $32 million development.

RTKL Associates Inc. A global, multi-disciplinary architectural firm serving a variety of clients.

According to Jeff Gunning, vice president of Baltimore-based RTKL, the biggest influence over today's retail environments is an emphasis on creating an experience for visitors, one that sends families, shoppers and diners home with a memory, not just merchandise, and brings them back again and again in ways that merchandise alone cannot.

Gunning stresses that a project's attention to detail will make or break the success of creating an experience - of transporting visitors to an environment that is unique from the place in which they work or live.

Attention to detail summarizes the Desert Passage at Aladdin project in Las Vegas. This venture is creating a near-authentic replication of the architectural themes in market cities such as Bombay, Marrakesh and Tangier. RTKL is carrying out the thematic treatment in all the project's architectural and design elements, which are heavily detailed and patterned, highly articulated and complex and full of rich colors. "We're making every effort to suspend disbelief and make people feel they are really in those market cities," says Gunning.

Today's Main Street themes also create an experience for shoppers in both open-air and interior environments, he adds. At Southpoint, a 1.3 million sq. ft. indoor/outdoor regional mall opening in October 2001 in Durham, N.C., RTKL and ID8, its entertainment division, are creating a 160,000 sq. ft. open air Main Street segment that accommodates a mix of lifestyle and entertainment-oriented retailers and restaurants. The project will be anchored at one end by a 100,000 sq. ft., 18-screen Cinemark theater.

The project's open-air, Main Street experience will meld into a two-level regional mall to create a cohesive retail/entertainment destination with a singular identity.

Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates Inc. A 250-person firm offering architectural and interior design, theming and hospitality design.

In its international work, the focus of TVS's designs is on the total experience of being at the space and interacting with other people, not just on shopping and retailing. These designs include city park-like areas in front of the malls, instead of just parking lots, as well as office, medical and grocery uses, reports Tom Porter, senior principal of the Atlanta-based firm. Porter says these elements and associated amenities create real experiences for customers, who want to stay longer. "This design style is as much about retailing as the experience of shopping," contends Porter.

In the United States, Porter reports a trend toward incorporating advertising both inside and outside of malls, critical to which is the integration of graphics and signage that blend with the project's overall design. Diverse companies are contracting to provide permanent outdoor signage and indoor advertising, primarily on kiosks resembling standard directories. "This is a trend we'll see more of in shopping centers of the future," notes Porter.

However, the biggest trend is the village or Main Street concept applied in regional mall designs, spurred by customers' needs for more varied shopping experiences. Porter points to the village segments of the Mall of Georgia, which opened last month, as well as to a 1 million-plus sq. ft. regional mall in the works for Richmond, Va. Now in the early stages of design, proposals for the Richmond project apply an open-air village setting to typical anchor tenants like Nordstrom, JCPenney and Sears, with a Main Street running down the center of the project.