The Principles of Successful Centers Part 2

By: James C. Auld • AIA • CDP


Lifestyle centers have emerged as a popular alternative to the traditional shopping mall—community-oriented, pedestrian-friendly destinations offering both retail and entertainment amenities, they are designed to evolve and retain their vibrancy over time.

There is no one template for the variety of lifestyle, open-air and mixed-use developments but rather a set of principles that serve a guide for each unique opportunity. In our first post, we explored:

  1. Analyze the Context Holistically
  2. Establish a Harmonious Urban Framework
  3. Make it Organic, Flexible, and Adaptable

Now let’s look more closely at critical components.

4. Encourage Tenant Design Dissonance

We approach the development of tenant design criteria as we would a streetscape. The storefronts and signage must work within the overall design framework of the center, yet allow each tenant the latitude to express their brand, standout from other shops, and attract real footfall, whether through the front door or a patio entry. The rhythm of the varying storefronts creates excitement and a sense of discovery as shoppers move through the center.

Of course, not all tenants have the same brand clarity. Mega-brands like Apple, come to the leasing table with a well-defined brand standard and look for ways to optimize their presence within the tenant criteria. Ohers need encouragement to fully realize the opportunities that the design guidelines present, and we often work with tenants to create their Brand Strategy.


5. Furnish Amenities and Art

It’s no secret that encouraging visitors to linger at a center creates the opportunity for more sales. However, what keeps people coming and staying is evolving. Comfortable seating is a given, yet today shoppers expect options—places for groups and quiet spots, all with wifi charging. Valet parking and a drop-off for Uber or Lyft. Pristine restrooms. Accessibility.

Art is more than an amenity, it is an opportunity to engage the community and create a distinctive sense of place. Working with local artists to create unique pieces for a center reinforces community identity and pride. It also allows for adaptations over time that keep the center fresh and vibrant.

6. Create Civic Sensibility

Open-air streetscapes invite design details that create a civic sensibility. Landscape areas with simple, sensible amenities including seating, attractive lighting for evening visits and trash receptacles (including those for recycling) give a destination an ambience that makes shoppers feel welcome and safe. A variety of street graphics not only provides orientation, it reinforces the center’s unique identity. Even the paving underfoot can convey a level of attention to quality.

In our next post, we will explore:
7. Establish Outdoor “City Rooms”
8. Emphasize Landmarks
9. Facilitate Customer Engagement
10. Leverage Uniqueness


James C. Auld, AIA, CDP
STIR Architecture