The Principles of Successful Centers Part 3

By: James C. Auld • AIA • CDP

Community-oriented, pedestrian-friendly destinations offering retail and entertainment amenities, lifestyle centers are designed to evolve and retain their vibrancy over time. For that reason, there is no one solution for the variety of lifestyle, open-air and mixed-use developments. Instead we refer to a set of principles to guide us.

In Part 1 and 2, we discussed:

  1. Analyze the Context Holistically
  2. Establish a Harmonious Urban Framework
  3. Make it Organic, Flexible, and Adaptable
  4. Encourage Tenant Design Dissonance
  5. Furnish Amenities and Art
  6. Create Civic Sensibility

Now let’s explore:

7. Establish Outdoor “City Rooms”

The spaces in between the built components of a center are an integral, if sometimes neglected, part of the retail environment. It’s an effective strategy to imagine all of the outdoor spaces as “rooms”. Leveraging the landscaped space creates opportunities for meeting and gathering spots that can be readily updated and repurposed as visitors needs and desires evolve. Think about the pool deck where everyone wants to be and be seen, and how the scene can be adapted for different groups and events over time.

8. Emphasize Landmarks

The five indispensable attributes of successful cities delineated by MIT Professor Kevin Lynch—landmarks, nodes, districts, paths and edges— are as valid today as they were 50 years ago. They are as critical to making, understanding, and navigating lifestyle centers as they are to cities.

Landmarks convey identity and a sense of destination. Within each project, there are special meeting places, nodes that invite spontaneous activity. There are individual districts, defined not only by the character of the place, but also by the nature of the tenants and their merchandise. Paths connect the landmarks, nodes and districts to one another establishing a framework of expectation. Finally, defining the external limits, as well as the internal districts, perceptual edges bring visual and physical clarity to the center.

9. Facilitate Customer Engagement

The rise of e-commerce has clearly shown that customers don’t need to go to a physical store or center to shop. They do, however, want places to go and be with other people—friends, family, perfect strangers. Successful centers employ panoply of tactics to engage current and potential customers from online social media campaigns to onsite community programming. We design in engagements points, too. Convenient customer service kiosks, gathering places for social events and promotions and, of course photogenic backdrops for selfies. Different media, targeted campaigns and a clear focus on the customers will bring entice them and keep them coming back.

10. Leverage Uniqueness

The late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was quoted as saying: “You do not merely want to be the best of the best, you want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

That advice applies not only to rock ‘n roll bands but to lifestyle centers. Leveraging a center’s best assets—context, community, customer base—and enhancing them with exceptional architecture, art and amenities, you can create a unique environment with cross-generational appeal, the only place that offers what you do.


James C. Auld, AIA, CDP
STIR Architecture