Retailers Designing Space from the Outside In

Thursday, October 1st, 2015
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From the ancient outdoor bazaar to strolling along a store lined Fifth Avenue, there has always been an outdoor component to shopping.

Even in the traditional enclosed shopping mall, the car park-to-entry route was often a cold concrete walkway, whereas today it is becoming more common to see pathways lined with greenery, seating, outdoor kiosks and food outlets.

This urban-inspired design trend is also due to brick and mortar retail being heavily challenged by a booming e-commerce market. Statista reported in May that business to consumer sales worldwide had reached $1,471 billion, forecasting that by 2016, global B2C e-commerce sales could reach 1.92 trillion US dollars.

So while the public space is a great way to invite consumers to do more than shop, it is more than a community offering – it’s a growing retail strategy.

“At the mall, the plan is to maximise unplanned purchases – to get people to stay longer and deviate from their plans, Charles Areni, professor of marketing at Macquarie Graduate School of Management told Choice website in July.

David Fischel, CEO of Intu, who owns several UK shopping centres, also told Business Insider in June that food and non-shopping activities were essential to the future of retail.

Fishel wants people to see going to their shopping centres as “making a day of it.”

“What we’ve seen over the last few years in the UK is a really strong growth in the food and beverage area. Initially there were 340 units (food outlets) across the centres and now there’s over 3,000 and that number is continuing to grow,” he said. “Attractions is also a key way to keep people staying in centre for longer.”

Melbourne’s two largest shopping centres have implemented outdoor designed areas in their recent redevelopments.

A $300 million expansion at Highpoint Shopping Centre was completed in 2013 and saw Grimshaw Architects renew its eastern entry. The design saw the installation of a children’s play area, a water feature sourced and constructed from bluestone and both free and paid seating amongst new cafes and restaurants.

Highpoint's outdoor entry

Highpoint’s outdoor entry

While Chadstone is currently undergoing a renewal set for completion in mid-2017, the centre already has an external Main Street precinct designed by The Buchan Group.

“A significant feature is the meandering street front, layered with generous landscaping, sculptures, street lighting and casual seating,” the firm’s website reads.

An outdoor space at the new $34 million development at Casuarina Square, meanwhile, will feature a new outdoor restaurant and leisure precinct. The precinct will offer lunchtime and night time dining experiences, and will also include a water feature and children’s play area.

Another area will be created for a community space where people can grab coffee or lunch and sit under a shaded area including 10 new restaurants opening in an arch surrounding the playground.

“To us it’s really exciting, it’s a phenomenal step forward,” said Casuarina Square centre manager Dean Young to NT News. “It’s another dimension of what we don’t have.

“We’re going to be more than a shopping centre — we’re going to be a destination.”

Over in Sydney, Brookfield Multiplex has just topped out Stage 2 of the $222 million redevelopment of Stockland Wetherill Park Shopping Centre.

The centre is described as “Western Sydney’s biggest and most popular retail and lifestyle precincts.”

According to the Brookfield Multiplex, the new retail space will comprise of a 800-seat indoor/outdoor food court, 14 food outlets (Kinchin Lane), three mini-majors and 20 specialty shops.

Stockland Wetherill Park

Stockland Wetherill Park

“Our customers are already enjoying the first stage of the redevelopment, which was completed in March,” said Stockland general manager of design and development Tim Beattie. “Retail sales are performing well and Kinchin Lane is buzzing every evening. With the second stage now well underway, the transformation of the centre into a new restaurant, retail and entertainment destination is almost complete.”

So where did this concept start?

While today, the online competition and urban design focus are heavily driving the trend, traditionally, Victor Gruen’s Northland Centre in Detroit is regularly cited as an early example.

Gruen was a pioneer for community-centred retail precincts when he designed Northland Centre in Detroit, Michigan, which opened in 1954.

“Within Gruen’s Northland, he believed that when designed correctly, the shopping centre could satisfy every suburbanites desire and need for ‘cultural, civic, and social’ interaction,” wrote Trevor D. Schram in a 2014 study. “While other American architects employed a ‘simple’ mall plan that planted grass on Main Street, in Northland Gruen surpassed this design – naming what was referred to as his ‘cluster scheme.’

Rather than the traditional corridor type store placement, Gruen arranged Northland’s buildings to form a town square where within the walkways and enclaves, “sculptures, spacious courtyards, water features, and pedestrian-friendly malls emerged.”

Last month, Ariel Schwartz at Business Insider also wrote on Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s new project on a shopping mall in San Ramon, a suburb in San Francisco.

“As a place for shopping, malls are starting to outlive their usefulness,” Schwartz wrote. “But malls — especially outdoor ones – are ideal gathering places in the outskirts of suburbia, where more organic communal spaces are either hard to find or non-existent.

“The piazza is the most important element. Everything is designed around the piazza,” said Antonio Belvedere, a partner at the workshop.”

Renzo Piano's City Center Bishop Ranch

Renzo Piano’s City Center Bishop Ranch

So perhaps “shopping centre” will no longer be the correct term in the future for this new interpretation of the retail precinct. It looks like the outside will be just important as the inside.

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