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Q: The European ideal of living above the shop has become the mantra of commercial development live, work and shop in a mixed-use community. As designers, how must we respond?

RTKL Associates

Jeff Gunning, Vice President: As responsible designers and urbanists, we must embrace this. The traditional mall has proven to be somewhat challenged as far as sustainability — from an environmental standpoint as much as a civic one. Mixing residential lofts, second-level office and transit uses seems right, and certainly gives us more to play with and manipulate as designers. The trick is to create these types of utopian places without sacrificing commercial strength — do we compromise our leasing diagram because we have to integrate housing? No small feat.

Perkowitz + Ruth Architects

Sy Perkowitz, President: A confluence of factors, from market forces (demographic trends like the rise of double income families and empty-nesters) to planning theory (smart growth and new urbanism) to neighborhood quality of life concerns (sense of place and community and traffic) have joined to make mixed-use zoning a hot topic with developers and cities. Architects can respond by being able to be conversant in all aspects of these trends to help their clients find real-world solutions that satisfy immediate community needs and long-range civic concerns while balancing the client's need to create a profitable development. More difficult but essential for the designer's role is to bring vision to the team. This should include the knowledge of what makes a city great and the ability to communicate that to the decision makers. The designer should have a sense of what will make a skeptical community buy into an idea and the planning skills to create a great place that will attract shoppers and residents, a place that will outlast today's trends and fads to be a vital and long-lasting part of a community's future.

JPRA Architects

James P. Ryan, President: The European formula for a town is ideal, primarily because most towns or cities have borders or edges that are well-defined as entering or leaving. The U.S. is consumed with low rise, sprawl, and expanded highways to Super-burbia.

Only at a few well-chosen sites, probably in south Florida and California, will the “home above the store” have any credibility. Most of these developments in the Midwest have residential built adjacent to the retail site, not above it. Most developers will admit that their residential component must “stand alone” in the pro-forma. Additionally, they do not count on the adjacent residential to support their retail. Designers will respond to program and budget, with the style or character influenced by the region or demographics. Very few innovative modern designs are being done as local communities prefer continuity with the region's local architectural character.

Callison Architecture

Stan Laegreid, Principal: The biggest challenge is to avoid being victims of our own success. As more community lifestyle centers are completed, they have begun to lose the sense of distinction; the centers start to become homogenous, looking alike and having the same tenants. Long-term relevance will come by providing a unique presentation that is perceived as a result of a development's connection to its surroundings and to the personality of the community it serves. The restaurant offerings will play an important role; they provide a localized connection and they can represent up to 30 percent of the total retail space.

Mixed-use destinations will be one of the key drivers of the future of retail; places where people feel good about going because a range of their needs are met and because they feel at home and feel special, where their needs as individuals are recognized and met in ways that they identify with and want to return to again and again.

CMH Architects

Everett Hatcher, Executive Vice President: The mixed-use project is like apple pie and motherhood — who can't be for it? Live, work and sleep all in one place. It seems to me, however, that the challenges of mixed use design are great and few non-urban mixed-use developments have been successful. Why? The vertical integration of retail, office and residential in a suburban market in two- to five-story buildings places competing demands on access, parking, security, service and privacy for each use. It is far easier to design a mixed-use “town” with the components and districts planned horizontally. This horizontal planning can easily transition from retail to office to multifamily/town-home residential and then to existing neighborhoods in a manner that is supported and, in fact, encouraged by communities.

Dougherty Schroder & Associates

Kevin Dougherty, President: As mixed use becomes more prevalent, designers need to maintain a healthy respect for making sure the individual components still work independently of one another. While mixed-use components may benefit from their close proximity to each other, each must maintain a useful and economic viability of its own. Design trends will come and go, but the basic rules of retail, housing and office design will always apply.

An ability to look beyond the cookie-cutter approach to recent retail design trends is essential. “A lot of people are looking at doing these types of centers, but it takes a real understanding of the project type and strong leasing to pull it off,” says Kevin Dougherty, president and director of design. “It has been enjoyable to work with some very forward-thinking developers and, as a result of their vision, we are proud to have designed six lifestyle centers or lifestyle center hybrid's that are either built or under construction.”

DS&A's current lifestyle center work was a natural outgrowth of its work early on in mixed-use development and regional mall design. From early award-winning design work with Simon, Debartolo and Centermark as a design consultant on regional malls, DS&A quickly developed a national reputation for providing intriguing solutions to many leading retail developers. After building a strong reputation for design excellence, the move five years ago to provide full architectural services was a natural progression. DS&A currently boasts an experienced staff of 30 specializing in all areas of mixed-use development.

“I have been designing mixed-use projects for over 20 years, and it has been without a doubt a more challenging and rewarding project type,” says Dougherty.

Omniplan Architects

Stephen J. Winslow, Principal: The European ideal of total city living also included pride of community as seen in Sienna, Italy, with government buildings as the feature of the square. Large gatherings of people participate in games and competition that have maintained a pride and sense of ownership for hundreds of years. In this country, we must return to the city centers and create beautiful and safe living/working/playing places. As designers, we must begin to demonstrate to clients, civic leaders, and the community as a whole, that this is a viable and, in fact, an appropriate response to the desire for a sense of community and meaning in our daily lives.

TVS & Associates

J. Thomas Porter, Senior Principal: The key to designing these types of developments is to provide each use with its own sense of place and its own identity, while providing the overall development a sense of place through public spaces (town squares). This is a long commitment on the part of the developer. Planning these 24/7 environments requires a tremendous understanding of all forms of circulation (pedestrian, vehicular, and service) and how they can successfully interact. Each environment (live/work/play) has its own set of functional and aesthetic requirements that must be successfully blended by the designer if they are to be successful.

Little Diversified Architectural Consulting

Bruce Barteldt, Principal: I don't believe these are European ideals. They are human ideals. Europeans just hung onto this sensible approach. Also, it is important to note that we Americans enjoyed the advantages described in the question for some time, and millions still do. It's only in suburbia that the detachment from “living together” has taken place. The automobile usually gets the blame. The reason for turning our backs on urbanity stemmed from the desire to get away from the problems that accompany living and working closely together. Deeper still is the American ideal of individuality. Yet perhaps we want to try to reconcile urban living, rather than either permit slums or run for the hinterlands. And that's great! Let's do it! But, as designers can we do it without creating fake “towns” in the middle of former pastures? Can we do it without ignoring adjacent developments? Can we be more conscientious of the vernacular of the area? We can create spaces, forms of buildings, connections of uses that harken back to yesteryear without actually having to make the buildings look like they're 19th century (and poorly at that). Let's focus on town-making, not “town-like, self supporting world-lets.” We've got several of these new-town developments sprinkled around our area. And they're nice. But if you look closely enough, no more than three miles away is the original real town! Laying there, dead as a doornail, right alongside a rail that's about to be re-utilized for people movement. Hey — here's a response — let's go over there and fix up the real town! Let's densify where all those folks are going to be getting on and off the train! Sarcasm aside, my hope is that as designers, we can play a role in being real. No matter what, let's not fake it with these little wanna-be “towns.” Otherwise, “New Urbanism” isn't much more than “New Suburbanism.” While we're in pursuit of this so-called European ideal, let's remember another central Euro-theme: fix up what we already have.

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