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Living up to Serious Architecture

I've got a pretty tough act to follow. I'm surrounded in home and office by stacks of books and periodicals - Progressive Architecture, Architectural Record, Abitare. Throw in a few Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas monograms, and you've got enough design horsepower to create the wackiest shopping mall the profession has ever seen. There's also a magazine cover and a few design awards, which means as an architect you've been paid the ultimate compliment - peer recognition.

Enter reality check You're in the throes of designing your latest project. You listen to what the cutting-edge architects are preaching, scour page by page every photo and detail of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and recall every professor's words to live by: "Less is more," "Commodity, firmness and delight," "God is in the details," and so on. What you forgot was there's a site-line issue, a traffic-generator problem, a RMU (retail merchandising unit) program, two large anchors and, oh yeah, the client would like it built for fifty-five bucks a foot. Now you ask, "How can I meet all of these strict requirements, make my client happy, design within budget, and somehow produce a product with enough "cool factor" to win that AIA award and a SADI, too?

Solving 'the design puzzle' You can do that "cool design thing," creating an exciting retail environment that's financially responsible, flexible to changing retail trends and able to withstand the test of time. It doesn't matter whether you're designing a mall, an urban entertainment center, or an office tower. It's all about good design and solving what I call "the design puzzle." Once you know the game's rules, you can solve the puzzle, push the boundaries, create a retail diagram that financially keeps on giving and create long-term value for the owner.

The design puzzle gets solved not by one designer or developer, but by a process of gathering facts, understanding the expectations of the client, and assembling ideas and concepts as a collective team. The puzzle becomes more clear once the concept is set.

Big "A" or little "a" architecture Many of us in the architectural field refer to serious architecture with no tolerance for compromise as architecture with a big "A." Likewise, architecture with flexibility ofconcept and with less emphasis on the rules of architectural integrity is referred to as architecture with a little "a." When wearing a retail architect hat, the challenge becomes how to create big "A" architecture with little "a" budgets or goals.

Whether you are designing a shopping center or the next Guggenheim, there's always a place for big "A" architecture. The challenge is to deliver a design that is both sensitive to the needs of the people who use retail spaces and balanced with the economic requirements of the owner.

* Favorite retail stores Barney's, New York, and IKEA.

* Favorite restaurant design: iridium, New York:"It blends music and architecture into a memorable space."

* Most improved retail image Sears: "The retailer used architecture and a clever advertising campaign to change shoppers' perceptions."

* Most admired industry figure: Frank Gehry: "He creates power and movement in his buildings."

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