The architecture of retail centers tends to undergo alteration more frequently than that of more staid property types like offices or multifamily housing. Depending on their location, the success of competing centers, demographic and population shifts, and the vagaries of local economies, some shopping centers can remain competitive by being revamped or expanded, while others may need to be transformed partly or completely to make way for nonretail uses. The following ten projects—all completed during the past five years—illustrate a range of possibilities, including relatively small-scale alterations to anchor spaces, a massive expansion that involved reconfiguring a lake, the transmutation of shops into microloft residences, and a complete overhaul that wiped out a mall and replaced it with public open space.

Ron Nyren is a freelance architecture, urban design, and real estate writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.

(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Habs RI.4-Prov.196--6)

(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Habs RI.4-Prov.196–6)

1. The Arcade Providence
Providence, Rhode Island

Northeast Collaborative Architects and Photographer Ben Jacobsen

(Northeast Collaborative Architects and Photographer Ben Jacobsen)

Built in the financial district of Rhode Island’s state capital in 1828, the Arcade Providence is considered the country’s oldest surviving enclosed mall. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the three-level Greek Revival building extends through a city block, with a skylit gable roof and Ionic columns on its two street facades. The mall closed in 2008 after years of decline, with upper-level spaces proving particularly difficult to lease. Now, local developer Evan Granoff, of 130 Westminster Street Associates, and the local office of Northeast Collaborative Architects have renovated the building and repurposed the top two floors for a new use: microlofts.

Of the 48 residential apartments, all but ten range from 225 to 450 square feet (21 to 42 sq m). Built-in beds and storage make the most of the compact spaces. The Arcade’s ground floor focuses on design-oriented retail, with spaces averaging around 400 square feet (37 sq m), as well as restaurants. Completed this year, the project also involved reopening windows that had long been filled with concrete and adding a bicycle parking area to the basement.


Bran Beinknopf 2012

(Bran Beinknopf 2012)

2. Columbus Commons
Columbus, Ohio

The City Center Mall in downtown Columbus, Ohio, opened in 1989 and closed 20 years later, plagued with vacancies. The private nonprofit development organization Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation took ownership of the enclosed mall and, after extensive public feedback, elected to demolish it and replace it with a nine-acre (3.6 ha) green space and mixed-use development.

Capitol South worked with developer Georgetown Company, architecture firm Moody Nolan, and landscape architect EDGE—all local—to transform the property into a park, which opened in 2011. The Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion, a tensile fabric structure designed by Moody Nolan, shelters an outdoor stage. Other amenities include outdoor cafés, a carousel, an outdoor reading room, and gardens. A third of the site was set aside for residences and ground-floor retail space, currently under construction. The mall’s two-level underground parking garage remains in use beneath the park.


John Bilodeau

(John Bilodeau)

3. The Core
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

To bring in more high-end retailers, the owners of Calgary Eaton Centre/TD Square shuffled the tenant mix and visually linked the complex’s three disparate buildings with a skylight. Billed as the world’s largest point-supported skylight, the 750-foot-long (229 m) expanse of glass provides plenty of natural light and protection from the weather, enabling the fourth level to emulate an urban street. Walkways connect the buildings, spread across three blocks, to the city’s indoor skywalk system at the upper three levels.

Renamed the Core, the shopping center reopened in 2011 with redesigned public areas and an expanded food court with undulating vegetated walls. Department store Holt Renfrew relocated to larger space in the former Sears building; in turn, the former Holt Renfrew space became a luxury auto dealer’s showroom and retail store. The 2.5-acre (1 ha) indoor Devonian Gardens—a city park that has occupied the fourth level of the structure since TD Square opened in 1977—was renovated as well. Toronto-based MMC International Architects designed the project for 20 Vic Management, also of Toronto.


Jeff Peters, Vantage Point Photography, Inc.

(Jeff Peters, Vantage Point Photography, Inc.)

4. Emeryville Public Market
Emeryville, California

Emeryville Public Market has always been an atypical retail center. San Francisco–based TMG Partners renovated historic brick warehouses in Emeryville, California, in the 1980s to create a food court populated by local ethnic food vendors. Over the years, an office building and a Borders bookstore were added to the mix. When Borders declared bankruptcy and closed all its stores in 2011, it left 30,000 square feet (2,800 sq m) empty.
The owners worked with locally based architecture firm Field Paoli to upgrade the complex to comply with contemporary codes, remove unsympathetic alterations, and add new entries that better fit the industrial aesthetic. That appealed to two retail chains targeting a younger urban demographic: Urban Outfitters, which took 16,000 square feet (1,500 sq m) of the space formerly occupied by Borders, and musical instrument retailer Guitar Center, which leased the rest. Both opened in 2012.


Steve Whittaker

(Steve Whittaker)

5. Hillsdale Shopping Center
San Mateo, California

When department store chain Mervyns declared bankruptcy and closed its doors at the end of 2008, it left dozens of vacant anchor spaces in shopping centers across the country. At the Hills­dale Shopping Center in San Mateo, California, originally built during the 1950s, local developer/owner Bohannon Development Company opted to subdivide the former Mervyns space and repurpose it to house the Cheesecake Factory and clothing stores Forever 21 and H&M.

In an economical solution, Berkeley, California–based ELS Architecture and Urban Design retained the outer walls, painting the brick tile white to create a clean, modern look and providing tenant sign criteria to ensure an uncluttered, easily readable composition. New landscaping, windows, and lighting effects animate the street facade for pedestrians. The Cheesecake Factory created a large covered patio with oversized sliding doors to provide outdoor dining. The new tenants opened in 2011, anchoring the south end of the shopping center.

Raymond Gray/Gray Photographer. Inc.

(Raymond Gray/Gray Photographer. Inc.)

6. La Palmera
Corpus Christi, Texas

The family-owned Padre Staples Mall opened in 1970 in Corpus Christi. In recent years, competitors siphoned off market share, and the buildings were showing signs of age, but the high-visibility location remained attractive. Fort Worth, Texas–based Trademark Property bought the mall in 2008 and brought in Boulder, Colorado–based Stantec ViBE (formerly CommArts) to undertake a major makeover. The main entrance was transformed into an outdoor lifestyle court with new stores and restaurants. Other additions include a new 600-seat food court with an aquarium, an ocean-themed play area for children, water features, and a community room.

New furniture, tile, and carpeting refreshed the mall’s public areas. New skylights and clerestories let in more daylight. Sustainable strategies such as high-efficiency mechanical and plumbing systems helped the mall receive a Silver certification for Core and Shell under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The project attracted new tenants and spurred a number of existing ones to renovate their stores, with Macy’s expanding its space. Renamed La Palmera, the remodeled center was completed in 2010.


Bob Schatz Photography

(Bob Schatz Photography)

7. One Hundred Oaks
Nashville, Tennessee

In 2006, two Dallas-based developers—Corinth Properties and ATR and Associates—purchased the One Hundred Oaks Mall, an 880,000-square-foot (82,000 sq m) enclosed mall. Since its opening nearly 40 years earlier, the mall had suffered as suburban competitors sprang up. By the time of the purchase, only the ground floor was fully leased, with the upper levels mostly vacant. Three miles (5 km) away, Vanderbilt University Medical Center had outgrown its hospital campus in midtown Nashville and needed to move its outpatient clinics off site. The medical center leased the mall’s second and third levels as well as its office tower, while the retail tenants remained on the first.

Local architecture firm Gresham Smith + Partners kept the building’s structure while remodeling the entrances, applying a more contemporary color palette, and upgrading mechanical and electrical systems. In addition to replacing existing skylights with larger ones, the design introduced windows to the mall’s top two floors. Patients check in at electronic kiosks and receive a pager, en­­abling them to stroll the ground level while waiting for their appointments. The medical center opened at the mall in 2009.


Christopher Frederick Jones, Courtesy of the Buchan Group

(Christopher Frederick Jones, Courtesy of the Buchan Group)

8. Robina Town Centre
Robina, Queensland, Australia

Not many shopping center renovation and ­ex­­­pansion projects involve reshaping a lake. The state government–owned Queensland Investment Corporation sought to enlarge the existing Robina Town Centre, built during the 1990s, to reposition it in an increasingly competitive market and better orient it toward the adjacent manmade lake. Portions of the existing building, including a six-story bell tower, were demolished to make way for three new enclosed malls that join two existing ones.

To create a landscaped waterfront dining and entertainment precinct with a boardwalk, restaurants, cinemas, and a playground, the lake was drained and reshaped; the lake’s flora and fauna were relocated in the process. Stormwater from half of the center’s total roof area is channeled into the lake for use in irrigation. The new 870-car parking structure incorporates an electronic parking guidance system for visitors. Completed in 2010 and designed by the Buchan Group, a local architecture firm, the 430,600-square-foot (40,000 sq m) expansion also added a 900-seat food court.



(Photography by McCory James)

9. Streets at Southglenn
Centennial, Colorado

Built in 1974, the Southglenn Mall in Centennial, Colorado, fell on hard times during the 1990s with the construction of newer shopping centers in the region. Alberta Development Partners of Greenwood Village, Colorado, purchased the property in 2005, determining that the location and demographics would support a contemporary lifestyle shopping center. The remake involved demolishing all buildings between the north and south anchors to create a 77-acre (31 ha) town center on a grid of streets, with ground-level shops and office space and apartments above.

Opened in 2009, the renamed Streets at Southglenn includes national and local retailers, restaurants, a 14-screen cinema, and a public library branch. At the heart of the project lies a one-block-long park that incorporates mature trees relocated from the site, a fountain and fireplace, and outdoor cafés. SEM Architects of Denver was executive architect, with the Mulhern Group of Denver, Stantec ViBE of Boulder, and CLC Associates of Englewood, Colorado, providing additional architectural contributions.


Courtesy of Westfield Group

(Courtesy of Westfield Group)

10. Westfield Culver City
Culver City, California

Oftentimes, the opportunity to turn around a declining mall occurs when an anchor closes. That was the case at Fox Hills Mall, which opened during the 1970s and had been growing obsolete, relying on downscale retailers in an increasingly upscale market. When Macy’s acquired the Robinsons-May department store chain in 2005, the latter’s branch at the Culver City mall location closed to avoid duplication. Sydney, Australia–based Westfield Group took the opportunity to tear down the vacant Robinsons-May store to make way for a Target and a Best Buy as well as new street-facing shops and restaurants. New tenants include Aéropostale, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, Coach, and Hollister.

Overall, the expansion added 330,000 square feet (31,000 sq m) to the 1 million-square-foot (93,000 sq m) mall, which reopened in 2009 as Westfield Culver City. The new food court features multicultural offerings to appeal to the region’s ethnically diverse population, with a dining terrace that projects into the mall’s interior for increased visibility. Public art installations in three distinct areas serve as nodes for gathering. Westfield Design and Dallas-based Omniplan collaborated on the redesign.