BY JAIMY LEE
In recent decades, a typical shopping center has been designed around an anchor tenant, such as a grocery store, large pharmacy or department store. Secondary retail shops and a parking lot traditionally rounded out its components.
Nowadays, shopping centers are being built in layers, with residential and office spaces placed above and around retail in more creative configurations.
“The trend is shifting,” said Norman Barrett, senior project architect with Carmel Valley-based Smith Consulting Architects. “Now there’s more diversity.”
Barrett, whose office has 34 employees and focuses on full-service planning, architecture and interior design, said he believes the success of such mixed-use vertical projects in Little Italy and downtown San Diego have contributed to their construction and interest in other areas of the county.
On a grand scale, area developers and designers are moving away from this traditional anchor tenant format to vertical and horizontal mixed-use projects.
Mixed-use projects , usually in an urban setting , have retail units fill out the ground floor, or street level, of the building, while residential or office units begin at the second level and take up the remainder of the building.
“There are fewer and fewer large format retailers,” said Colton Sudberry, senior vice president for Sudberry Properties Inc. “The number of them has started dwindling.”
San Diego-based Sudberry Properties is a 25-year-old real estate, development and asset management company that specializes in mixed-use communities.
Not only is the structure of the architecture changing, the design aspect is shifting, as well. Developers are leaning away from the Mission- or Spanish-style designs and going for a more timeless, streamlined appearance.
“It’s a lot of natural materials,” Barrett said. “It’s a lot of vibrant colors. They want to call it trendy but look at it in 10 years and not find it out of date.”
Spanish-style stucco has often been used for shopping center retail, especially in Southern California. Common attributes include barreled-tile roofs, cobblestone facades and wood accents, according to Bonnie Kutch, director of San Diego-based marketing and public relations firm Kutch & Co. and spokeswoman for Smith Consulting Architects.
Architecture is regional, Barrett said, and often based on a location’s history, climate and natural resources. San Diego’s proximity to Mexico and South America explains in large part why the stucco style took off in Southern California.
Now, according to Barrett, architects are asking themselves, “What’s contemporary? What’s modern?”
“We’re trying for middle ground (between architects and developers),” he said. “You don’t want to water down what is good architecture. You want great shapes, forms and color.”
Shopping centers are beginning to emphasize a different, yet still distinctive, look by using dark, rich colors such as burgundy and a stone veneer as an accent , a look that Barrett calls “midcentury modern.”
But, he added, in a decade or two, many of the shopping centers being designed today will look outdated, regardless of the design precautions taken while planning and building shopping centers.
Catalyst For Change
Architects and retail developers agree that this change has been about four to five years in the making, especially regarding San Diego and its neighboring cities, and usually due to one reason.
“There’s not a lot of land,” Barrett said. “It’s not as extensive (as it used to be).”
With less land to work with, architects are making the decision to build up, if necessary, and several years ago, the term “vertical mixed-use project” was born.
“Developers are forced into mixed-use projects,” said Steve Warfield, director of acquisitions and development for C.W. Clark Inc., a commercial real estate development company based in La Jolla. ” It’s more economically feasible.”
Current Clark projects include the redevelopment of the Liberty Station Marketplace, a $48 million retail center in Point Loma, and the Escondido Convention Hotel, a $104 million development that will feature a hotel, condominiums and parking garage next to City Hall.
Warfield and Barrett are working together on a mixed-use project in San Marcos that combines retail and office space.
But in areas of Southern California that still have raw land to work with , primarily in the desert regions outside established cities , building horizontal projects is an option, Sudberry said.
Horizontal mixed-use projects are usually fronted by the same retail units on the first level of the structure as vertical mixed-use projects. Instead of residential units filling out the rest of the building, office units are added behind the retail space.
There is usually more of a possibility of adding a parking lot, as well, Barrett said. Parking lots can be found either between the retail units and the office building or behind the office building.
“With retail in the front and offices in the back, it’s a better dollar value for the land,” he said. “And what’s the cause for this? If anything, costly design evolution. On one hand, it’s a natural evolution in the design world , an inherent bug for every designer to try to design something new.”
On the other hand, developers are simply running out of land in San Diego and architects are required to fill in the creative gap for designs.
“The land value is too high in central San Diego,” Barrett said. “Everything is going vertical.”
But Sudberry said that mixed-use projects are more expensive to build and finance than more common anchor tenant projects. In areas of the county that still may have more land to use, Sudberry believes that it’s not necessary to start vertical construction quite yet, despite the trend.
Designing For A Big City
Barrett and Sudberry started hearing the buzz about mixed-use projects in San Diego County about four to five years ago, they said.
For Sudberry, mixed-use projects are useful based on a matter of location. In New York City, “It’s old hat because they’ve been going vertical for decades,” he said. “In San Diego, it’s a little newer.”
Despite the fact that San Diego is quickly becoming more metropolitan, local architects are also being asked to redevelop the older style of shopping centers instead of only designing from the ground up.
As for the next trend to appear in the coming four to five years, expect large format retailers to become more creative with design and space, Sudberry said.
Jaimy Lee is a freelance writer based in San Diego.