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Moving from A to B - Reurbanist

Moving from A to B

Written by  //  March 9, 2011  //  Retail Design  //  No comments

As mentioned in the previous section, retail is only as strong as the success of its anchors. However, the real revenue generation occurs in the process of encouraging visitors to travel from anchor to anchor, walking along a common circulation area and periodically entering inline stores for impulse purchases. The physical attributes of this circulation space define the shopping experience and overall environment.

Common Area Widths

In indoor environments, 8 meter hallway widths are fairly common, although designs often range from 4 to 12 meters and up. The key is to understand the flow of foot traffic. The more people, the wider the hallways should be. A company called Legion offers an advanced simulation system which models pedestrian flow within designed environments. This process shows where widths need to be increased or decreased, allowing developers to minimize their “lost” floorspace while ensuring optimal circulation.

In outdoor environments, widths are often larger than indoors because other items are included in the rights-of-way, such as plant containers, bike racks, benches, and outdoor seating. Even in pure retail environments it is common to find wide common areas. This may be partially an aesthetic issue since outdoor environments may have store fronts in tall buildings, and narrow streets would produce an environment which would feel out of proportion and tunnel-like.

Floor to Floor Heights

Floor to floor heights in enclosed retail environments continue to increase in all types of real estate. While 6 meters was once considered high, many are now 8 meters and more. Also, it is important to bear in mind that a large amount of space is lost between floors as a “ceiling void” which houses wiring and air ducts. Subtract the ceiling void from the floor to floor height to calculate the “floor to ceiling height” (or what is actually visible). A minimum 4.5 meter floor to ceiling height should be targeted for high traffic floors.
Floor to floor heights above 8 meters also allow for the use of a mezzanine level, accessed internally from within the store. This can be used to display additional merchandise or simply as a back of house area for inventory.

Double height stores at KL Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur visually and physically provide external / vertical connections.


Site lines should be obscured as little as possible by design features, street features, vegetation or signage. Retail relies heavily on customers having a clear view corridor of merchandise in multiple angles. Common area hallways which curve gently with slight undulations provide the best exposure to retailers. Perfectly straight hallways give long sightlines but with little to look at. At the other extreme, aggressive bends block view angles to more distant retailers.

Visibility is more difficult in outdoor environments. In enclosed centres, every aspect of the retail environment is closely controlled. Even in controlled outdoor environments, there is pressure to add design features which may block visibility, such as verandas. In these cases, careful design is required to locate strategically such features in a way that minimizes impact on sightlines. A public right of way is even more complicated. BIAs (Business Improvement Areas) can exert some control over outdoor design elements, but most are organic or controlled by external forces.


Internal lighting in retail centres moved from being overly dim to overly bright in rapid succession. The trend today is to use soft, back-lit lighting which illuminates without creating a harsh glare. The latest centers, such as Optimum in Istanbul have added colour into the lighting scheme (below).

In outdoor environments, street lamps and overhead lighting is a must. Creating an image of safety through bright lighting is crucial. This also applies to parking lots which are often under-lit – an issue which has been shown to impact female customer behaviour
Decorative lighting is often used to create a visual impact with shoppers and animate what would otherwise be sterile areas. In coming years we can expect technology to be combined with these types of lighting features, allowing visitors to interact directly – perhaps changing colour schemes with the wave of a smart phone. Interactive lighting schemes have already been experimented with on a large scale at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

A final trend which is beginning to emerge in lighting is the importance of minimizing energy consumption. Natural light and more efficient lighting technologies are becoming more commonplace in new retail centres. Any retail development aiming for LEED certification will have to consider these issues.


Vegetation can turn a sterile environment into a more natural and realistic (appearing) place. It can help blur the distinction between outdoor and indoor shopping environments. The image below of Cidade Jardim is taken on the ground level of what is actually a 5 level vertical mixed use project in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Vegetation should never obscure signage or store windows. This is particularly an issue in outdoor environments where unkempt plants can grow out of control and roots can cause damage. It is also important to consider what the environment will look like in all seasons, particularly in cold environments where deciduous trees lose their leaves. Although tempting, it rarely works to cut down operating costs by using fake plants; normally they’re obviously fake and can give shoppers flashbacks to the depressing enclosed malls of the 1980s.


There are two views on seating: one side believes that resting places are important elements of “street furniture” which encourage visitors to dwell longer (and subsequently shop more), while the other camp believes that seating just encourages non-shoppers to hang around and that all seating should be “paid seating” (e.g. Starbucks patio).

In reality either approach can be right according to the context and local neighbourhood characteristics and cultural preferences. For example, the vast amount of public seating in Namba Parks (Osaka) with beautiful views of the project’s stunning architecture is certainly an attractive amenity for the centre.