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International Interior Design Association

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By Anne Brooks Ranallo

Contemporary urban ideals — smart growth, the 24-hour city and the balanced lifestyle — favor a new trend toward an old design: mixed-used buildings. They have been common since the days when storekeepers lived “over the shop,” but now the trend is toward bigger, taller, densely used buildings that integrate more varied facets of busy urban lives.

In large markets, the new mixed-use building might house a hotel, condominiums, offices, high-end shopping and destination restaurants. Take New York’s Time Warner Center, which combines those functional spaces with the new home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. On the other end of the spectrum are the rehabilitated storefronts of Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown, where neighborhood storefronts are topped by two or three floors of office space for an old-time, Main Street atmosphere.

These buildings are practical and convenient, but they also promote a feeling of community. Mixed-use developments encourage people to conduct their daily business locally, generating the street life that defines a vibrant neighborhood. The offices and stores attract activity all day, the hospitality and entertainment venues keep the lights on in the evening, and the residences lend a sense of stability and 24-hour presence.

That integral feeling can be carried from the street to the interior by connecting spaces not only via traffic patterns, but also through subtle visual cues in lighting, color, texture, pattern and materials. The same cues can separate private uses from public ones. The key, designers say, is to keep in mind the reasons why the mix of functions came together.

“There’s been a longstanding trend to combine high-end residential with five-star hotels, peppered with high-end retail,” says Julia Monk, AIA, ASID, Partner at BBG-BBGM, a New York-based firm working on high-end projects around the world. “The mix makes better service feasible for the homeowners. They want the same level of design and detail as the luxury hotel. The mix creates a lifestyle, an attitude. And the success of one tenant brings success to another.”

Symbiotic, but Separate

In some cases, each tenant or owner chooses to project an individual character. In the redesign of a Raffles The Plaza and a Swissôtel The Stamford, both in a large retail/transit mall in Singapore, Monk needed to distinguish one hotel from the other and both from adjacent uses. The Raffles’ traditional look was updated to a contemporary design with an international feel, as the owner wanted to establish its new image.

“The goal was to create a separate identity for each tenant, and a different experience in each space,” Monk says. “All the elements were living off the energy of the complex, but there was to be a clear moment when the user left one space and entered another.”

Such a moment could happen through a change in the balance of materials and color; the use of fluid edges, as in an open transition between a bar and an adjoining restaurant; and corridors designed as connectors and transition zones, not just pathways. What should be consistent throughout the building, Monk says, is the quality of the design and materials.

BBG-BBGM Architect and Partner Greg Cranford, AIA, advocates such separate identities in any large, multi-entity building. Even though the uses connect at ground level, “you don’t want an anonymous, generalized entry that forces people to figure out where they’re going,” he says.

That is especially crucial for residential spaces. These should read as a private function without compromising the unified feeling of the project, and without removing residents from the convenience and security that mixed uses afford. Cranford cited the Time Warner Center as an example. Its condos and hotel share a drop-off area but have separate lobbies. The residential lobby is more remote and has softer lighting and modern wood paneling.

“The paneling reads more residential,” Cranford says. “It’s not associated with retail or with Columbus Circle.” The retail area is designed to display activity within, with dramatically large windows to the street, a Dale Chihuly light sculpture and more visible, direct sources of light, including accent spotlights on the walls and floor.

A distinctive motif may be evident throughout a mixed-use building but given different effects through windows, doors, patterns and access. Chicago’s 900 North Michigan, a 66-story mixed-use building, includes an atrium shopping mall, office space on the lower floors, condominiums on the higher floors, a Four Seasons Hotel and a large parking garage. The mall opens on busy Michigan Avenue, while “The Residences,” identified by a discreet marker, face a quieter cross street.

Throughout the building, public spaces feature granite and marble walls, floors and moldings in tones of gray, rose and cream, but the amounts and patterns of the stone vary throughout. The mall/office lobby looks imposing with stone covering the two-story walls.

In the mall, the look softens with painted cream walls but is edged with dark brushed steel railings and accents. A corridor with low lighting leads to paneled elevators — a more tailored effect — that connect to the office tower. The condominium tower’s anteroom has subdued shades of the stone, while the hotel lobby’s floor boasts a large, high-contrast pattern.

Neighborhood Evolution

As activity centers, mixed-use buildings play pivotal roles in neighborhood cohesion. The most vital ones aren’t designed as little worlds unto themselves, no matter how many uses they support. Architects can orient them toward the larger community, and interior designers can draw from local history to inform the choice of design elements.

In Oklahoma City, the regional firm of TAP/Butzer Studio is designing The Factory, a new condo/retail building combined with the renovation of a candy factory and an ironworks in an old warehouse district near downtown. It will offer 50 condos, 190 rental apartments and 15 live/work units — among the first of an estimated 10,000 residential units needed in the central area — along with a health club, grocery store, spa and volleyball court atop the parking garage. Principal of Design Hans Butzer, Assoc. AIA, who designed the Oklahoma City National Memorial, has added a landscape feature seldom seen in this area: a “green” roof, where residents will share gardens with each other and with nesting birds and butterflies.

Despite the sophisticated amenities, The Factory will have a raw design throughout, with exposed concrete and systems, in keeping with the history of the neighborhood. “In a warehouse district, you can revel in the unadorned purity of the structure, the beauty of its proportion and visible tectonics,” Butzer says. “The exposed structural system we chose allows potential buyers to see that they’re part of a larger piece.”

They also can see that they’re part of the city to whatever degree they choose through different street settings that allow what Butzer calls “ambiguous relations to the city.” Many of the units will face the central business district. Others will wrap around the corner of the building, closer to the building’s amenities and a nearby nightclub. The live/work units will be at street level. Ten rooftop penthouses will have expansive views of the warehouse district.

Refined Retail

“Demalling” is another mixed-use trend that can benefit neighborhoods, according to Norman Garden, AIA, of RTKL Associates Inc., a multinational architecture, design and planning firm. The idea of malls is changing: Some have morphed into big-box stores, while others have grown organically around an anchor that is not necessarily a department store.

Mockingbird Station, an RTKL project in Dallas, began as a warehouse across from a transit station two stops from the central business district. The old warehouse was redeveloped into street-level retail and five floors of apartments, and an adjacent glass-box office building was modified, with the exception of the first two floors. RTKL added a shared plaza and other connectors to join the transit, retail and living spaces, added a cinema and remodeled some exteriors to blend more effectively.

“Other countries never had malls with department stores as anchors; they have small stores for daily use, like food stores and drugstores. In this country, we normally set the trends but then tend to overdo everything,” Garden says. “Usually retail is the glue. It’s the street life.” Mockingbird Station is balanced, he says, combining remnants of the old with the new for a city experience.

Well-planned mixed-use buildings develop a symbiotic relationship with the street life, generating it and drawing vitality from it. Eventually, the successful building becomes a magnet, attracting other new development that is compatible or competitive with any of its uses. A sustainable, walkable, 24-hour neighborhood thus takes shape.

Strength in Unity

Variations on one decorative form — one color in many degrees of saturation, references to a certain historical period — all can be used to run a common thread through the look of several entities in one building.

In a Cleveland project that added a new Hyatt hotel to an ornate Victorian arcade, BBG-BBGM’s Julia Monk used all of these, but relied especially on a historic Cleveland product: industrial metals. The swirls of the gold-tone railings and lampposts of the old structure are echoed, but not mimicked, in curving steel, wrought iron and copper-colored metal mesh on the booths and walls of the Hyatt restaurant, which is visible from the old arcade.

The hotel is set apart and streamlined, in keeping with Hyatt’s business-oriented clientele, but it carries the arcade’s red-gold tones, subdued with cool neutrals. The railings’ swirls are echoed again, this time in the pattern of the carpet.

“Both personalities are allowed to read,” Monk says. “It wasn’t a direct transfer, but a sense of place. Restorations are interesting that way because you want to create something that feels like it’s always been there. And you have to make the sequencing of the spaces work for you.”

The Chinatown area of Washington offered a different challenge in sequencing. The shoulder-to-shoulder Victorian buildings were preserved for new storefronts on the first floor and offices on the second and third. Synergy had to come from a whole block of adjacent buildings, rather than within each building.

“The project was done in phases as the developer bought properties,” says Melissa Cohen, AIA, of GTM Architects. “Because it was designed to market, we made the interiors as flexible as possible. In the masonry structures, we cut openings in the party walls to allow movement, common elevators, stairs and corridors.”

At the street level, a unified look comes from storefront windows set in a consistent rhythm and banner-style signs that are uniform in size and their use of Chinese lettering. The result is optimal use of space and an up-to-date environment that has a sense of its past.