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A world-renowned architect develops a unique design for a mall



Italian architect Renzo Piano is famous for such creations as the Central Saint Giles, The Shard and the new Whitney Museum of American Art.
With this type of reputation, it is a tad of a shock that today the Renzo Piano Building Workshop has plans to design a suburban shopping center for the Bay Area, namely the City Center at Bishop Ranch. Antonio Belvedere is in partnership with the workshop, and he explains that part of the goal of this project is to redesign the mall into a community, gathering place rather than just a traditional shopping center. 

The plan will allow suburbia to be similar to urban centers, as these contain all types of gathering places. The idea comes from the New Urbanism, which is a design movement that strives to combine walkable neighborhoods with commercial and cultural venues. Renzo Piano is taking on the type of design plan in the exurbs with the City Center project that the majority of successful architects would avoid at all costs. 

The suburbs, however, have the right to the same quality architecture that exists in the urban areas. In spite of all the hype, suburbia is still alive and well, and so are the malls. The truth is that the suburbs grew at a faster rate than the urban areas did in the last 15 years. In addition, malls still receive plenty of business, especially in affluent areas such as Sarasota, Florida. 

Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Suburban malls, though, still have had a rough decade. As the popularity of shopping online rises dramatically, there is a decline in visitors to many of the malls. With certain malls, this decline is so great that it causes the centers to close permanently. Green Street Advisors, an analytics company, foresees 15 percent of the shopping centers will transform into non-retail spaces or fail completely over the next 10 years. 

Malls are beginning to lose their usefulness as far as retail shopping goes, for the most part. However, the malls are still perfect places for the community to gather in, especially the outdoor ones when they are located on the edge of suburbia, where public spaces are in short supply. 

Antonio Belvedere states that the City Center project, which is presently underway in an ordinary San Ramon suburb, is meant as a gathering place for the people. As a result, residents of San Ramon will have a place to make chance encounters with others and may even develop new relationships with others. City Center will provide a special ambiance that other places lose when residents have to travel out of their way to enjoy them regularly. The concept includes a traditional shopping mall with a set of two-story, simplistic buildings with glare-deflecting aluminum on the exterior. In the area between these buildings, there will be an enclosed, one-acre area to create a type of piazza. According to Belvedere, this piazza is a crucial element, as the rest of the project is designed around it. 

City Center may well be an example for future mall designs, as developers seek for effective methods to breathe new life into dying malls. Outdoor spaces still pose an issue for those sections of the country that suffer inclement weather for much of the year. New Jersey is one such place, as it contains the highest number of malls in the United States. An experience such as that of the plans for City Center would be impossible with the large amount of snow and rain this state receives annually according to Belvedere. 

On the other hand, he knows the weather is ideal for one in California. It is difficult to picture City Center as a community, gathering place, though, if it stays cut off from the surrounding area. Renzo Piano Building Workshop envisions a larger area of hotels, shops and residences will develop around this mall at Bishop Ranch. 

Belvedere believes that the City Center project will act as a seed as it will promote other growth to happen in the area. There are a number of ways that this growth can happen when the conditions are right. 

At this time, we still do not know if it is possible to create an exurban community utilizing a shopping center, but if anyone can make it work, it will be Renzo Piano.

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