By Kristen Nichelson
Shopping centers can be more than the big buildings they’re made of. FlatIron Crossing, a 1.5 million-square-foot, 5-year-old regional shopping center in Broomfield, CO, is a “lifestyle experience” that draws patrons in and encourages them to linger.
Hailed as the social heart and economic engine of its community, FlatIron Crossing rises out of the prairie between Denver and Boulder, at the door to the Rocky Mountains. Part enclosed shopping center and part open-air village of local retailers and restaurateurs, FlatIron Crossing sheds the typical covered mall formula in favor of an indoor/outdoor “destination” that captures the geographic landscape and active quality of life along Colorado’s Front Range.
This lifestyle experience concept was key for Phoenix-based developer Westcor Partners. “Our intent was not just to design another mall, but one that encompasses the whole Colorado lifestyle and experience,” says Darrell Beach, vice president of design and planning at Westcor.
Westcor hired Seattle-based Callison, a firm noted for its retail concepts, to complete brand consulting, interior design, and architecture of the two-story mall and adjoining low-rise “village.”
“We wanted to prove that a shopping mall does not have to be a sterile, anonymous environment,” says Callison President Bob Tindall. “It can be an expression of the people who go there, by allowing the architecture to evolve out of its particular site and circumstance.”
Achieving this vision meant weaving together a fabric of three primary influences:
- A customer base with an affinity for the outdoors and sophisticated cultural tastes.
- A dramatic natural backdrop.
- The region’s agricultural heritage, typified by unpretentious forms and simple detailing.
Callison assembled a team of architects, graphic designers, and planners at the first concept meeting to assimilate all of these factors. “Our intent was to shed preconceived notions about how a shopping center has to look, without forgetting how it has to function,” explains Callison Principal Stan Laegreid. “By engaging in a more organic process, we hoped to arrive at a more holistic solution that embodied the Colorado lifestyle.”
The result is a shopping center that breaks out of the box to applaud the outdoors, with a composition of simple metal-clad buildings inspired by the rural buildings of the Colorado high plains, a roof that echoes the jagged backdrop of the nearby Flatiron Range, and materials and colors drawn from the surrounding countryside.
The design challenge was twofold: to blend the enclosed mall with the outdoor village so they look like a single entity, and to set both mall and village naturally within their rustic surroundings.
To meet these challenges, Callison hired Seattle-based Candela Lighting Design and Consulting, a national consulting firm that has garnered 35 domestic and international design awards within the past 10 years; the firm received an IIDA (International Illumination Design Award) Edwin F. Guth Memorial Regional EPRI Energy Award for indoor and outdoor lighting design for its work at this complex.
“To appreciate the importance of light, particularly in an outdoor space, it’s important to understand why people use the space,” explains Candela Principal Denise Fong, IALD, LC, LEED AP. “The predominant use of metal halide sources on this project not only makes it more energy efficient, but it makes colors more visible and casts a friendly light. This invites people to embrace and care for the space, and keeps it vital.”
Accordingly, FlatIron Crossing makes no apologies for its function as a regional shopping center, but celebrates its potential as a legitimate venue for social, economic, and cultural interaction. The outdoor village provides a unique retail opportunity for customers who may not want or need the indoor mall experience, while the mall offers retail options that parallel a regional focus on outdoor recreation: hiking, camping, biking, fishing, and running.
“Inherent in Colorado’s identity is the contrast between a rugged outdoor lifestyle and refined cultural aspirations,” says Laegreid. “It’s this alliance between arts and recreation, played out against a stunning natural backdrop, that informed decisions from what the center’s name should be to how it would be furnished.”
Visual and physical links to Colorado’s natural environment permeate FlatIron Crossing. Crafted around the analogy of a hike into the mountains, this atypical retail experience boasts views of sweeping prairie vistas, a 4-acre park of waterfalls and native vegetation, and an extensive trail system used by walkers, bikers, and hikers throughout Boulder County.
The strong presence of glass throughout the complex beckons the community to come indoors and “play” and low landscaping provides clear sightlines from the highway and trails to the north. The contours of the building blend into the landscape and focus attention outward to mountain views. A 2,200-foot-long stone and water feature drops into a tight chasm at the mall entry, and then opens out to a seasonal stream.
“Our goal was to enhance the structure’s soaring post-and-beam architecture to invite people inside, while introducing intimate focal points to make the space less intimidating and more personal,” says Fong.
In a departure from the rectangular mall plan, an intersection of two sweeping curves links the airy, enclosed two-level structure, leading to a series of retail buildings and restaurants that line a meandering outdoor walkway. The result is a progression of distinct spaces that unfold as people move seamlessly from outdoors to inside.
To continue the seamless line from the mall through the outdoor village, Candela sought to layer the light in a variety of directions. Mixing point- and diffuse-lamp sources, this layering effect allows the quality of light to change and makes spaces more interesting.
At the mall entry, or “prow,” column-mounted fixtures light the path approaching the 50-foot glass wall and call attention to the dramatic mall entry. Aspens that line outdoor walkways are uplit with CMH PAR30s lamps. Fixtures with custom mounting arms incorporate uplights to raise the eye upward to the illuminated eaves.
Near a serene water feature, column-mounted MH uplights define the upper boundary of a raised outdoor dining area, while pairs of arm-mounted post-top fixtures provide functional lighting. The column-mounted fixtures reinforce the rhythm of the colonnade, while pole-mounted fixtures define the perimeter of the Food Court plaza and create a cozy area for dining.
Conduit in the outdoor dining area is concealed within tube steel to prevent it from marring the space between twin columns.
Outdoors, decorative Tivoli-type lights span between the buildings, and column-mounted fixtures help unify the project from the mall entry to the village plaza. Recessed CMH downlights graze stone columns to reveal texture and emphasize a pedestrian path that leads to a grassy amphitheater fronting a multiplex movie theater. A modified post-top fixture marks the second-story bridge in the mall. Pendant fixtures add interest to the trellis and covered walkway.
To aid in wayfinding, uplit planes are visible from the South Village and serve as a destination beacon.
Site signage reflects the raw materials of the landscape and the quirky personality of the nearby Route 66 with “found” objects like old road signs. Outdoor decks, cozy furniture, and a fire pit respond to the casual lifestyle and promote lingering and interaction.
The Colorado experience continues as visitors enter the grand, open mall, where plenty of windows and a 1,000-foot clerestory run the length of the enclosed space. Expansive glass “garage” doors roll open at either end of the mall to let in natural light and fresh breezes, reinforcing the connection between nature and retail.
Oriented to take advantage of winter sunlight while diminishing the effects of summer heat, daylighting plays a key role in this building. The clerestory bathes the space in sunlight and reveals dramatic views from every point inside the mall.
Hand-crafted detailing, such as wrought-iron railings and a wood-ceiling grid; hues of sage, russet, and sand; and natural materials such as wood, metal, and locally available stone further connect people to the Colorado landscape.
“A challenge inherent to the project was how to integrate the lighting for the oversized lodge design that would also provide adequate light levels in circulation spaces where the ceilings are 30 feet or higher above the floor,” says Fong.
In the mall circulation spaces, 100W and 70W CMH PAR lamps, organized with respect to the ceiling module, light first- and second-floor circulation. CMH uplights with high color rendering (CRI) create a warm glow on the wood trellis to humanize the high shed roof and make its immense scale less intimidating. The downlights and concealed uplights counterbalance the daylight that permeates the space. Linear pendant fixtures mark the indoor pedestrian bridges and reinforce the circulation path.
The intent for the mall atrium was to create a comfortable, familiar ambience that encourages people to relax. Atrium fixtures modified for 150W CMH T6 lamps are concealed in central beams and are supplemented by PAR CMH lamps on the periphery. Roof-mounted 400W MH floodlights shine through the clerestory to accentuate the sloped ceiling. Low-wattage custom chandeliers mark soft-seating areas throughout the mall.
In the expansive indoor food court, both indirect and direct light sources provide illumination. Column-mounted uplights keep the space from becoming cavernous by revealing the ceiling and exposed ductwork. Low-voltage festoon lights provide variety by establishing a lower ceiling in one area. Ambient light is provided by ceramic CMH-PAR lamps mounted to steel purlins. Fluorescent billboard fixtures cantilever from a cove to illuminate the perimeter.
All fixtures throughout the mall have long life sources. Despite the 66-foot ceilings, fixtures are easily accessible for maintenance using a ladder or lift.
In terms of energy efficiency, this project receives high marks, coming in at 0.9 W/sf for public spaces (ASHRAE 90.1 allowed 1.8 W/sf when this project was designed). Seattle-based Sparling, an electrical engineering and technology consulting firm, designed energy-efficient lighting controls. Each fixture type is controlled separately, allowing the owner to turn off uplights during daylight hours.
Sparling Principal Jeff Hankin reflects: “Westcor desired straightforward controls that are easy to use, but which are highly effective in achieving energy-efficient life-cycle operations. The public space and site lighting controls help reduce illumination-related energy costs to a manageable minimum that achieves the desired lighting impacts.”
Other notable sustainable features are site considerations, indoor air quality, and the use of recycled materials.
Westcor Partners sees FlatIron Crossing continuing to evolve by keeping the tenant mix fresh and investing back into the property.
Clearly the lifestyle shopping center model is working. Since opening in August 2000, the mall’s sales have increased each year, finishing 2004 with $13.9 million in sales tax revenues. Awards have included a design and development award from the International Council of Shopping Centers in 2002.
FlatIron Crossing Senior Property Manager Hugh Crawford views the mall’s design as a key factor to its success. “This has become the destination where people come when they are looking to be entertained or to relax,” says Crawford.
Kristen Nichelson is a corporate communications writer for Sparling, an electrical engineering and technology consulting firm based in Seattle, WA. Callison contributed to this article.