Intensification of the Suburban Mall

Fol­low­ing World War II, the sub­ur­ban pop­u­la­tion in North Amer­i­ca explod­ed. Eco­nom­ic expan­sion cat­alyzed an exo­dus from cities and con­se­quent­ly cre­at­ed a need for new ser­vices and ameni­ties in these new­ly formed ex-urban areas. The result was a mas­sive pro­lif­er­a­tion of a new con­cept called Shop­ping Malls. First appear­ing in 1956 in Min­neso­ta, these ful­ly enclosed shop­ping com­plex­es served entire regions and were rapid­ly adopt­ed across North Amer­i­ca in par­al­lel with the rise of high­ways and car cul­ture.

Six­ty years lat­er, many of these shop­ping cen­ters are in a state of decline. And while super-region­al malls in Cana­da are grow­ing; qua­si-region­al malls are strug­gling. As cities have expand­ed, the areas sur­round­ing the malls have become more urban. As the build­ings have aged, they require renew­al. As cul­tures have evolved, their ini­tial appeal has waned and shift­ed to less mono­lith­ic shop­ping focused expe­ri­ences in favor of more diverse use that inte­grate pub­lic and pri­vate spaces, encour­age walk­a­bil­i­ty, and cre­ate greater con­nec­tiv­i­ty to sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Our unique blend of high-den­si­ty res­i­den­tial work with retail and restau­rant design has placed us in a posi­tion to mean­ing­ful­ly con­tribute to the reimag­i­na­tion of this typol­o­gy- the mixed-use rede­vel­op­ment of the sub­ur­ban mall. This new mod­el makes the vis­i­bil­i­ty and fea­si­bil­i­ty of new devel­op­ment key in the ren­der­ing and phas­ing of a con­sum­able food retail and leisure expe­ri­ence root­ed in archi­tec­tur­al rig­or. It’s alche­my. Tall build­ings, pub­lic spaces, and com­mer­cial spaces must be woven togeth­er where the whole is greater than the sum.

Our expe­ri­ences with Don Mills, Cloverdale, Dix­ie, Gold­en Mile, and Agin­court Malls have formed an ongo­ing and evolv­ing body of work and have allowed us to glean a set of 5 acces­si­ble prin­ci­ples that inform our work.

Com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment in the design phase.
  1. Cul­ti­vat­ed Trans­for­ma­tion: Rejects the ‘one-size fits all’ approach, not a trans­plant of intense­ly urban ideas. It’s a place spe­cif­ic trans­for­ma­tion that lever­ages the con­tex­tu­al fab­ric and becomes respon­sive infill. It’s designed to lever­age the speci­fici­ty of its sur­round­ings with respect for and cues from the neigh­bor­hood where it hap­pens.
Gold­en­mile Mall adver­tise­ment.

2. Inside Out: Parks, streets, and squares pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to gath­er and become room-like, out­door pub­lic spaces. Big­ger is not bet­ter in that there can be inti­mate and small­er spaces with a fin­er lev­el of design. Final­ly, these ameni­ties pro­vide ways to bridge dif­fer­ent parts of these projects, so they are more walk­a­ble and con­nect­ed.

Gold­en Mile Plaza The­atre opened in 1954 and was one of the last busi­ness oper­at­ing with­in the larg­er Gold­en Mile Plaza before it was rede­vel­oped.

3. Retail as Cat­a­lyst: What does retail dri­ven mixed use look like? With the rise of online shop­ping there is a decreased demand for shop­ping in per­son. By design­ing the expe­ri­ence rather than just a space to dis­play prod­uct, there is more rea­son to vis­it in per­son. These spaces that host events and fes­ti­vals serve as fur­ther moti­va­tion for pub­lic gath­er­ing.

4. Start at Cen­tre: The role of the car is chang­ing with the typ­i­cal mall. Rather than con­ceive of these spaces as big box­es sur­round­ed by seas of park­ing, they can be seen more as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the sur­round­ing neigh­bour­hood fab­ric. Bring­ing peo­ple in to vis­it restau­rants changes the dynam­ics of the space and, in the instance of Don Mills, cat­a­pult­ed the shops into suc­cess­ful retail spaces. While the con­cept of an out­door mall is less famil­iar in a Cana­di­an con­text, this focus on place­mak­ing has result­ed in more val­ue cre­ation.

5. Per­fect Mix: A blend of dif­fer­ent types of spaces and inter­ven­tions cre­ates a more unique and vis­it wor­thy expe­ri­ence, which one might call ‘Episod­ic Archi­tec­ture’. Rather than homoge­nous func­tion­al retail spaces, archi­tec­ture that lever­ages a mix of uses and scales can pro­vide indi­vid­ual expres­sion to these places that help spark a joy­ous chaos of every­day life.


Togeth­er, these prin­ci­ples shape a reimag­i­na­tion of the his­toric sub­ur­ban mall mod­el. Rather than aggra­vat­ing a per­sis­tent break in the con­ti­nu­ity of the neigh­bor­hoods where they are locat­ed, they become cat­a­lysts that infuse these places with eco­nom­ic, social, and spa­tial vital­i­ty.