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Times Square – New York City

Commercial Architecture for a Better City: An Outfit with 4 Necessary Pieces

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What is always on the checklist of everybody who ever traveled? What does anybody who ever enters a city eventually end up doing at some point? A lot of answers might do, but the one that’s true for any city that ever was, is and will be, is Shopping!

Whether it’s for buying souvenirs, doing daily chores like groceries, seasonal cloth-shopping, picking up the perfect gift for the birthday of a loved one or even just hanging out with your folks at the food court, sooner or later we end up at a commercial architecture center where we live.

People might have gotten used to buying stuff online but the sense of exhilaration when you scan through a new arrival rack of clothes or have refreshments during shopping is never experienced when you order something from Amazon.

It also doesn’t matter how big or small a commercial entity is. It might be a number of independent shops, along a barely-busy street or a big complex acting as a neighborhood hub.

Throughout history and regardless of the place or culture, people always tend to gather around a commercial architecture where something is for sale.

Old bustling local markets in villages have transformed into mega-malls amid commercial architecture districts in developed cities.

A European Commercial District

All these places used to foster the community and bring people together; and they still do, for a good cause.

Architects have to seize this opportunity and make a lively and more sustainable society through their deliberate design.

Here, to answer to the question “what is commercial architecture”, we have provided a guide to designing this old established urban amenity that’ll hopefully boost the city’s spirits and create a better social life for its residents.

1. Promoting Liveliness

Times Square – New York City

Diversity and mingling with other people in the urban fabric is always exciting and is what drives people out their homes or encourages them to stick around public spaces a little longer, rather than taking the shortest route between home and work.

The opportunities that give people the excuse to linger a little and spend more time with their fellow-citizens are what parts a “good” and “lively” city from a desolate one.

These are the main notions that every commercial architecture designer should keep in mind, in terms of creating a lively community while considering its neighborhood.

- Minding the Neighbors

Big or small, any commercial architecture design is a line of thread in the fabric of the city. So, it has to be sewn appropriately to its surrounding as neighbors.

It can’t be a detached link from the chain. It’s not just about its own, but it has to benefit everybody involved.

The neighborhood’s pedestrian and vehicle-borne capacity, the distance from various urban services like fire and police stations, and the concerns for different urban uses like residential or industrial boroughs, are all the requirements for a commercial architecture building of any size to respond to properly.

- Everything People Need Has to Be Around the Corner

People’s agile walking or maybe sometimes, running will slow down to a stroll or even stopping when there’s an excuse for it.

You are chosen by your employer to worry about his business and make the commercial architecture design more profitable.

By dwindling pedestrian speed you’re raising the chance of people being drawn to what your commercial complex architecture entity is offering.

It could simply be some street furniture for sitting or a cool running fountain or maybe a beautifully shaded sidewalk with a foliage of canopy trees that would create the effect.

This may even be achieved by stretching the sidewalk to your commercial architecture territory to diminish the sense of direction of the sidewalk and its force to move along it.

A casual urban curb oriented commercial district in Spain

- Open the Space up!

This section might be more of an extension of the one before; Including an open space is one of the major ways to easily attract scores of people into your commercial architecture’s territory.

Open space in a commercial district

Things like healthy vegetation that complements the form of the building and guarantees an integral landscape, or an open plaza or a courtyard or a large-scale terrace overlooking a view, are some examples.

These areas have to be easily accessible at least for the better part of a year.

2. Develop A Gripping Character

Character and charm are all about the message a commercial architecture gives as a whole; How it communicates with people looking at it from different angles.

Off the top of the list, we start with how a commercial complex architecture entity is supposed to be all about people, so it has to be at human scale or at least gives the impression.

This includes the pedestrian scale on the ground floor and well-defined hierarchy of the building’s sections that would give an honest insight into what the building is about.

The commercial architecture design’s detail, material, and finishes have to give a sense of permanence, ensure the street’s safety by sitting toward it rather than being inward.

No matter what the architectural style is, the amount of detail and articulation should be equally tended on all facades of a single commercial complex architecture or all the storefronts in a row of stores along the street.

Poorly defined human scale in ground floor - Commercial Architecture

3. Have Different Uses? Mix Them Up!

Earlier we talked about how excitement across different parts of a city separates the city of ghosts from the one where happy, vibrant people live.

There has to be an opportunity for people to stumble upon new unplanned things. One of the ways to make this happen is by mixing different uses.

Examples could be made of residential buildings mixed with hotels or commercial architecture entities or even sports venues.

This will hype up the city life by having different pedestrian flows intersecting and hopefully giving birth to areas where unexpected events could happen.

A group of musicians might find a spot to perform their art for passers-by or street cafe’s might tempt people to hang around a little longer than they otherwise would.

A mixed-use commercial complex architecture

All this fall in pedestrian walking speed will raise the chance of them or the ones hurriedly passing by them to actually stop and look around the floor-high storefronts of a commercial architecture design more carefully.

4. It’s All About How You Look

They say the first impression always says the last word! OK, there might be some debate about that! but still; To impress, you have to look good!

Here in terms of furthering a more vibrant urban life, we talk about three Appearance factors of any commercial architecture that will help the cause.

- Mixed Society Mirrored in Mixed Materials

In the spirit of creating excitement by mixing different uses across cities and especially commercial areas, a juxtaposition of different material in the building’s facades could inspire broad thinking and long-term sustainability.

That will help make commercial complex architecture entities more than mere buildings. They will be the bearer of a message; One that says plural is better than singular or being together is wiser than standing all alone.

Hybrid Construction for commercial architecture

- No Visual Clutter

Overstuffing the building’s facade with any element cannot make a delightful look. Especially when the appearance does half the seduction for the passers-by.

Specifically speaking about commercial architecture, things like proper placement of the building signage, lighting, and utilities are important items to remember when designing the outer layer of a commercial building.

a pedestrian centered street in Scandinavia

- Get Rid of The Sight of Cars

I wouldn’t assume that getting to know other people, having a cup of coffee with your friends or shopping be as much comfortable driving as it is when you’re on foot.

Plus, we are looking for active public life encouraged by a properly-designed commercial architecture that would help bring the community together.

Cars can’t help societies; it’s “people coming together” that is what communities need.

But like it or not, cars are an essential part of developed cities for now at least; and driveways and parking facilities obviously cannot be the dominant view.

a European public area


Commercial architecture as the body of the engine that runs any city or village, brings the community together and so can be put to good use for a great cause;

Which is perking up people’s mood and creating a vibrant city.

To achieve this, the architect has to look for

  • how a commercial building responds to its surrounding and helps its neighboring communities
  • what statement the building pronounces
  • and how well it mixes different uses it is supposed to house

When confronted with a shopping mall or an old street market, what else tempts you to step inside or just simply hang out? Tell us in the comments section below.

Mitchel Sardy
Author: Mitchel Sardy
I am a Computer Engineer and an architecture enthusiast, graduated on both majors up to the master's degree from the University of Washington; I'm an advisor to early-stage architecture startups all around the globe; the ones using computer-based solutions to design in architecture.

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