As the world’s public spaces are increasingly being privatized, the retail spaces in commercial streets are starting to play an important role in bridging the gap. Retail streets are a major attraction of tourism and recreation and serve as spaces for the congregation in the urban environment providing goods, sightseeing opportunities, and entertainment. The design of retail streets in cities is quickly gaining popularity in the architecture and design fields. 

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One of the most common design concepts is the creation of pedestrian streets. The architecture of the commercial buildings, along with the design of exclusive pedestrian zones, gives a unique appearance to the urban environment that reflects the society and culture of the city. 

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Nanjing Lu Road, Shanghai (www.locationscout.net/china/11234-nanjing-lu-shanghai)

Many shopping streets from several cities have gained worldwide prominences, such as Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand, which has many souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes, clubs, and bookstores; Nanjing Lu Road in Shanghai, China, which majorly consists of modern supermarkets, theatres, and hotels; Chandni Chowk in Delhi, India which has a concentration of shops of spices, perfumes, electronics, textiles, and famous street food vendors and the Via Dei Condotti Street in Rome, Italy which has the stores of the world’s most famous fashion brands – Gucci, Prada, Bulgarian, Louis Vuitton, and Armani. 

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Khaosan Road, Bangkok (www.onestep4wa

The design of urban streets depends on a lot of factors. Especially in today’s fast-paced world, designers face many challenges to create something unconventional without compromising on functionality.

Some of the key aspects that a designer should focus on while designing retail streets are visual connectivity, purposefulness, personality and culture of the city, spatial quality, and accessibility.

Factors That Affect The Design Of Retail Streets 

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Four main indicators for design of a public street (Image from Toward liveable commercial streets: A case study of Al-Karada inner street in Baghdad)

The design of a shopping street is a multi-faceted process and includes the following aspects:

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1. Urban planning

Most urban areas have dense clusters and provide little to no scope for the availability of enough free space in the neighbourhoods for the design of large commercial streets that stretch across the localities. This results in the complete or partial demolition of roadside structures to make way for the new development. In certain urban areas, the commercial streets are integrated with the residential groups to form a mixed-use locality. 

In these cases, it’s most common for the shopping and other commercial spaces to be on the ground and first levels, with the upper levels being dedicated to residences. 

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Chandni Chowk (www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/all-about-the-chandni-chowk-redevelopment-project)

An example of a retail street with shops and residential areas is the Chandni Chowk in Delhi. On both sides of Chandni Chowk are historical residential areas served by narrow lanes or galis, which are brimming with the peddlers, street vendors, street food, and bazaars.

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2. Transport and Accessibility

The network of retail streets in the city is formed with an inextricable connection to the transport system. Good accessibility to the streets and connectivity to the different areas around it determine the growth of the commercial spaces. 

The rising popularity of the design of pedestrian streets shows us how walking is encouraged in many retail streets all over the world. A lot of Western European streets are known for their relative closeness and compactness as opposed to the large amounts of open space and the large-scale streets that are typical of Russian streets. So in countries of Western Europe, the need for the design of pedestrian streets comes up because many of the tiny one-lane streets and small plazas sacrifice much of their space for parking and vehicular traffic.

Via Condotti, Rome (www.romewise.com/shopping-near-spanish-steps.html)

A few examples of pedestrian-oriented streets in Europe can not just be found in Venice, a car-free city, that has these all over, but also in other European cities like Rome. The Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps in Rome allows driving in a part of the street, but the flow of the pedestrians sets the speed. 

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3. Purposefulness and functionality

The design of shopping streets in a city depends on its location in the city’s urban structure. Aesthetic trends may change with the changing minds of the clients, but functionality and purposefulness will always serve as a constant mark of a good design. 

The public is easily attracted to dazzling displays and ornamentation facades, but a good retail street design provides clear circulation for sellers and shoppers. This includes proper way-finding in nodal areas that allow the shopper to navigate easily, combined with efficient service and loading routes for the retailers. Parking access and provision of other facilities such as toilets, benches and seating areas, and water fountains also contribute to good design strategies.

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Seating areas in the shopping complexes of Orchard Road, Singapore (www.commons.wikimedia.or and www.thesmartlocal.com/read/design-orchard/)
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Seating areas in the shopping complexes of Orchard Road, Singapore (www.commons.wikimedia.or and www.thesmartlocal.com/read/design-orchard/)

The Orchard Road in Singapore finds a good balance between aesthetics and functionality. This higher-end shopping street is flanked on either side by huge shopping complexes and showrooms, and the wide road provides adequate space for pedestrians and vehicles alike. The road has many visual attractions such as fountains and installations, but it also serves its purpose. The pedestrian pathways are very wide and have adequate seating, lighting.

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The shopping complexes also incorporate seating for the crowd in their design to provide the people with an overall shopping experience that they’d enjoy. 

4. Spatial organization and quality: 

This aspect is related to that intangible quality of a place that differentiates it from other projects like scale, spatial organization, lighting, the relationship between the facade and the colours and textures used, placement of advertising surfaces, etc., all affect a person’s perception of a retail street. 

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Pedestrian street in Dubai Mall (www.dubai-online.com/malls/dubai-mall)

The Dubai Mall is one of the largest shopping malls in the world. Although it isn’t exactly a retail street, it consists within it an aquarium, an amusement park, and so much more, that it is designed at the scale of a small city, with internal pedestrian streets, nodes, and landmarks. The Dubai mall is currently in the process of expansion. With its expansion, The Dubai Mall will set a new standard for the world’s retail spaces designs. 

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5. Economic factors

Retail streets create prime investment opportunities and increased social activity. Also, the concentration of retailers providing similar goods and services in a single area increases competitiveness. But this also allows for unified economic growth and an increased number of development strategies by maintaining healthy competition and increasing the functionality of the street.

6. Visual connectivity

Another important element of any retail development is visual connectivity. Shoppers should have clear sightlines to the retailers, both for retail viability and easy way-finding. The central space or a square should act as a space for social interaction, but should also act as a visual centre, allowing sightlines to multiple levels and locations from a single point. 

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The Trafalgar Square, a plaza in Central London, is one of the most visited tourist attractions in England. It was developed purely to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. But today it acts as the centre point for the city of London and connects many commercial streets around it. It is bordered by Charing Cross Road in the North. Charing Cross Road is renowned for its specialist and second-hand bookshops and it also has several theatres. 

To the south, it branches off into Northumberland Avenue, which has many luxury hotels, restaurants, and pubs. To the east, it is bound by the Strand, which has a number of commercial complexes and eateries. The Trafalgar square acts as a central space that is not only a popular tourist spot but also allows for visual connectivity to the commercial streets surrounding it.

7. Social and cultural factors

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Social and Cultural factors  (Image from Toward liveable commercial streets: A case study of Al-Karada inner street in Baghdad)

This aspect refers to the social life and communication in the street. Commercial streets are not just physical spaces for buying and selling; they also possess a social value. This includes two broad categories. The first category comprises the social components — vending and kiosks, shows and performances, cultural activities, etc. The second involves cultural components, which include a sense of place, a design that incorporates local and regional context, and demographic structure.

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Qianmen Dajie Street, Beijing (www.dreamstime.com/photos-images/qianmen-dajie.html)

Qianmen Dajie Street runs south from Tiananmen Square, along Beijing’s central axis, and it has been transformed into a modern commercial pedestrian street. Because of its proximity to a high-density residential area, the Qianmen Dajie Street acts as a carrier of local customs. Vendors selling sugar-coated haws on a stick – a popular traditional snack in China, the local peddlers selling goods, and Chinese street performers performing in the night gave the street its character.

In today’s world, the need for functional design and improvement of shopping streets that are in harmony with the planning of the city is becoming more and more essential. This requires a lot of in-depth research and experimentation from designers. Many architects and urban planners around the world have identified the key aspects that determine the creation of these retail spaces and have tried to solve the theoretical issues that come up in their formation to design a comfortable and attractive commercial environment. 

Local urban planning conditions of the city, socio-cultural and economic characteristics of the population, and architectural potential of the area contribute to the design of a functionally convenient, visually comfortable, and organized space. The presence of a variety of retailers, from food to clothing, along with entertainment and attractions, helps in the formation of the retail street’s basic structure and contributes to giving the space its unique spirit.

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References 

Architizer. (2014). Designing the Retail Space: Case Studies by DP Architects. [online] Available at: https://architizer.com/projects/designing-the-retail-space-case-studies/ 

Ghazi, N.M. and Abaas, Z.R. (2019). Toward liveable commercial streets: A case study of Al-Karada inner street in Baghdad. Heliyon, 5(5), p.e01652. ‌

Karakova, T.V., Kolesnikov, S.A., Radulova, J.I. and Vorontsova, Y.S. (2020). Shopping streets as an instrument of architectural and design formation of consumer and investment attractiveness of functional-planning structure of city. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 775, p.012021. ‌

Li, Quihan. (2015). Design and Planning of Commercial Streets with Cultural Attraction Theme. [PDF] pp.1–31. Available at: https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/doi/10.7916/D8P84BD1. ‌

Author

Artist, dancer and writer Sanjana Ramesh is a soon-to-be architect trying to find the time to add ’amateur guitarist’ to the beginning of this sentence. Loves puppies and all things chocolate. She’s also really good at bad jokes. She hopes to find her place in the world of design through her words and illustrations.

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