Retail Spaces: Urban Design Strategies


The successful urban image of the city is the result of the deliberate accumulation of independent elements intertwining with each other. While architecture talks micro-scale, urban design integrates the macro-scale connectivity of buildings, roads and public realm. Moreover, commercial urban design strategies help in the cultural growth of the neighborhood with the distinct character of its restaurants, shops and leisure areas.

Building Elements

To promote retail activity at existing streets, rhythmic continuation of large storefront windows from floor-to-ceiling height is encouraged. Architectural elements such as spacing, proportion, balance, patterns, materials and color should foster contextualism with regards to adjacent existing buildings. Pitched or slanted roofs are encouraged to promote the architectural character of the commercial centers, but if usage of flat roofs with parapet walls is proposed, space above the retail centers can screen the mechanical equipment. Canopies, colonnades, overhangs and awnings providing weather protection are allowed to encroach into the front yard but not exceeding the property line. Tall, non-habitable structures such as masts, clock towers and information display should be placed at the corner buildings for emphasized visibility at the intersection.


Balance of texture is spurred such as the cooling and softening of hardscape streets with accent coniferous plants, lush vegetation and high-branch deciduous street trees. Low walls and decorative fences serve as demarcation line from transit parking into the pedestrian street. To ease the transition from the main street to pedestrian walkways, uniformity of materials such as concrete paving is applied to provide connection between the two. Streetscape elements such as planters, benches, bollards, fountains and waste receptacles are grouped together alongside with the street lights. Lighting levels should provide proper illumination to enhance security.

Access and Circulation

From the vantage point of the public street, ingress to the buildings should be emphasized with prominent doorways and accentuated entrance canopies. To foster social equity, a 30-meter distance from handicapped parking spaces to the retail entrances should be mandated. Also, direct vehicular access along the street edge is discouraged to maintain the pedestrian environment of the retail stores, and if any, vehicles should be kept to a minimum. Bicycle racks are mostly suited in complementing the walkable pathway of the retail centers. For vehicular parking placed at the back of the retail units, the large concrete area should be subdivided into smaller lots with landscaped traffic islands to highlight edge conditions.


Formed as an integral element, overall design, character, colors and materials of the signage should complement the whole architectural facade of the shopping plazas and retail units. Also, the appropriate scale of signage should match the scale of the pedestrians and vehicles. Visibility of the signage is yielded with the right use of background light, typology and colors. Effective use of this element reinforces welcoming aura to the pedestrian-turned-customer. Service areas, parking areas, transit areas and ingress/egress should be provided with signage to facilitate direction with the users.

What other urban design principles have you applied specifically for the vitality of commercial design? Share your knowledge by commenting below!

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Retail Spaces: Urban Design Strategies

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