In general, most of the enclosed malls that survive in today’s marketplace are the big boys, the million-square-foot plus behemoths that can squeeze every retailer under the sun into a single building.
I’ve noticed one very notable exception to this, however. There seems to be a number of small, upscale, niche-oriented enclosed malls that thrive in upscale suburbs of large cities. Marketfair in Princeton, New Jersey; The Galleria at Mt. Lebanon outside Pittsburgh, PA, and this mall, Newton’s Atrium Mall, all fit that bill. I wrote about Atrium’s sister mall, The Mall at Chestnut Hill, a few days ago. This one, which opened much more recently (late ’80s or early ’90s) is right across the street, wedged into a triangular lot at the corner of Boylston St. and Florence St.
One thing that’s really strange about the Atrium Mall is that it’s essentially anchorless beyond an oddly-shaped Borders store, and that makes it feel far larger than its 205,000 square feet. It also stands four full levels, and is situated on such a small parcel of land that the entirety of the parking is tucked underneath the building in a very deep parking garage. As this is a pretty upscale center, they do offer valet parking, and there’s even a carwash located down on the valet level of the parking garage.
Beyond Borders, Atrium Mall is tenanted by the kinds of mid-to-high-end tenants you might expect to find, such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, and Anthropologie. There are also several sit-down restaurants, including local Vietnamese kitchen Pho Pasteur along with Bertucci’s and the Cheesecake Factory.
Because the mall is so small and vertical, there are no hallways, per se; instead the entire mall is organized around one large, central atrium (which makes sense) that’s shaped roughly like a grand piano. The architecture of the building (which is very unusual for a suburban mall) along with its relatively short sight lines make the Atrium Mall feel far larger and grander than you might expect. The drawbacks are the hassles involved with such an arrangement: having to park 4 levels deep and not being able to browse on a single level make browsing at the ol’ Atrium into a time consuming task. Still, I think part of this mall’s appeal, for many people living in the Chestnut Hill area, is that it’s always a bit less frantic and underpopulated than the large Natick Mall about eight miles to the west.
Perhaps the most interesting design element (and really, there are many) is the way the different levels don’t stack over one another exactly, allowing a scene like the one below, where Borders actually scoots out from under a mall level, allowing a view directly INTO the store: