One of the basic rules governing continued success in the realm of modern enclosed malls seems to be constant change through renovations, expansions, and other innovations in the face of increasing competition. Even if we ignore the implications and realities of the current recession, enclosed malls have gotten short shrift throughout the past decade as developers have oversaturated the retail landscape with big box power centers, ‘Lifestyle Centers’ and strip malls galore. Outdoor, ‘Lifestyle’ malls continue to be planned and constructed at a breakneck pace, even in extreme climates, and there are only a few enclosed malls currently either planned or in construction today across the United States. This oversaturation has resulted in massive problems across the country, such as urban blight and greyfields as there are more boxes than box stores to fill them, and sites only a decade or two old go fallow as new construction appears.
More importantly, as developers and shoppers alike have decided the traditional enclosed shopping mall was ‘out’, the extant landscape of shopping malls across the country has gone into a paniced frenzy to stay viable. Second- and third-tier malls have either languished or reinvented themselves as complements – such as discount malls – to first-tier malls, and many first-tier malls have gone through extensive renovations, expansions, and innovations – such as ‘Lifestyle’ outdoor additions – in order to remain competitive. NorthPark Center – Dallas’ premier first-tier mall with 225 stores on three levels – has not been immune to the challenges facing enclosed malls in today’s retail market. However, how the owners of NorthPark chose to innovate their continued success is not only unique – but fascinating when juxtaposed with traditional methods.
Before NorthPark became Dallas’ premier upscale destination, it was a 97-acre cotton field on the northern edge of Dallas. In the early 1960s, the cotton field was purchased by art connoisseur and developer Raymond Nasher, who had big things in mind. In 1965, NorthPark Center opened with great fanfare – at the time, it was said to be the largest climate-controlled center of its kind.
NorthPark opened in 1965 with a simple, minimalist design featuring clean lines and a one-level L shape. Dallas architectural firm Omniplan designed the mall with bright natural light, scrubbed concrete floors and white brick walls, a marked departure from more elaborate or fanciful designs. One reason for the minimalist design was Nasher’s love for modern and pop art, as the mall showcased works by Warhol, as well as other famous artists Lichtenstein, Borofsky and others. NorthPark received the American Institute of Architects Award for “Design of the Decade – 1960s” – and again won accolade in 1992 with AIA’s 25-year award for Design Excellence. Other commercial centers have featured public art, but Nasher’s influence brought a contemporary collision between commercialism and modern art – and in the 1960s these were one in the same, so it was a perfect and natural fit. The exterior of the center’s L-shape featured eloquently manicured, landscaped lawns with trees, and was a great place to sit for a picnic, or to people watch.
As the years and decades progressed, NorthPark was well poised to become one of two – the other being Galleria Dallas – Dallas area ‘showcase’ malls, and it became just as destinational as a tourist attraction as it was a shopping venue. Even as NorthPark reached a plateau of success, the owners of the mall – the original Nasher family who designed it in the first place – decided to embark upon a long-whispered about expansion of the mall, completing the mall’s four sides from an L into a square shape. The new expansion, which began in 2005, brought a two-level mallway along with a Barneys New York and a flagship Nordstrom, a third level 16-screen AMC theatres, and a brilliant food court with an outside seating area in the middle of the inside seating area; the expansion was complete in Spring 2006.
Balking today’s renovation trends which employ the same sterile materials and designs, the Nashers amazingly decided to build the mall’s expansion in the exact same style as the 40-year-old extant structure, using the exact same materials and the exact same architectural firm – Omniplan. As a result, the two-level expansion is a seamless transition from the older part which was built in 1965; the same white brick walls, clean lines, and polished floors were used. In addition, the theme of public art was continued throughout the 2005 addition, featuring a giant orange sculpture by Mark di Suvero, as well as works by Claes Oldenburg and others. In addition, Bookmarks, a children’s library, the only of its kind in a mall, features a modern pop-art design and is also by Omniplan. Visitors can also relax in CenterPark, an outdoor landscaped garden featuring Live Oaks and other native Texas fauna, which is in the middle of the mall’s square design.
Today, NorthPark Center, at 2.3 million square feet, is the largest shopping center in the Dallas area and the 19th largest in the country. Featuring anchor stores Neiman Marcus, Dillards, Macys, and Nordstrom – and junior anchors Barney New York and Robb & Stucky furniture – NorthPark is an exciting, vibrant old-meets-new design that is functional as well as kitschy. With 25 million annual visitors, it is also one of the Dallas/Fort Worth area’s top tourist attractions, according to the Dallas Business Journal.
We visited NorthPark in July 2005 – before the renovation opened – and again in January 2009 – after it was completed. Our 2009 visit was, very coincidentally, the same day actor Kevin James was visiting the mall in character as “Paul Blart” promoting his mall cop movie of the same name. At any rate, enjoy these pictures of the clean, cool lines and architecural gem that is NorthPark Center, and feel free to leave comments.
2005 photos, original 1965 mall (first one shows the expansion under construction):
2009 photos, exterior shots:
2009 photos, 2005-06 expansion:
2009 photos, original 1965 mall: