Mixed Use Plaza Design
Today, we live in a dynamic and ever-changing world, which is why our cities and towns need buildings that are strategically and smartly designed, with mixed-use spaces that can perform many functions. Plazas are public spaces in which citizens can gather for several reasons. They are the pulsating heart of a community and are considered one of the most sustainable ways to enhance livability. They are, in fact, often surrounded by important buildings, such as courthouses, markets, and churches among many others, and are the meeting points for formal, informal, and entertainment activities. To create a successful mixed-use plaza, architects and urban designers always consider the surrounding area around the space and the future potential use of the plaza, with an aim to create a space that caters to a various set of activities and uses.
Here are the most important space attributes for a successful mixed-use plaza design:
1- Ensure accessibility to all amenities
Accessibility is the number one goal for successful urban places in general, and plazas are no exception. It is important when designing a mixed-use plaza to provide easy and direct access to the plaza and to its amenities and buildings. This is why architects and urban designers always make sure that there is accessible public transport to the plaza, with accessible parking spaces near the entrance. On the other hand, to ensure that visitors can access all amenities, it is important first to ensure that all routes and pavements within the plaza are well-maintained and well-lit for better safety. Setting up signs around the plaza to indicate the direction of each amenity, water features, toilets, etc. would also make mobility inside the plaza easier and better. It is also important here to plan the positioning of the buildings with better linkages between them to reduce travel distances between the spaces and enhance the visitors, as well as occupants’ experience. For example, a plaza should be linked to other surrounding open and interior spaces by passages, bridges, steps, ramps, and planting.
2- Use materials and furniture that reflect the character of the space
Every place has its own unique and distinct character. To create a successful mixed-use plaza, it is important to plan the site in a way that responds to its unique characteristics, culture, geography, and history. Building materials and furniture help to define this character while conveying sustainability and durability. Some of the best eco-friendly materials that are now being used to achieve sustainability include, for example, bamboo, solar tiles, power generating tiles, wood, recycled plastic, grasscrete, and smart glass. Smart glasses, for instance, are designed to block certain wavelengths of the sun in the summer and let in the sun rays in the winter, turning translucent or transparent based on the weather.
3- Integrate smaller “places” within the plaza
A mixed- use plaza should contain a variety of smaller places and amenity features that encourage the public, whether visitors or occupants of surrounding buildings, to use the space more often. They should, therefore, bring a sense of liveliness and excitement to them. For example, a mixed-use plaza can include game tables, open air cafes, play equipment for children, secluded green spaces for privacy such as seats under big trees and around shrubs, water features, etc. And whatever the scale of the project, it is also important to make the site distinct to enhance the entertainment experience by adding special attractions around the plaza, such as media displays and art spaces, as well as stadiums and stages for scheduled or planned shows. Providing entertainment will create a drawing power that would keep the visitors and occupants of the surrounding buildings on-site longer, and would help bring them back again and again.
4- Plan for a flexible design
Flexibility in design is the most important aspect in urban development and urban design. This is why a successful mixed-use plaza should change with the seasons, as it cannot flourish if it only has one fixed design. Flexibility means also the ability of the plaza to adapt with the changes over the years. For example, a plaza design should be flexible enough to allow the visitors and occupants of the surrounding buildings to use the space for outdoor movies, festivals, and concerts in the summer and spring, and for ice skating in the winter. This provides a better user-experience throughout the year, and encourages people to come back to the plaza all year round for different kinds of activities.
5- Strategic placement of buildings
In development, there are different types of planning that are quite different from each other; horizontal and vertical mixed-use development. A horizontal mixed-use development, on the one hand, combines single-use buildings that are originally designed for residential and non-residential uses on the same block. When using this strategy, it is important to take into consideration the intended uses of the buildings, making sure to place them in a compatible way with strategic linkages between them and the plaza to enhance mobility and walkability. More successful around plazas, however, are vertical mixed-use developments, which combine different uses within the same building. In this type of development, buildings are strategically placed to attract local pedestrians and businesses, promoting local economic growth, as demand for local services would increase. Vertical mixed-use developments often reserve the ground floors for retail, commercial, and institutional uses, while providing spaces for residents on the upper floors, allowing them to benefit from more privacy, more green scenery, and less street noise, while giving them the opportunity to spend their leisure time in the mixed-use plaza.
Enhanced quality of life
Plazas are appealing features that provide aesthetically-pleasing outdoor areas. They are, in fact, one of the most significant public spaces that contribute to livable cities that allow their citizens to create social, physical, and mental connections. Because a mixed-use plaza is surrounded by different kinds of buildings, including commercial, residential, and institutional among many others, it automatically becomes a common destination for the citizens, where they can relax or take a quick break after work. This is why, as cities and techniques continue to develop and improve, urban designers and architects are working towards improving the urban quality of life, making sure that open spaces, including mixed-use plazas, are optimally sociable environments that are available to all citizens.