Chris Cuaso – Placemaking’s Place in Retail Development

November 23, 2015

IRVINE, CA—Placemaking environments have created a cultural shift from static retail developments to more experiential, people-centered spaces, a welcome change from stagnant malls and shopping centers, KTGY Architecture + Planning Retail Studio’s director of design Chris Cuaso tells Cuaso will participate as a roundtable facilitator at the ICSC CenterBuild ConferenceDecember 1-4 at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix. We spoke exclusively with him about placemaking and how it fits in with retail real estate design. What are the elements that are necessary to integrate and activate the people spaces in any retail space? 

Cuaso: First is the location as this is the “heart” of the center. Second are the adjacent tenants, which will add to the draw, whether they are restaurants, cafés, coffee shops or an entertainment type of use. Third are the amenities like water fountains, children play areas and shade lawns. Lighting also plays a role, since this contributes to the “ambiance” and customer experience.
 How do you apply placemaking principals to individual projects that best suit a specific retail type?

Cuaso:Every scenario is going to have a different approach depending on size, type of use and location, but the main principles will apply regardless of the retail type. How do you create the appropriate scale and proportions specific to a project in order to have a balance between open space and retail space? Is there a specific rule of thumb or guiding ratio? How do you assess the space to determine the scale?

Cuaso: There is no specific formula. It really depends on the critical mass that is involved. We like to call the people space as “negative space,” and we often look to the adjacent tenants and specific uses to determine the scale.


The Shops at LakePointe, a 1.2-million-square-foot open-air town center in Covington, WA, designed by KTGY, features upscale, contemporary shops and meandering walkways. Individualized texturing of storefronts, awnings and signage combined with wood and stone textures and larger laminated, bold timber beams using natural tones add to the ambiance. How do you evaluate the surrounding contextual environment to ensure the center blends well within the neighboring area?

Cuaso: We first do some research on the context, topography, landmarks, views, accessibility, sun orientation and type(s) of architecture found in the surrounding area. Then, we initiate our studies to ensure that we are weaving our design cohesively with the neighborhood fabric. What are the most important ingredients in creating a memorable experience for the customer?

Cuaso: The key is in the details and amenities. Lighting, soft seating, music and water features are vital in creating a memorable experience. What are the typical mistakes that developers/designers make when attempting to create memorable spaces? 

Cuaso:The typical mistake that developers and designers make when attempting to create memorable spaces is that various disciplines are not coordinated. Signage, landscape/hardscape, lighting and architecture all have to be in sync for placemaking to work. What else should our readers know about placemaking?

Cuaso:In my opinion, placemaking is all about creating a memorable experience that enriches people’s people and creates feelings of happiness and well-being. It enhances and connects a community and those who reside there, while it transforms a destination.