Creative placemaking: 4 steps to create developments for the new era

The placemaking process needs turning on its head. Creative Strategist, Sophia Williams, lays out how we see it at D&P.

Sophia Williams
By Sophia Williams
Posted 28. 04. 2020
DP opinion new 10 2

As the current COVID-19 outbreak accelerates change in consumer behaviours and raises doubts over the future of ‘legacy’ retail, it also offers opportunities for innovation and growth in an area that has long been the topic of debate. With the role of existing malls and developments already challenged, and questions over what the retail landscape will look like in a post-virus world, placemakers have an exciting opportunity to revolutionise the way we shop, socialise and interact with spaces and each other.

Placemaking - the process of creating vibrant spaces which we live, work, rest and play in, including workspaces and other 'campuses', enterprise, leisure and retail districts - has the ability to foster, unite and strengthen communities, as well as provide creative and commercial opportunities for brands and businesses.

Today, developments are typically driven by architecture and planning, and the branding process happens towards the end, often treated as a surface layer or afterthought. We believe there's a better way. At the heart (and the start) of every new development, there should be an insight-led, creative idea brought to life through a focused and engaging narrative, exciting concept architecture, bold occupant mixes, and an energetic programme.

It’s time to rethink the status quo for a challenging new era. Here are four key steps we believe you, as a landlord, developer, or mall operator, must take in order to radically reinvent your spaces and places and to maximise relevance towards new visitor, consumer and community needs:

Here east exterior
credit: here east

1. Lead with a vision & purpose

A successful place should be led by vision, not architecture. An inspiring vision, driven by purpose, can unify stakeholders and audiences with a shared ambition. It provides something tangible to believe in, acting as a North Star to bring people, places and brands together and ensure all business decisions benefit the greater good of the development, the surrounding area and its collective stakeholders. It should polarise, not generalise - this is an opportunity for brands to gather local insight and lead with a vision that responds to specific needs.

The Here East redevelopment of the London 2012 Olympics Media Centre is one such example. Defined as “London's home for making", the dedicated campus in East London has been designed by and for the makers of the future. Its purpose is clear, and its mission - to regenerate an area as an incubator of local talent, innovation and enterprise - is one that responds directly to local need. Their vision has helped to establish a new narrative for the area and a cultural repurposing, setting the precedent for prestigious new tenants such as the V&A East Project and the English National Ballet.

The impact of developments such as this goes beyond economic regeneration or the physical provision of space, creating platforms for shared purpose that inspire people to engage with brands, organisations and experiences they align with. In this way, tenancies become less transactional and more about fostering meaningful and productive connections that drive growth organically. Defining a strong, purpose-led vision should always be the first step in creating a successful place and attracting the most relevant brands and organisations, whilst polarising an engaged and loyal audience.

burwood brickworks. credit: frasers property australia

2. Offer a 360° lifestyle

Successful developments are those that engage their occupants on multiple levels as platforms for work, rest and play, with a range and diversity in offer and activity to meet their whole-life needs. Defining the core vision is critical to inform the curation of brands, collaborations and activities, but also a well-defined creative concept and personality. The tone, overall aesthetic and design codes are just as important in defining an aspirational lifestyle, unifying a development and creating a memorable experience.

The vision for Burwood Brickworks in Melbourne was to be the world’s most sustainable retail destination, with Australia’s first rooftop urban farm and solar panels producing 105% of their energy needs. Their vision inspires their experience offer and tenant mix, but also crucially a vibrant, green and strictly eco-conscious design philosophy.

Crafting a lifestyle offer that engages from day to night, necessitates exploration of how people will move, gather, and disperse - which activities they do alone or with others and what role particular spaces will play in people's daily lives. The practical consideration of adaptable offerings such as childcare, flexible working spaces and affordable housing solutions are also imperative in catering to a diverse range of lifestyles.

IKEA's Urban Village Project, created by their global research lab SPACE10, is a great example of how placemaking can pre-empt and inspire new behaviours by creating desirable, affordable housing models that embrace constraints of an urban lifestyle. Their vision offers a ‘buy shares’ ownership model and add-on subscriptions for insurance, food and transport, as well as communal services to support a city-centric lifestyle.

Think about your audience’s behaviour. What is their mindset? What are their needs, and how can you harness the power of creativity to respond to them? Identify and consider how to support these 360° lifestyles - this is key to future-proofing any development.

IKEA urban village
urban village project. credit: EFFEKT Architects for SPACE10

3. Rethink brands and concepts to revitalise interest

Once you have defined a lifestyle-led experience offer, the next step should be to consider which occupants will help you achieve your vision. A successful place is not just a generic collection of well-established brands - the general decline of traditional malls, particularly apparent in the USA, is proof that this approach is losing relevance. Instead, create a unique blend of existing and emerging brands and new concepts to keep your offer fresh and in-line with your vision.

Today’s start-ups will grow into superstars. Brands that started off small have now grown up to become millennial favourites - think Warby Parker, Shinola and Sonos. Growth areas such as technology, mobility, and health & beauty, are gaining traction with the forward-thinking consumer, making emerging players from these sectors valuable additions to any development. Neighborhood Goods is a new department store format supporting fledgling online brands, while the new Hudson Yards site in New York has dedicated a whole ‘Floor of Discovery’ to them, allowing visitors to shop the brands they see on their social feeds and experience something new.

Even established retailers such as Selfridges are self-disrupting and blending their own brand with others in order to benefit. Their on-site pop-up space, the Corner Shop, hosts a revolving calendar of tenants - having so far housed big names such as Burberry, Prada, Highsnobiety and Daniel Arsham - and ultimately aligns with Selfridge's purpose of delivering retail theatre.

Carefully curate your occupants in-line with your vision to create an eclectic yet unified mix. Consider offering your space to the next big thing, not just mainstream players. Be bold by blending brands and concepts to reinvent the way that people connect with your space.

190902 Prada Escape Corner Shop
credit: selfridges

4. Be more than a landlord - be the editor

Customers are constantly seeking the new and it’s important to consider how content and activity will act as a magnet to draw people in and provide them with compelling reasons to return. In today’s experience economy, this is almost a given - going a step further, there’s an exciting opportunity to tap into a movement towards self-actualisation. According to Maslow, this is a human being’s drive to become ‘everything one is capable of becoming’. This is just as relevant for consumers, who want to self-transform, not just transact. Instead of a predictable retail hub, imagine your space as a content platform with a constantly updated program of events, activations and pop-ups to delight, inform and transform audiences, providing brands with a meaningful way to connect pre-, during and post-purchase.

London’s Coal Drops Yard is a great example of a place brought to life through programming, campaign-like activations and events. Updates are provided via their website, social media and newsletters, inspiring reasons to connect and visit across all channels. Upskilling and educational workshops can also provide placemakers with an opportunity to diversify their offer with new modes of engagement and routes to revenue. Samsung’s new brand home - Samsung KX - at Coal Drops Yard offers an open-plan space with specific areas for events, skill-sharing workshops and masterclasses where people can learn new skills in a dynamic environment.

Think and act more content curator, less landlord. Whether for education or entertainment, constant reinvention via a calendar of activations, programs and events will keep visitors coming back and ultimately future-proof your development.

Screenmax Centre Stage
credit: samsung

By turning an outdated process on its head and prioritising a key vision instead of architectural planning, we believe placemaking can be transformed for the better. To be successful, developments need to mean something to people. Keeping that unifying creative idea at the heart of the process enables you to establish a relevant experience offer, curate the right mix of occupants and activate a vibrant events program to ensure longevity.

These four key steps work together as a holistic approach to totally reinvent the way that places - be they shopping and leisure complexes, campuses, enterprise and retail districts, or general public areas - enable people to live, work, rest and play.

We’re envisaging an exciting new chapter for creative placemaking and see an opportunity to partner with ambitious developers, landlords, mall operators and brands. If you’re interested in discussing the above steps and more about our ideas and approach, please contact us to continue the conversation.

Illustration by Benedetta Sodini

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