Saturday, December 04, 2004

NorthPark: bigger but still old-school

One of the first malls I knew by name when I was in elementary school I learned about in a '60s era modern art book. The mall is NorthPark Center and it was a gleaming white beacon of modernism when built in 1965 outside Dallas. I remember thinking it was one of the coolest buildings I'd ever seen. I've never been to NorthPark, or Dallas for that matter, but I always wanted to visit this place that seemed to me like the ultimate expression of"real' modern architecture in a retail concept.

In some ways, my love for SouthPark was bolstered by its formerly striking resemblence to NorthPark. In their orignial versions, the two malls were very much like each other. Even today, they have some of the same tenants and serve the same kind of upsacale market. From a design standpoint however, SouthPark changed dramatically over the last five years: turning into a postmodern Neoclassical mix, while northpark still looks the same as ever: restrained but elegant.

I always assumed that it had been changed from its original design, as malls often are. I was relieved to find out by visitng their website that things have only changed there in the gross square footage of the building.

"NorthPark's best accolade is that it isn't a trendy center," said Lance Josal, who heads the Dallas office of international architect RTKL Associates Inc. "It isn't bending to each passing whim of retail design.

"NorthPark has a cachet, and it is renowned throughout the retail industry," he said. "It's not as much about what they did but what they chose not to do."

When developer Raymond Nasher leased a cotton field on Northwest Highway from the Caruth family, the property was at the edge of town. He had to strong-arm some retailers to go into Dallas' first "climate-controlled" shopping center.

The merchants weren't all convinced that a "mall" could lure tenants away from street-side shopping and downtown stores.

The doubters were left in the dust, and NorthPark became one of the top shopping centers in the country in sales volume. NorthPark still generates about $550 per square foot in annual sales and is expected to be one of the top five retail centers in the country when the expansion is complete.

Through it all, the mall has remained under the guidance of the Nasher family, which has taken a special interest in preserving the center's integrity in design and leasing.

The Dallas Morning News recently published an article on the evolving state of NorthPark Center, highlighting a renovation that will add a new Nordstrom store, additional shops, and an interior garden. to my relief, unlike at SouthPark, the building will still be recognizable as NorthPark, with the same white brick, clear glass and concrete floors of the original design.

Read more @ Update in store for NorthPark. Also check out NorthPark's website

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