Design Principles for Mixed-Use Properties

As more and more people prefer to eat, shop, and live all without having to hop in a car, cities like Vancouver have had to adapt. And with limited land available, the development of mixed-used buildings, which combines commercial and residential, continues to grow. These structures are seemingly a win-win, providing homeowners with the convenience of a 'one-stop shop', and small businesses with built-in customers and exposure.

However, blending two types of real estate into one has its set of challenges. Peter Odegaard, Principal Architect at MCM Partners, says that mixed-use buildings are by far one of the most difficult to design. 

Whole Foods on Cambie, Image Source:

“Compromise is the key word with mixed-used,” says Odegaard. “When approaching a project, we always start with designing retail before residential because it’s easier to make changes to homes. But in the commercial spaces, once you’ve made the decision, it’s much harder to fix – if you’re able to fix it at all.”

For developers, having the tenants already secured is essential before architects can design the project. From ceiling heights to plumbing needs, some retailers, in particular restaurants, have very specific requirements in order to operate. 

Residents, Skytrain Station, and Commercial Tenants combined at Marine Gateway, Image: Marine Gateway

“Twelve foot ceilings eliminates 80% of retail,” says Daniel Lee, Principal at Northwest Atlantic. “Tenants need high ceilings for things like equipment and lighting. That’s why education is key, especially for the City of Vancouver, who often doesn’t understand that height caps limit economic development.”

Unlike a residential tower, there are a number of factors that architects need to consider when designing mixed-use. This includes loading access for suppliers delivering products as well as ample parking for customers. Plumbing is also a big concern, as is lot size, sustainability, and exposure for retailers.

In terms of environmental responsibility, mixed-use facilities use the land more efficiently compared to separate commercial and residential towers. However, additional problems often arise, including trash, smells, and noise, which ideally are mitigated in the design.

Would you prefer to work or live in a mixed-used building? Tweet @naiopvancouver and let us know!

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