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Want A Better Neighborhood? Pay Attention To The Pedestrian Experience

Security Properties' mixed-use Heartline project underway in the Pearl District will enrich the pedestrian experience with street-level retail that spills out onto raised retail "docks" similar to historical loading areas, according to Mithun partner Bert Gregory, who worked on the project's design.

All that, he said, will help make the area vibrant and walkable.

Bisnow asked Gregory and Mithun partner Brendan Connolly what those terms mean in the context of an emerging urban area like the Pearl District.

Heartline project, Pearl District

Bisnow: What are the essential elements in a "vibrant, walkable" urban area?

Bert Gregory: The first 30 feet into the building from the sidewalk are the most important. They should be activating the pedestrian experience. But that's not all. For the first 30 feet up, the experience must also be designed. 

Also, the first 30 feet outside the building should incorporate multiple levels of detail, including rain-protecting canopies, special detailing on the ground floor and delightful streetscape that includes trees, lush stormwater planters, distinctive bicycle parking, specialty lighting and beautiful seating. Safe pedestrian crossings are also critically important.

Bisnow: Is there an essential design difference between ground-floor retail and other uses?

Gregory: Yes. Retail needs high transparency. Less-active uses like office, banks or live-work and residential need less transparency. 

Mithun partner Bert Gregory

Bisnow: In what ways can a building add to the distinctiveness of its neighborhood?

Gregory: Understanding the DNA of any neighborhood, and taking sophisticated steps to amplify the attributes that define it as a special place, are critical in real estate value creation, community acceptance and crafting places people love.

Bisnow: So context matters?

Gregory: Absolutely. All neighborhoods and sites have a soul, be it a historic industrial street that has docks that one wants to reinforce, a brick detailing that can be found in a neighborhood, or those sites where a few edgy new uses and attributes speak to a design that looks to the future. Great, enduring projects emanate from context.

Mithun partner Brendan Connolly

Bisnow: What are useful new technologies in the building design process?

Brendan Connolly: There are many layers to any successful building design process, and technology innovation is integral to projects at all scales. That said, the core foundation of our design process is really the timeless technology: trace paper, markers and collaboration around a shared table between our integrated disciplines. 

Bisnow: Is there a place for more advanced tech?

Connolly: The other vital part of our design process is an unerring commitment to bettering the human experience — a goal that requires understanding the needs of our clients and communities and seeing design through their eyes. To this end, the visualization software we've helped to pioneer has been invaluable, allowing iteration and rapid prototyping of ideas. Visualization also helps to both ground concepts in place and context, and making them legible and interactive with our wider audiences.