River Oaks District Design Meant to Evoke Neighborhood Feel
October 2, 2015
River Oaks District Design Meant to Evoke Neighborhood Feel
Houston Chronicle

Before the first dirt was turned on the River Oaks District, architects and designers were setting the tone for the upscale retail center, one that would offer an open-air, pedestrian-driven shopping experience that would appeal to Houstonians even during the hottest months of the year.

“Does it get hot? Yeah, but you wear a hat or you go into a cafe,” developer Dene Oliver said this week during the opening ceremony of the district.

In planning the urban-style project, Duncan Paterson, principal of Gensler and design director for River Oaks District, said the goal became creating an experience not often found in Houston where much of the urban fabric is dominated by the automobile.

The project has already begun to influence what’s being built around it, Paterson said, referring to high-end residential being developed nearby.

“We’re having a huge impact beyond our 16 acres,” he said.

Despite its size, Kelli Hollinger, director at the Center for Retailing Studies at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, called River Oaks District an “intimate shopping experience.”

“This is somewhere you can stroll and experience and because of the small square footage of many of the boutiques, have a more one-on-one shopping experience with a highly trained, more customer-focused staff,” she said.

While the corner shop spaces are larger, the retailers that line the streets in River Oaks District are only around 2,000 square feet apiece, said Lisa Pope-Westerman, a regional retail director at Gensler who designed the interiors of several retailers there. That gives the project a more inviting, neighborhood-like feel.

The 650,000-square-foot project is based on a New York-style street grid system where visitors are meant to stroll under storefront canopies along tree-lined streets. The landscaping alone was a multi-million dollar expense.

“Very few developers in the country believe in the impact of horticulture and streetscape,” said Douglas Hoerr, partner with landscape architecture firm Hoerr Schaudt.

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