From SoCal Real Estate’s October 2018 issue:
Outdoor elements are now essential to experience-driven environments.
By Carrie Rossenfeld
In Southern California, where much of the appeal is our beautiful weather, we spend a lot of time outside. As a result, the commercial real estate industry pays a considerable amount of attention to outdoor elements like landscape design.
Experts say we’ve begun to pay even more attention to landscape design as the property sectors have shifted focus. “With the role of brick-and-mortar retail changing, landscape design is becoming a larger component of commercial developments and is playing an extremely important role in experience-driven environments,” Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, president and CFO of Lifescapes International Inc., a Newport Beach, California–based landscape architecture and design firm, tells SoCal Real Estate.
For example, Lifescapes completed the landscape design for Pacific City, a busy retail center in Huntington Beach that delivered in 2016. The firm incorporated a variety of “mini destinations” through its expansive landscape design, such as umbrella-covered patios and seating areas, fire pits, and sustainable wooden benches that flow across the front of the center.
Almost everything we see in the design of privately owned public space has changed as a result of technology and a new generation of people with different demands than previous generations, says J. Wickham Zimmerman, CEO of Outside the Lines Inc. (OTL), a design and themed-construction company in Anaheim, California. Water features, rock work, and themed environments all play into landscape design and are becoming more prevalent in CRE projects.
“Across the board, landscape (hardscape and plant selections), water features, and other elements that were formerly treated as background elements are now of vital importance,” Zimmerman says. “In part, this is because there is now an expectation for commercial real estate to be more than just ‘a place to go.’”
The role of landscape architecture in commercial real estate is creating environments that are relaxing, exciting, memorable, and/or an escape from the mundane, adds Chris Roy, director of creative design for OTL. “While the focus has been and continues to be on creating appealing, enjoyable places, these environments are becoming more engaging while also integrating more sustainable, green features and practices.”
The programs for projects are continually evolving, Roy says. “Developers and owners are faced with new tenant mixes and typologies and continue to introduce more sophisticated aesthetics, technology, and entertainment to appeal to the changing wants and needs of the demographics they serve.” OTL’s projects are mirroring this trend by becoming more advanced in both aesthetics and technology in order to remain relevant and interesting to a continually more sophisticated consumer.
Developers and tenants are also becoming more sophisticated in their approach to landscape design. Brinkerhoff-Jacobs says both groups understand the deep value outdoor elements bring to a property and the role it plays in driving traffic — the ultimate goal of most public projects. “From a retail standpoint, developers are focusing on landscape-design elements that are not only nice to look at but build an emotional connection to consumers that keep them coming back to a center time and time again,” she explains. “These elements include open spaces, programmed events, outdoor ‘living rooms’ that act as gathering spaces where people can relax and socialize, large water-entertainment features, and kids’ play areas. By incorporating these features, developers are able to attract high-quality tenants, charge a premium on rents, and drive increased ROI.”
And tenants are ultimately going to be drawn to a center that has the most traffic, so they are willing to pay a premium for it, Brinkerhoff-Jacobs adds. “They understand that by having a water feature that hosts daily and nightly water shows, or strategically placed gathering spaces surrounded by beautiful gardens, consumers will not only linger longer but return to the center over and over again. This ultimately results in higher sales for the tenant.”
People want places to gather and relax, so more of these properties are being designed with “pocket parks” and “town squares” incorporated, Zimmerman says. “These areas become a huge draw for tenants and guests alike, and they are best executed with lush and inviting landscapes and water features.”
Additionally, these areas can also be used for sources of revenue: weddings, events, parties, kiosks, pop-up vendors, etcetera, Zimmerman says.
Developers and tenants recognize placemaking amenities as a key to attracting and retaining customers, and Roy points out that these amenities directly affect stakeholders’ bottom lines: “Experienced developers are aware of the upside these amenities deliver — projects with highly designed architecture, landscape, and amenities such as water features and pocket parks command rents 15 percent to 20 percent higher than local market-rate properties without these features.”
Sustainability is a major component for any project, especially in regions with drier climates, and outdoor design must take it into consideration as well. Brinkerhoff-Jacobs says her firm incorporates sustainable elements in all of its projects, whether it’s drip irrigation systems or sustainable plant materials, which reduce water costs and ensure the long-term success of a design.
Lifescapes recently completed the landscape design for the $300 million expansion of the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California, a dry region with intense heat. “With this in mind, we created a careful balance between drought-tolerant plant materials and lush garden elements. While 60 percent of the plants throughout the project are drought tolerant, we concentrated the lush plant materials in areas of the resort where they have the most impact: in highly trafficked areas such as the pool, event lawn, and entryway.”
While water features have not typically been a source of LEED points, they can be, Zimmerman says. OTL, which also incorporates sustainability features in all of its projects, has worked on one project where a water feature is part of an evaporative cooling system and on others where the makeup water comes from building condensate or captured rainwater. Roy adds that all of OTL’s projects use LED lights and high-efficiency pumps and almost all use VFDs for flow control, reducing electricity usage. Also, many of OTL’s water features are choreographic, so that the firm is generating much more interesting water effects while running the pumps at much lower averaged speeds. Use of alternative, non-potable water sources, storm-water runoff, chemical-free sanitation systems, and integration with building mechanical systems to reduce HVAC loads are also part of OTL’s sustainability strategy.
Moving forward, we will continue to see a shift in landscape design across all product types toward more experiential features, Brinkerhoff-Jacobs says. For example, in the office sector, one of the key elements to creative-office properties is outdoor space, where people can hold meetings or work where there is access to power hubs and Wi-Fi. “Developers are incorporating expansive outdoor community spaces that feature water features, seating and gathering areas, and even gaming areas,” she says.
Multifamily properties are utilizing outdoor elements such as built-out rooftops as an amenity. “For example, we designed the landscape design for The Marke, an apartment community in Santa Ana where we transformed the rooftop into a resort-like destination for residents,” says Brinkerhoff-Jacobs. “It features an amenity-driven pool equipped with private cabanas, an outdoor theater, fire pits and seating, and an indoor/outdoor gym with state-of-the-art AstroTurf.”
Both technology and changing consumer expectations will play a large part in the evolution of outdoor elements, Zimmerman says. “For example, ‘interactive’ no longer means just running through a fountain and getting wet to cool off. It now commands other means of interactivity. Augmented reality is becoming more prevalent and can enable us to participate without going anywhere; it can also add an educational element to water features and design elements. There are smartphone apps that allow users to point their phone at a plant, insect, or themed element and get immediate information on the item and its history.”
Smartphones will continue influence outdoor interactivity, Zimmerman predicts. He says that in the future, firms will be able to design water features where visitors can make water and lights dance by moving their phones around and create 3D images that can move around the site with video projection, and those images can appear to be very real.
Competition in the industry is part of what’s driving these advancements, Roy says. “It’s a constant evolution of one-upmanship, as aesthetics are constantly being pushed and refined to make each project stand out from other competing projects.”