The Architect’s Role in Strip Mall Development

A Guest Article by Ernie Moore, AIA

The strip mall construction phase may be defined as the progressive transformation of an vision into a physical space in which people can function as intended. In strip mall development, that space is the point at which display and sale of goods, or the transaction of agreements or services can take place.

The major players on a strip mall building project are the developer, the architect, and the building contractor. Governmental authorities, consultants, community groups, attorneys, and others may have additional influence on the development, depending on the nature or scope of the project. Each has their own agenda, but these stakeholders share a common goal of seeing the process to an acceptable end.

The project architect refines and transforms the client’s concepts into a set of working drawings a contractor puts out for bids and later uses to direct actual construction. The architect’s prime goal is the satisfaction of various goals and directives that the client (in this case the developer) has ,at least in the client’s mind 😉 articulated.

These may include the look and feel of the final product, the building and spaces sizes, access to utilities, storage, and trash enclosures, public amenities, materials used in construction, and the general construction and materials quality.

In addition to client-driven goals, the architect must also incorporate various legal mandates, codes, and regulations into the project design. Particularly in commercial construction where publics are the prime users, the architect, under review by code officials, is the responsible party for insuring that development of those considerations is consistent with local codes, regulations, planning guidelines or other restrictions a local jurisdiction may have enacted. If a conflict exists between a client request and what a local code articulates, the code requirements prevail. Although it may be possible to argue or appeal a code official’s decision, appeals are expensive and time-consuming and require all parties to be well versed in the details of the arguments.

The architect’s knowledge of local, state, and federal codes, combined with a talent for mediation, can save the client weeks of time and thousands of needless expenditure dollars.

Besides the contractual role as the client’s agent and representative before the governing authority, it is often the unspoken but self-appointed role of the architect as the maker of aesthetics, the creator of the beautiful building. Although within the architectural community this role may be considered the architect’s main purpose in life, in reality this aesthetic factor fills the available spaces between the mandates of the client and governmental agendas. In an ideal world there would be no conflict; but in reality if a particular component of a space or building is “economically defective” or doesn’t make code, no matter how beautiful, it doesn’t get built. To avoid such conflicts, what “succeeds” as a design is what has been done before, and the architect’s role defaults to a previous body of “successful” work, either his or others’, on which to base their current design.

The architect’s role also envelopes various conceptual goals the architect may like to see furthered in the project. These could be sustainability, new urbanism, mixed use, community enhancement, or a particular style or theme of which the architect is fond and is trying to promote. These schematics would be discussed and evaluated as to viability early in the design process. Especially when a local jurisdiction is attempting to mandate a particular design, these underlying designs could be the reason a particular architect was engaged.

The sum of the architect’s functions places his role as an integral facilitator and resolver of the client’s objectives, an interpreter and executive of government regulations, and an overseer of the development of initial concepts into a set of drawings by which the entire construction process shall be driven.

Ernie Moore in the principal architect in the Sacramento, CA firm ArO. Ernie designed a building for us that was a finalist among four others out of approximately 300 entries in the Community Enhancement category. He may be reached at or (916) 428-2351

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