Exploring retail, restaurant, and mixed-use facilities

Consumers increasingly want a great experience and a good value when they’re dining out or shopping—and that desire is reflected in the demands of engineers assigned to design retail, restaurant, and mixed-use projects.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 29, 2018


CSE: What’s the biggest trend you see today in retail, restaurant, and mixed-use projects? 

Dale Adney: With each of the three building types, there are three very different design approaches, but I haven’t seen much innovation in standard retail. Corporations tend to be issuing their own "green" design standards, which is helping drive systems away from electric-resistance heat and toward more cost-efficient forms of heating. Restaurants are driven by pressurization and exhaust requirements. The modern "exposed" look is helping to remove a number of design barriers that architects have classically had issues with when trying to hide the HVAC distribution. Mixed-use is always confronted with limited roof space and louver areas. Providing heating and cooling through condenser-water piping with tenant heat pumps is a highly energy-efficient and popular approach. Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) with dedicated outdoor-air systems (DOAS) is also becoming less exotic, and the cost savings associated with reduced ductwork and maintenance are giving it a place of consideration in both restaurant and mixed-used designs.

Eric Graettinger: One trend I see in restaurants is they are trying to set themselves apart by using unique architectural and engineering design features and quality lighting. I’m hearing more owners mention that so many restaurants have great food, but to take things to the next level, the lighting, restaurant design, and food presentation need to be "photoworthy" for social media and other promotional opportunities.

Robert A. Kamm: Flexibility is a trend we’re seeing.

CSE: What trends are on the horizon for such projects? What will change in the way Americans shop in brick-and-mortar buildings, for example? What trends are your teammates watching regarding U.S. dining trends?

Juan L. Castro: There used to be a time when you’d go to a department store to shop, then leave to go to a restaurant to eat, just to leave again to go to a completely different place to do a fun activity. Multiple places to visit for multiple experiences. These lines have now blurred, and this is exciting. The lifestyle center is now about creating an experience where you can do all of the above and more.

Bradley D. Williams: The high-end food court concept has been revitalized within New York City. Concepts such as Eataly, Great Northern Food Hall at Grand Central, and the Market Line dining experience slated for the Essex Crossing development have refocused upscale foods in a grab-and-go setting. The impact of these venues translates into more robust MEP systems to support the densified spaces. Larger exhaust systems specifically designed for the diverse food selections as well as increased demand on electrical systems have challenged the MEP designers.

Adney: When restaurants feature an extensive beer list to attract guests, they typically like to show this off. This includes windows into beer-storage coolers that sit adjacent to diner seating as well as large conduits for running beer lines to the taps at the bar.

CSE: Tell us about a recent project you’ve worked on that’s innovative, large-scale, or otherwise noteworthy. In your description, please include significant details—location, systems your team engineered, key players, interesting challenges or obstacles, etc.

Graettinger: I recently worked on a restaurant located inside a new park space, Beacon Park. Its glass walls, which surround the dining room and bar area, open onto the park on three sides. In addition, the restaurant has a green roof, which surrounds a 45-seat rooftop patio that overlooks the park. The core building was designed prior to a tenant being selected and then tailored to the tenant’s needs. The restaurant is co-owned by Detroit’s largest electrical utility company, and appropriately named "Lumen" since its emphasis is on lighting design within the space and the unique lighting features within Beacon Park. Many hours were spent in the field making sure the dimming settings, filters, and color gels were correct, and that lighting scenes within the park were dialed in to allow adjustments based on weather conditions and park activities.

Castro: We’ve been working on a very challenging project recently. It was originally an existing three-level Sears and two-level Auto Center in West Hartford, Conn. These buildings were 40- to 50-years-old, tired, and outdated. It would have been so easy to just demolish everything and start from scratch. But the architect, Daniel Sirk with SA Group, had a vision of redeveloping the buildings into a multitenant shopping experience. I’ll admit that I initially didn’t think it could happen because there were too many obstacles, but we are marching toward completion. I love the fact that we were able to repurpose the building in a great way. It’s definitely a place to make the local community proud.

CSE: Each type of project presents unique challenges. What types of challenges do you encounter on projects for restaurant, retail, and mixed-use facilities that you might not face on other types of structures?

Kamm: Apartments are getting smaller and many are now too small for a 1.5-ton split system. Split systems are wanted by owners to minimize first cost. Using mini-splits or VRF is expensive, and owners do not want to pay for them. Using 1.5-ton splits are too big, and dehumidification becomes a problem because the units do not run long enough.

Graettinger: Kitchen-hood-exhaust venting is a unique challenge in restaurants. There are many requirements—mostly relating to location, the distance to building components, and separation from the intake for ventilation.

Williams: The requirement for increased ventilation due to the higher occupant loads in these venues has challenged engineers. Opportunities to reduce, control, and provide energy recovery on outside-air systems have become critical to the successful design of these projects.