Silicon Valley Reinvents the Mall

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The Hills at Vallco / Rafael Viñoly and OLIN

As malls die off around the country, and more people shop online, new shopping center models are desperately needed. In Silicon Valley, the source of so much game-changing innovation, the mall appears to be the next format to get a reboot. “Starchitect” Rafael Viñoly and landscape architects at OLIN are transforming Cupertino’s struggling mall into the 50-acre Hills at Vallco, a hybrid retail, commercial, and residential hub, all covered in what they promise will be the “world’s largest green roof.” The 30-acre green roof, which will function as both community park and nature preserve, will offer 3.8 miles of “walking and jogging trails, meadows, vineyards, orchards and organic gardens, children’s play areas and a refuge for native species of plants and birds,” writes the Sand Hill Property company, the developers of the $3 billion project.

The Silicon Valley Business Journal says the unique design came out of extensive community engagement, as developers hosted 20 public meetings and received more than 3,000 ideas through their web site. Reed Moulds, Sand Hill managing director, told The San Jose Mercury News: “There will be nothing like it when we are done. We believe its community focus will make this a remarkable place to live, work, dine, play, learn and recreate.”

At ground level, the developers aim to create from scratch an “entertainment-driven downtown,” writes the Silicon Valley Business Journal. A 15-block street grid will carve out spaces for two new 3-acre “town squares,” which will offer outdoor movie nights and farmers markets, surrounded by a mix of stores and restaurants selling “local and organic food.”

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The Hills at Vallco / Rafael Viñoly and OLIN
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The Hills at Vallco / Rafael Viñoly and OLIN

Surrounding these squares will be 625,000 square feet of entertainment and retail space, as well as 2 million square feet of office space, reports The San Jose Mercury News. There will also be 680 apartments at market rate, with 120 set aside as affordable housing or apartments for seniors. The idea behind the mix is that the office space will bring in traffic during the daytime, while those living in the apartments will be active there on weekends.

The $300-million-dollar green roof will be accessed via a set of slopes and bridges that will take residents and visitors up to the expanse covered in trails, farms, and playgrounds. According to The San Jose Mercury News, OLIN will use recycled water to irrigate the landscape, which will feature native and drought-tolerant plants.

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The Hills at Vallco / Rafael Viñoly and OLIN
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The Hills at Vallco / Rafael Viñoly and OLIN
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The Hills at Vallco / Rafael Viñoly and OLIN

The developers are aiming for LEED Platinum for the entire development. A mix of sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails may help to reduce car use in the development, probably to the extent other dense mixed-use developments in suburbia have. It will be up to the city of Cupertino, with its lame walk score of 45, to extend the pedestrian infrastructure into a real network.

To sweeten the deal, the developers will build a new $40-million-dollar elementary school as well as an innovation center, an “incubator,” for high school students.

The Hills at Vallco will still have to compete with the nearby Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto and Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose, which is perhaps why there are so many extraordinary features. But with Google’s new Mountain View headquarters, with its massive glass dome that will result in its own temperature-controlled climate, and Apple’s giant ring-shaped headquarters, with its ten thousand parking spaces, in development just a few miles away, the developers are betting they can make the Hills at Vallco a magnet for decades to come.

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