Designer Forum: Ruscio Studio brings Winnipeg’s Garden City Shopping Centre back to life with a concept inspired by its name - Dec 2021

By Robert Ruscio

When it comes to mall design, renovations usually have a very long lifecycle, not necessarily bonded to leasing timelines but sometimes extending to 20 years or more. However, as property owners look to recoup their significant investment over the long haul, it’s important that the shopping environment feel contemporary. And with the proliferation of online shopping, physical spaces must offer an element of inspiration and intrigue if they are to pull shoppers in the door.

Winnipeg’s Garden City Shopping Centre had not been renovated since 1989, and with new retail centers popping up in the neighborhood, the mall was overdue for a makeover. Antiquated lighting, outdated finishes, a dark and somber food court, and randomly placed amenities were just a few of the elements that aged the mall.

Ruscio Studio’s approach was to develop a sleek, contemporary design that played upon the facility’s garden moniker. This was successfully executed by introducing a variety of floral fabric patterns, Canadian oak hardwood and distinctive, colorful lounge areas. Orb-shaped wooden pendant lights clustered and suspended at various heights played a pivotal role in the redesign.

With existing coffered and skylit ceilings measuring 20’x20’x40’ throughout the mall, the design team made lighting a feature element by introducing round wooden pendants from designer David Truebridge with varied geometric cutouts-Coral and Floral. The team chose different sizes and finishes to create cluster-like combinations that add a great deal of texture within the space.

The majority of these light groupings are situated in the mall’s large light wells. During the day, they are illuminated by natural light. In the evening, the suspended clusters light up and generate fine projections on the ceilings through their cutouts. The pièce de resistance, however, is located in the central court, where the Ruscio team has the largest composition under three large skylights. These almost floral-like organic forms are essential elements of the design that contribute to the garden concept captured in the common areas.

Anchoring the new design is the Hills porcelain tile collection from Alfalux. For the flooring, the design team wanted a material that offered neutral tones, one that would age gracefully and one that was durable enough to handle heavy traffic. The through-body tiles, available in five subtle earth tones, provide an understated and timeless elegance. The graceful veining, inspired by the stony riverbanks of the Secchia in Tuscany, offers a sense of organic movement underfoot, propelling shoppers through the space while tying into the overall design theme. These tiles became the element that connected the entire concept together.

The rectified field tile is made up of various formats. The tiles are all 36” long; however, the width varies between 6” and 18”, making the vertical brickwork pattern installation very dynamic. And the border tile is composed of six rows installed in a soldier pattern in a natural finish. Although the configuration of the border tiles is different, the absence of distracting colors, busy patterns and decorative motifs results in the mall aisles appearing wider and storefronts popping. The warm neutral tone (Cerreto) creates a welcoming and rich setting.

The mall’s secondary entrance corridors are distinguished with the exact same installation patterns; however, the contrasting charcoal tone (Busana) makes a bold statement, while offering a simple transition between the two floors.

Wanting to create a bright and inviting place for shoppers to gather, the team carried this aesthetic into the food court. The previous food court design was originally meant to be cozy and intimate, but over time it had become gloomy and outdated. The refresh went in the opposite direction, as the designers wanted to create a space that would be open and airy.

To start, they eliminated the wilting trees and brightened the space with the same light-toned Cerreto porcelain as in the main corridors, cleared the skylights and introduced a modern design for the furniture and amenities. With white columns, piping and ceiling features, the space seems to soar.

The only flooring pattern found throughout the entire 380,000-square-foot mall is located in the center court. A giant gradient burst of the same field tile is introduced, but in four different tones: Cerreto, Busana, Toana and Villa. Occasionally referred to as an art installation by tenants and customers, this unique pattern represents the convergence of shoppers as they flow from one aisle to the other. The borderless pattern also allows for flexibility when the center court needs to be arranged for various events or holidays, as organizers are not hindered by a restricted floor design. Pop-up kiosks or Santa and his elves can be placed freely anywhere in the court without seeming at juxtaposition to the flooring design.

The design team also broke free from the mold when it came to tile selection for the restrooms. As an anchoring base, the team specified a solid charcoal floor tile from Casalgrande’s Marte collection. Providing a contrast to the mall’s main areas, as well as a subdued framework for the dynamic wall tiles, Ruscio Studio opted for a simple stacked pattern in a single size, 12”x24”. The porcelain tile’s marble-like aesthetic also feels clean and contemporary without being distracting, leaving the walls to be the center of attention. For the walls, unexpected bold geometric patterned tiles were used for both men’s and women’s restrooms, each having their own distinctive tone.

Overall, the end result is a revitalized, warm and inviting space that better serves the needs of the local community. The success of the renovation was felt immediately-mall traffic increased by an impressive 22%. As one online reviewer put it, “The recent renovations at the mall are quite incredible. It’s hard to believe this is the same mall! The space is bright, modern and very comfortable for walking around.” The modernized design, including the remarkable floor tiles, is even now being applied to the newly redeveloped 92,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Sears.

Copyright 2021 Floor Focus