Santa Monica Place is one of the few shopping centers to open in the United States during 2010. And it’s quite a place! Does your local shopping mall have ocean and mountain views from rooftop restaurants and patio areas? Or valet parking? Or seating areas with designer chairs?

Located two blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., a locale featured in many TV shows and films, the new Santa Monica Place is a complete makeover of the original Santa Monica shopping center that was built more than three decades ago; the original was designed by then up-and-coming architect Frank Gehry. Visitors to that enclosed three-level mall with department stores, specialty shops and a food court gradually declined in number as the adjoining Third Street Promenade—with its landscaped, shop-lined, pedestrian-friendly environment and entertaining array of street performers—gained in popularity.

Two years ago, Macerich Co., operator and developer of more than 70 retail properties, decided to redevelop the site. The company spent $265 million to convert Santa Monica Place to an open-air center, by ripping off the roof and stripping the previous center down to its steel foundations. Whiting-Turner was the general contractor. The electrical contractors included Cupertino Electric, a company headquartered in San Jose, Calif., with an office in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and Cartier Electrical Technologies of Simi Valley, Calif.

“We were able to harness tremendous construction talent for Santa Monica Place. Everyone, including the electrical contractors, worked hard to not only create this beautiful new shopping and dining destination but also to deliver it on time,” said Don Foster, senior vice president, Design & Construction, Macerich Co.

Cupertino Electric’s $8.7 million contract for the core and shell consisted of a large lighting package, emergency inverters, feeder conduit to each of the tenant spaces, lighting control, fire alarm system work, and upgrades to some of the existing utilities for the anchor stores.
Cartier Electrical Technologies Inc.’s contract was for the fire alarm system.

Expectations for the look, attraction, feel, accessibility, design, and work of the construction team were high for the August 2010 opening. People camped out overnight to be the first to get inside the 550,000-square-foot three-story rebuild that is anchored by Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. More than 3,000 people were on hand when its doors opened. In celebration of the neighborhood, instead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony, hundreds of beachballs were thrown out to the crowd.

Santa Monica Place has a large central plaza on its ground level with four separate entrances leading into it. Each entrance is unique and designed to fit the neighbor it faces. The eastern and western entrances face side streets, which are not heavily trafficked; shoppers who stop for the valet parking service depart their cars and enter the mall through landscaped plazas that lead into the central area. The northern entrance segues seamlessly from the adjoining Third Street Promenade into the center court.

“When you look at the plan of the building, one thing that’s apparent is that there are no straight lines, no parallel lines, so with a few exceptions, everything is eccentric. The circles don’t align with each other. So it’s all irregular, and that’s a big part of the design aesthetic,” said John Martin, lighting designer, Kaplan Gehring McCarroll Architectural Lighting Inc. (KGM) of El Segundo, Calif., the company that designed the lighting for the public places. “Everything is a little bit custom. In the ceiling of the lower floors in the east and the west, we designed a randomized pattern of light squares—luminous squares—to react to the very irregular shapes in Santa Monica Place.”

The ceilings he refers to are in promenades or circulation areas that front high-end stores, such as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton and Swarovski.

“The look they were going for in the ceilings of the first and second floors was a mock skylight effect,” said Chris Hamann, project manager, Cupertino Electric. “Rather than seeing downlights or indirect fixtures in the ceiling, you see what looks to be a large number of glowing skylights. We installed the fixtures in 2-foot-by-2-foot-by-2-foot boxes with a white diffuser that ultimately gives off a glow.”

Cupertino installed similar but larger light boxes—4-foot-by-4-foot-by-2-foot ones—in the ceiling above the southern entrance, a covered walk-through.

“It’s the same type of application but had larger fixtures and boxes because that portion of the project had the most overhead coverage,” Hamann said.

It was the irregular scatter-pattern of the lighting boxes that proved challenging for all concerned. Since the lighting was not laid out symmetrically, where a sprinkler line could be run down the middle, the process called for close work between the lighting designer KGM and the various trades.
“There was a lot of coordination because something so simple as a randomized pattern ended up being very complicated to implement,” Martin said. “The trades might say that ‘in this bay, we’re going to run all the sprinklers and all the conduit and all the mechanical runs. And then in this bay, we’re going to run a piece of structural steel that’s not going to allow anything but a few penetrations.’ In some small areas where conduits and sprinkler lines tend to run in straight lines because they are repetitive, we had to play with the pattern. So, it was very challenging for everybody to basically get something that looked random. It was especially challenging for Cupertino because it required them to put in a lot of bends, and they were very generous, cooperative, forthcoming and willing to collaborate in making it all work,” Martin said.

Like the scatter-pattern lighting design, every aspect of Santa Monica Place is carefully detailed—the color scheme, the landscaping, and even the elevators, which are glass and travel between the first and the third floors. Steel beams rise vertically at their four corners with glass forming the walls. They could be almost invisible because of their transparency, but a design detail was added: LED lights strategically placed on the framing beams of each elevator that are constantly changing in color.

“Our design intention was to create something interesting, to create interest at the extremities of the mall because, once you enter in, you want to explore the other areas that are off the main north-south, east-west axis. The LEDs are an icon to draw you to other areas,” Martin said. “The idea is to create a slow changing chromatic. We wanted it to be kinetic but not unnerving.”

In this case, the installation of the LED lights was not Cupertino’s concern. It was access and the time frame.

“We wanted to get our fixtures in before they started hanging glass, before the glass was up, before we were buried. Once the glass was on, we would have been working atop the elevator inside the elevator compartment. We drilled and tapped the beams then mounted our fixtures and installed the low-voltage controls between the fixtures,” Hamann said. “The main concern regarding these fixtures was the fact that they had a 16–20 week lead time, so we had to make sure we received and installed them prior to the glass install.”

On the third-level Dining Deck, many of the six chef--driven fine restaurants and nine casual dining spots have seating in a glass-walled area with ocean views. Adjoining the open outdoor seating is an indoor food court area. At Sarku Japan, a restaurant that features made-to-order sushi, Cupertino installed a Lutron EcoSystem lighting control system, which helps take advantage of the area’s sunny climate.

“The EcoSystem allows control and programming of groups and/or individual fixtures so that naturally lit areas can be dimmed or turned off during the day. This helps to both save energy consumption and extend the life of the fixtures and lamps that are controlled by the system,” Hamann said.

Cupertino used an average crew of 20 for most of the project, but that number increased to 41 in the weeks before the opening when the company managed feeder connections for more than 70 tenants.

The month before opening was equally busy for Cartier Electrical Technologies, which installed the SimplexGrinnell 4100U fire detection and alarm system throughout Santa Monica Place.

“The schedule was challenging,” said Eric Cartier, president, Cartier Electrical Technologies.

Cartier Electrical started on the core and shell when other contractors were bringing the elevators online and continued to work on the core and shell aspect of the project for almost three months.

“Then we were off the job for several months waiting for it to catch up with us,” Cartier said.

When it did catch up with Cartier Electrical, it was only a few weeks before the opening.

“While the installation of the core and shell went well, it was difficult when the 70-plus tenants were also trying to complete their spaces to move in,” he said. “Before they could, we had to tie all their fire alarm systems into the site-wide system, program them and have them tested by the fire department. It was quite an event trying to get all those tenants completed within a couple of weeks.”

That included the work on Bloomingdales, one of the anchor stores. Delays in construction left Cartier Electrical little time.

“We had only 10 days to complete the whole Bloomingdales building and it was an approximately 600-hour job,” Cartier said, who used a crew of eight.

But completed it was, as was the rest of the complex. It was ready for the opening day beachball toss!


CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at scbooks@aol.com and www.susancaseybooks.com.