Tsawwassen Mills: Massive new mall relies on a comprehensive sign system

Photos courtesy Ivanhoé Cambridge

By Peter Saunders
Greater Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Mills, which opened in October 2016, is the biggest shopping centre built anywhere in Canada since 2009. At nearly 140,000 m2 (1.5 million sf), the facility is roughly as large as Granville Island. As such, a comprehensive wayfinding system is necessary to help customers navigate the mall, which features six public entrances, five distinct shopping ‘neighbourhoods,’ 180 stores, a 1,100-seat food court, four traditional sit-down restaurants, a children’s play area and a sports dome.

A new partnership
The shopping mall is a partnership between commercial real estate developer Ivanhoé Cambridge and the Tsawwassen First Nation, which has lived continually on British Columbia’s south coast for thousands of years. Approximately half of the tribe’s 430 members live on the 724-ha (1,790-acre) Tsawwassen lands. In 2009, marking the culmination of 14 years of negotiations, the tribe ratified the province’s first urban First Nations Treaty, which ensures municipal, provincial and federal types of jurisdiction over the land base.

The treaty was followed by the partnership with Ivanhoé Cambridge and, after two years of planning and site preparation, the building of the mall began in 2014. The purpose of the project is to generate revenue to advance economic development for the tribe’s members and fund social programs, including the construction of a new community centre.

“This is definitely a foundation development that’s going to help shape the future of the Tsawwassen First Nation for both current and future generations,” says Tanya Corbet, one of the tribe’s council members.

The facility is roughly as large as Granville Island.

Design inspirations
Ivanhoé Cambridge, which leases the land from the tribe, built the $600-million-plus mall over two years with an indigenous theme. Each of the five shopping neighbourhoods—Fashion, Nature, City, Outdoor Life and Coast Salish—features custom design elements. Artwork contributed by members of the Tsawwassen First Nation, including Chief Bryce Williams, is also prevalent throughout the complex.

Graphic walls above the tenants, floor patterns, materials and storefront entrances were all planned together to reflect the overall theme of each area within the mall.

The design theme for the Fashion neighbourhood is ‘pattern.’ Neutral graphic patterns and distinct ‘pops’ of colour help define a stylish area, with a community court taking visual clues from Greater Vancouver’s diverse communities.

The Nature neighbourhood is filled with visual interpretations of British Columbia’s wildlife and natural elements. The play court, for example, invites children to join an imaginary underwater exploration with sea creatures and rising bubbles.

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