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Public space is the star at new retail center

December 31, 2018

The opening of a brand-new shopping destination in the U.S. can be news all by itself. But that is not the sole reason the shopping center that Sunset Development Co. unveiled a few months ago in San Ramon, Calif., is getting headlines.

City Center Bishop Ranch, a 300-square-foot center that houses 70 stores and restaurants, was designed by the world-renowned Renzo Piano Building Workshop (also called RPBW Architects), in collaboration with San Francisco–based BAR Architects. The center — part of what officials in San Ramon, just east of San Francisco, call their walking district — comprises a pair of U-shaped, two-level, glass-and-steel buildings framing a one-acre plaza.

Genoa, Italy–born Renzo Piano, a Pritzker Prize–winning architect and founder of RPBW, is acclaimed for such projects as the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco; The Shard, in London (Europe’s tallest skyscraper); and the newest location of the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York City.

“We decided to design a piazza, a square — the heart of the project — made out of green, water and space, for cultural and social events,” said Antonio Belvedere, an RPBW partner who served as City Center Bishop Ranch’s lead designer. “At the same time, we wanted to unveil the piazza to the outside; [to achieve this] we lifted up the building, making it ‘float’ over a true arcade running inside and outside, surrounded by a transparent glazed facade. The result is a place where the square and the edges are visually and physically interconnected, and both [are] fused into the Bishop Ranch experience.”

“Sunset Development’s tenant selections are as unconventional as its choices of architects”

Sunset Development has been building projects in San Ramon since Masud R. Mehran founded the company in 1951. The family purchased the 585-acre Bishop Ranch in 1978, when the population of San Ramon was about 20,000. (Since then, that population has nearly quadrupled.) Running Sunset Development today are the founder’s son and grandson: Alexander Mehran Sr., who is chairman and CEO; and Alexander Jr., who is president and COO.

“The area had many beautiful buildings, but there wasn’t a clear public footprint or public face [for Sunset Development],” said Jeff Dodd, senior vice president of retail at Sunset Development. “The valley didn’t have the sort of public space that [the CEO] envisioned.” With City Center Bishop Ranch, Sunset Development created “a new kind of lifestyle destination in the Tri-Valley.”

Sunset Development’s tenant selections are as unconventional as its choices of architects. The two largest are The Lot, a 10-screen cinema and dining destination; and the Equinox San Ramon, a luxury physical-fitness training and yoga center. There are national names (Anthropologie and Athleta) and one-of-a-kind stores (M by Maggie Rizer — a high-fashion boutique). The center is also the second location of The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant owned and operated by San Francisco restaurateur Charles Phan.

The result, according to Dodd, is a beautifully designed space with a sense of continuity and place that draws people together by being an integrated part of the natural flow of the community.

“When Alexander Mehran Sr. and Alex Mehran Jr. came, in 2013, we realized we had in front of us a true family running a true family business,” said Belvedere. “Bishop Ranch was more than a project: The strong commitment of the family towards the local community was evident to us.”

As Piano, no less inspired himself, said of the project in a prepared statement: “The beautiful rolling hills of San Ramon served as the perfect backdrop for City Center’s design and overall feel — and the region’s residents served as the inspiration for its heart.”

By Luke Alpert

Contributor, Shopping Centers Today

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