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The Shops at La Cantera: luxury shopping along a landscaped “rambla.”

The Shops at La Cantera, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus wing.
Light and landscape create a hospitality ambiance for evening shopping.
Bowl fountains evoke the elegant interior courtyards of Mexico.
Lush landscaping at the Neiman Marcus courtyard.
Deep canopies shade windows and walkways.
Arcaded shopfronts make for great window shopping.
Discovery and delight – creative wayfinding.
Shade, the sound of water, and lush landscaping create the ambiance.

The Shops at La Cantera blends the visual heritage of San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country with the fashion edge necessary to support a setting for high-end retailers, incorporating lush gardens of native landscaping, detailed handcrafting and artisanal materials alongside crisply detailed steel and cut stone.

Created as a prototype idea for future development of regional scale outdoor centers by The Rouse Company and General Growth Properties, the design addresses both modern environmental concerns about land use and nature conservancy and evolving changes in shopping patterns. Overall planning for the center was developed initially with the goal of preserving as much natural landscape as practical. Site edges were preserved largely as wild landscape, which provides a greenbelt buffer to the adjacent freeway. Rather than the typical line of outparcels open to the frontage road wiping out the landscape, this approach creates a sense of transition into the site from the feeder roads. Within the site the center itself was oriented to step down the grade naturally in a series of buildings clustered around an ever-changing linear series of courtyards, paseos and gardens. This coordination between buildings and natural site grading allowed trees to be retained in place in their existing grades and coordinated then with the parking fields to provide shade and break up the parking into smaller zones. This rambling layout, emulative of the market streets of Spain and the Spanish Colonial parts of old San Antonio that meander along the river, encourages pedestrians to ‘round the next corner’ through the use of an irregular linear plan, distinctive architectural features, and water features at transition points where steps occur.

General Growth Properties
San Antonio, Texas
Retail: 1.4 Million SF both phases
Office: 75,000 SF
Phase I Completed 2005
Phase II Completed 2008

Bowl fountains evoke the elegant interior courtyards of Mexico.
Bowl fountains evoke the elegant interior courtyards of Mexico.

Located in a highly environmentally aware community, The Shops at La Cantera is particularly sensitive to the conservation of natural resources. Leading the way as an example of large-scale retail development that works with the natural landscape, the design expands its environmental responses to include the design of water features that both minimize water loss through evaporation and look good as natural features when turned off in drought season. This is coupled with an emphasis on xeriscaping and selection of hardy, low-water foundation plantings throughout the project, which naturally focus on native plants found in the region. Additionally, the design team involved a climate consultant to assist in the shaping of both the spaces and the shading devices that modulate the sun in the various seasons that affect the common area.

Phase II of The Shops at La Cantera changes the core planning idea from the walking garden that is Phase I to a main street development with on-street parking. This street culminates in a shady, wooded restaurant courtyard that acts as an anchor development at the end of the street. An active water feature connects the upper level of this courtyard down to a series of colorful mosaic fountains that form a focus for the surrounding restaurants. As before the emphasis on landscaping, shade and an ever-changing palette of high-quality materials connect this second phase of The Shops to the overall emphasis of an entertaining and beautiful landscaped common area.

Retail placemaking is a complex modern cocktail of entertainment, authentic experiences, and merchandizing that compels consumers to want to get out and engage.

Billy Lawrence, AIA

Project Team


Structural | Jaster-Quintanilla & Associates
MEP | Goetting & Associates
Civil | Pape-Dawson Engineering
Landscape | J. Robert Anderson, FASLA

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