by Sam Crespo

Why do you go to the mall?

To curate your shoe collection? To sample the day’s food court special on a toothpick? To people-watch?

Or to appreciate the architecture?

Sure, the 90-ish stores of Salt Lake City, Utah’s new City Creek Center will clamor for your attention. Nordstrom and Macy’s anchor the retail super-space; specialty and trendy brands like Tiffany & Co., Bose and H&M mix in. And there are plenty of restaurant (and outdoor dining) options, from food court fare to Texas de Brazil Churrascaria.

But it’s the retail environment of City Creek Center that will really grab you.

Let’s start with the architecture – most notably, the center’s 60x500-foot retractable glass roof. It will be open most of the time, but in case of precipitation or too-cool temperatures, it can close like a clamshell in about 4.5 minutes.

Think of the roof as the literal origin of the center’s top-down philosophy to integrate Salt Lake City’s natural surroundings:

Below it, you can see all the way down Main Street to the mountains through the glass walls of a pedestrian skybridge. Sun filters in through the skybridge’s glass ceiling, casting shadows of tree-and-leaf images that are frosted into the design. The result is a visual texture on the bridge floor akin to a forest floor.

Beneath that, you can follow a re-creation of historic City Creek that flows for 1,200 feet through the center. (You can visit a portion of the actual creek inside City Creek Canyon, but the original downtown portion was forced underground to accommodate development long ago. The decision against incorporating the original creek into City Creek Center was made to avoid changing water levels due to snowmelt that could potentially flood the center.)

The creek inspires other water wonders within the center, including an interactive fountain that invites kids to play, and an installation that creates a dance of water, fire, lights and music (if the latter concept sounds familiar, it’s because it was designed by the company that helped produce Las Vegas’ Fountains of Bellagio. Look for it in front of Nordstrom).

Apart from their own interactive fountain, children can thwart boredom on City Creek Center’s playground. To further break up a family shopping trip, challenge kids to identify the footprints of native animals imprinted in the center’s stone paths; then rest on the center’s “benches” – chiseled out of rock, the respites resemble natural outcroppings lining a trail more than manmade seats.

Carrying its natural philosophy one step further, City Creek Center boasts two LEED certifications: Silver and “ND,” which stands for Neighborhood Development. (The retail space is just one component of the City Creek mixed-use project, one of the largest in the country.) In fact, City Creek Center was one of 60 pilot projects selected to help the U.S. Green Building Council finalize its “ND” certification process.

City Creek Center, which celebrated its grand opening on March 22, will no doubt attract its share of visitors to Salt Lake City. That visitorship may be helped by the fact that the most popular tourist destination in Utah sits right across the street: Temple Square, where Brigham Young laid the cornerstone for the temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1853. Free tours are offered daily of Temple Square. Bonus: In spring, the gardens on Temple Square grounds are gorgeous.