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Mall gets its look for less

Arquitectonica International Corp., the hot Coral Gables-based architectural firm whose futuristic designs got worldwide exposure from the credits on Miami Vice, doesn't restrict its work to big-budget office buildings, condos and mansions. The firm designed Sawgrass Mills, the 2.2-million-square-foot discount/outlet mall that opened on the edge of the Everglades in Broward County two weeks ago.

Mall developers picked Arquitectonica partly to jazz up a 212-store mall that's supposed to mix budget-priced shopping with entertainment in a festive marketplace atmosphere.

How did the firm get the price per square foot down to about a third of the construction cost of a typical regional mall?

For one thing, the materials were much cheaper. Floors are wood. Most of the accent treatments are brightly colored fabric or painted drywall. And much of the decoration of the cavernous space that soars above the two-mile string of single-story storefronts is bare air conditioning duct work and the exposed steel superstructure that holds up the roofs.

"Basically, this is just a series of four huge Butler buildings," said Sergio Bakas, Arquitectonica vice president. "We just used them in a different way."