"Here, a retro symbol of car culture, the highway billboard, is reclaimed addressing the two site scales--the auto traffic at Washtenaw and the pedestrian traffic through the retail center." In other words, it's not some leftover construction scaffolding; it's an ironic postmodern architectural comment. Arbor Hills Crossing is trying to integrate the best aspects of suburban malls like Briarwood and urban settings like downtown's Main Street, and it's using its architecture to represent that.
Jaimie Bulla, development manager of the project, says that Arbor Hills was designed to be, first of all, "pedestrian friendly and walkable." It's divided into four buildings, all of which "conform to the scale of city blocks. Each building is a slightly different size and layout, but the materials--the brick, mortar and steel--are the same," providing visual cohesion, but not cookie-cutter replication. Between the buildings and parking lots are landscaped walkways, and the southern boundary is a forested wetland. To the west is County Farm Park, ribboned by its long bike path.
Those who remember Briarwood's opening in 1974 should appreciate the contrast. Briarwood was considered a grand improvement on Ann Arbor's first destination mall, Arborland, just down the road from Arbor Hills. Neither mall gave much thought to making its outdoor areas pedestrian friendly: they were great big boxes plunked down in vast parking lots. Why wouldn't their architecture advertise that they were built for people with cars? Ample parking was the point. Briarwood's great leap forward was to create spacious interior spaces with gracious proportions, high-quality materials, abstract sculpture, and a (now gone) fountain.