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The fluid shopping mall—floating cubes of commerce
Posted August 1st, 2013 in Uncategorized by Rick Hill

512f8b8db3fc4ba0ee000185_new-york-s-telescopic-culture-shed-_culture_shed_01_view_from_high_line_at_30th_st-528x413In my last post, I discussed the threat of internet shopping to the modern shopping mall, and I suggested the complete rethinking of shopping-center designs by owners and developers.

 

We must conceive of the built marketplace through a different way of thinking, one that challenges the very notion of a fixed brick-and-mortar place. We must envision something that is adaptable, varied, flexible, dynamic, and fluid—something that can accommodate a far more dynamic mix of shops. This cannot be achieved by building more space that requires a sledgehammer to change it.

 

A smarter, long-term strategy would be to re-engineer the mall’s DNA to create a fluid space that can accommodate a constant rotation of merchants, goods, and consumers. This would require creating a highly flexible envelope to allow for a rapid change of stores and merchandise, morphing displays, theatrical lighting and sound, flexible to-the-point data-transmission lines and better connections to their supply-chain delivery systems to accommodate stores with intentionally short life spans, temporary brand showcases, and customized merchandising events. Such a dynamic place would cater for an ever-changing story line, unlike the modern mall with its tired tenant mix operating under long-term leases, accessed by corridors cluttered with parasitic kiosks and temporary tenants operating in the shells of failed chain stores, along with their stained carpets, sagging ceiling tiles, and scuffed walls – now called pop-up shops by mall marketing directors.

 

With their fly spaces, trap rooms, turntables, orchestra pits, and back-of-house staging areas, Broadway theaters have long been designed to allow for shows and their sets to change quickly within the fixed structure. Retail spaces in the mall should be perceived in the same manner  to become similarly adaptable for quick scene changes, almost on the fly. In figurative terms, imagine a Rubik’s cube: turntables, sliding walls, and elevators to allow “plug-and-play shops” with easily and quickly adaptable proportions to accommodate different presentations of merchandise for a changing audience of consumers—according to time of day, day of week, season, and citywide events.

 

A real example is the newly announced Cultural Shed, planned to hold temporary events such as Fashion Week at Hudson Yards. The Island Maison Pavilion by Moshe Safdie and the interior designs by Peter Marino for Louis Vuitton at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, is another model of a varied and flexible structure that could accommodate retail change. Safdie’s 35-foot-high main pavilion is essentially a glass box, which surrounds Peter Marino’s smaller modular retail cubes that showcase the luxury goods of Louis Vuitton. The glass box is long term, but the modular cubes within the overall pavilion can be changed overnight.

 

Successful marketplaces of the future will be designed on a foundation of the senses, not on blocks of mortar or on data streams. Malls will become places of sensory magic—whole and complete places that are alive, vital, and culturally relevant. In addition to providing fashionable goods, dining, and entertainment, malls will showcase design, art, and architecture. The result will be adaptable and flexible public and private spaces layered with retail inner sanctums, intimate retreats, community gathering places, event spaces, theaters, showcases, galleries, and museums. All will be interconnected by landscaped vistas with lush gardens, dramatic atriums, sky bridges, grand staircases, and new forms of pedestrian streets and sidewalks. Hospitality, recreation, fashion, dining, lifestyle demonstrations, personal care, education, entertainment, and cultural production will be woven into a highly textured marketplace. New materials, innovative lighting, water, fire, music, and art will be the elements of a multi-layered and organic marketplace. Free of rigid urban grids, new ribbons of commerce will form horizontally, diagonally, and vertically, to connect with new retail stepping-stones and floating cubes of commerce.

 

The future malls will restore and preserve something fundamental to society: face-to-face interaction, socializing, creative expression, collective learning, and the open exchange of ideas. This vision is based on a simple premise: as more components of the digital consumer age become hard-wired into the brain, the mall will respond in part to become somewhat of a consumer sanctuary for data detoxification, providing a more subtle nourishing of our senses and enhancing our experience of being human.

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