What corona's legacy will be on retail design, by LWK + PARTNERS

What corona's legacy will be on retail design, by LWK + PARTNERS

Sustainable as standard and re-purposing spaces

Shopping malls in Dubai have re-opened with social distancing measures in place
Shopping malls in Dubai have re-opened with social distancing measures in place

Leading architecture practice LWK + PARTNERS has a network of offices around the globe, so it's well-placed to comment on the global phenomenon of COVID-19.

Here Kerem Cengiz, the firm's managing director of the MENA region, shares his expert opinion on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting a third space place especially beloved in the UAE - the shopping malls.

Kerem, pictured below, says: "Retail has always been in a dynamic state of flux, evolving to change in society, economic conditions, urban population increase, and technology.

"Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19, retailers were embracing a movement towards a balance of mixed-uses to meet the commercial expectations of operators as traditional retail formats retracted as e-commerce grew.

"The sudden and rapid spread of the pandemic has dramatically accelerated this shift in the thinking across the global retail environment: the need to adapt and survive to ensure commercial viability and the emotion and psyche of the shopper."

Tinker, tailor

"We anticipate a significant difference in expectations around demographic profile. Some will crave the traditional high-street, the corner store where we stop and chat to the storekeeper, the grocer, baker, butcher, fishmonger, tailor and so on, while younger generations will further embrace, and demand technology-driven experiences as a prevalent across China and part of Southeast Asia.

"It is inevitable that there will be retained fears around social gatherings, crowds and social interaction, yet others, after months of isolation, crave engagement and connection.

"Logistical challenges could fuel a significant increase in the demand for locally produces and sourced products, a stepping back from big chains. It goes without saying that a greater degree of touch-less amenities in retail spaces will become the norm with hygiene becoming overtly central."

A smaller scene

"How can retailers and mall management respond to these disparate demands?

"It is likely large malls will re-master plan to for smaller subdivided zones to avoid overcrowding; these smaller zones could be adapted to allow for social distance queuing, waiting areas for takeaway services, inclusion of central shopping pick-up zones.

"Car parking areas could be remodelled to adapt for contactless supermarket pick-up zones, including separate access and refrigerated lockers with unique access codes etc. this could also be integrated for centralised contactless drive-through routes for food and beverage outlets and restaurants."

Staying local

"Neighbourhood centres tend to be focused on necessities rather than designer fashion, fine dining, and entertainment offers, and more on services acting as a one-stop-shop for the community with such as med-clinics, pharmacies, barbers, hairdressers, nail spas, gyms and services such as banking, currency exchanges, childcare and education, dry cleaners; affordable hospitality offerings; along with a supermarket retail provision such as grocers, affordable fashion and gift shops.

"These community malls are adapting to include arts and cultural offers and attractive public realms to establish improved mobility, activity and safety. Such centres meet urban design principles that state that sustainable communities are built on the 20-minute-connectivity model.

"While we are witnessing larger urban centres rapidly reviewing their existing models with anchor tenants pulling out or reducing square meterage. In such cases what can be done with these big box tenancies? Will be options to adapt or convert these spaces or will we see big blanks in the concourses?

"Perhaps these adaptations could focus on personal shopping precincts; wellness/sports precincts; even medical facilities, play & education zones; e-sports venues, cultural spaces; adaptive co-workspaces, pop-up precincts or even temporary shelter to mention a few possibilities of planned and implemented well."

Going green

"Sustainable design decisions now become a long-term economic benefit, a significant shift towards renewables, sustainable material, greywater use, etc, all of which will significantly minimise operating costs of large developments and protect the pockets of those that manage them.

"We have seen a massive increase in vacant tenancies both in malls and the highstreet due to the impact of COVID-19 and the tragic knock-on economic and employment effect. This negatively impact on the owners of those tenancies. The question remains…how can we best re-purpose those spaces with viable long-term alternative?

"Re-planning will have a central part to play in the re-allocation of space within malls and centre, we will see a significant increase in temporary pop-up providers to service our swiftly bored demographic with their ever-shifting fancies and expectations. We fully anticipate a significant change in the current lessee-lessor models the roles may well irreparably change.

"Whatever happens in the next 18 months as a result of this pandemic, we are certain that retail is no doubt here for the long haul and yet how it decides to adapt, evolve and change will be fascinating to observe and be a part of influencing."

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