Flexibility is the key to successful design in the field of retail if facilities are not to be rendered obsolete in quick time
Taking part in a discussion on the way ahead for shopping malls were Patrick Bean, design director at Lacasa, Islam Mashtooly, senior architect at Perkins + Will, Tobias Honey, senior design manager at VE Experts and Joe Tabet, founder of JT + Partners.
Honey said: “Adaptability is the key, developers all want the next big thing but they have to be careful that it is not yesterday’s thing. Quite often a big empty space is a good thing as it allows the opportunity for different themed events to run throughout the year.
“A lot of developers are now trying to find ways of creating spaces where changeable activities can take place. Not just fixed rides.”
Bean showcased Marina Mall in Dubai as one of the places which has managed to achieve this with its street events – although he added in a move rare in the city one such event was actually rained off.
“The mall lets people know about what’s going on via social media which I really like. It makes you feel part of a community.”
The panel agreed that the size, easy access and location of Marina Mall was something which has made it a success, although members were told that in its initial stages this had not been the case, It was the density of population which has increased notable over recent years which has made the mall boom. Now the mall is looking to expand by taking space from the adjacent Address Hotel.
Bean said this could be a mistake: “But that’s not necessarily what we want, it’s a good size, it’s easy to get around.”
Mashtooly agreed with this sentiment, using another example in Dubai.
He said: “Festival City was one of the best malls around but then had a large extension which meant it lost its unique experience. It doubled in size and now it’s out of scale
Bean agreed pointing out that half the shops have closed.
Tabet said the shape of a mall is also a key to its success or otherwise – and this is an area in which architects can make a major contribution.
He explained: “Dubai Mall is a success as it is a loop. If the structure takes the form of a straight line you go past the same shops twice. Ibn Battuta is a case in point. They are trying to bring in some loops but it is really a lot of shops in a line.
“It is the responsibility of us as designers is to say no to clients you can’t just keep on saying yes to keep the cash flowing.”
However developers are getting more sophisticated, said Honey.
“In some cases they know more than the consultants,” he said. “They see the monetary success of their developments more than the consultants so they understand more. Often consultants will design something but never understand the commercial success of it as they never get the feedback.”
The panel also spoke about the importance of entertainment in today’s retail settings as well as creating more community-based retail experiences in the UAE and the wider GCC.