Reinventing Shopping Centers for the 21st Century


Long gone are the days when shopping centers put functionality over user needs. From shoppers to retail workers, today's users expect more than a space with conveniently placed stores and a food court. Instead, users look for a holistic experience, a place suited to shop and unwind from their everyday lives. Contemporary shopping malls are modern day agoras where people gather for leisurely activities. When designing such a setting today, user experience and habitability are key, as the shopping itself has moved to a second plane.

Before e-commerce skyrocketed in popularity, shopping malls were the most convenient location for users to buy with ease––the congregation phenomenon was a direct consequence of this. With the rise of internet shopping, such spaces are no longer as relevant as they used to be and shopping alone is not enough to bring people in, but the need for gathering places is still present. Shopping malls across the United States are closing due to this lack of reinvention. If the user doesn't find an extra element in the building's layout, they won't bother visiting the premises. 

Following are points to consider when designing shopping centers suited for the 21st century's unique needs.


Reinventing Shopping Centers for the 21st Century

K11 Art Mall by Kokaistudios

Older shopping centers had a clear, simple circulation consisting of a circuit designed to force the user on a path that leads them past every store during their trip. To achieve this, an elliptical circulation placed the stairs as far as possible from each other. The most extreme case of such circulation are spiral shopping malls, with spiraling ramps that force the user to go through the whole shopping center in order to reach the top.

In a contemporary setting, shopping malls should include a more organic structure, making it easier for the user to find what they are looking for without frustrating them so far into leaving. These organic circulations should be interlaced with congregation areas such as cafes, sitting areas, and green spaces. Newly designed shopping malls integrate boulevard-like areas into their design, making the shopping aspect of the building a supporting character of the design, rather than the main focus.


Reinventing Shopping Centers for the 21st Century

Chadstone Shopping Center by CallisonRTKL + The Buchan Group

Older shopping malls were designed to be as hermetical as possible, with the goal being removing the user from the outside world so they wouldn’t concern or grow distracted with time as they shopped. Now that the shopping itself is not enough to draw shoppers, the main focus should be to make the users as comfortable as possible as they interact with the building. As mentioned before, bringing additional benefits into the design will help to attract shoppers.

Natural light, views, green spaces, and comfortable settings made for permanence are key when designing a contemporary shopping mall. This design element doesn’t only benefit the shoppers but the workers as well. Lack of natural light and outside stimuli can be detrimental for the workers’ health, occasionally causing depression and other health issues.

Open Spaces

Reinventing Shopping Centers for the 21st Century

Parc Central by Benoi

Bringing nature and open spaces into the layout and creating a compound of different spaces instead of one building block can also add to the appeal of the shopping center. Creating the illusion of a busy boulevard with small shops and restaurants is beneficial, as it attracts shoppers looking for a more intimate experience. Boxed shopping malls create inhospitable crowded spaces, unappealing to the contemporary shopper. The example above shows how a fragmented layout, including green recreational areas, can be applied to the design of a shopping center. 

Urban Integration

Reinventing Shopping Centers for the 21st Century

Parc Central by Benoi

A frequent problem with older shopping centers is their hermeticity. The buildings folded into themselves, negating their surroundings completely and relying upon their self-sufficient internal structure. As long as the need to shop was there, users would visit the mall, regardless of its design. As stated before, this is no longer true in today's technology-reliant society. 

Permeable structures with plenty of open spaces and a fragmented layout can help to integrate the project into its urban setting by making them into recreational spaces akin to city parks, with the added plus of retail stores and other leisure services. Adding urban service features into their program, such as railway stations, can also help to attract new life and movement into the building.

A project of this nature should also aim to integrate itself into its surroundings by respecting the scale of the area. A five-story behemoth in the middle of a two-story area interacts with its setting in a destructive way. 

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