The new mall: 21st century iterations of retail architecture

The new mall: 21st century iterations of retail architecture

As Hudson Yards launches its shops and restaurants complex, we explore how architecture and design are shaping global retail experiences, and how the ‘mall’ has taken on a whole new identity

On a blustery day, it’s warm inside and inundated with natural light. After whizzing here on public transport, you may rifle through the racks of a brand you’ve only ever seen virtually, wander round the avant-garde art gallery, settle into a lounge for some music. For lunch, choose from a fresh salad, catch of the day or a gluten-free pizza on the heated terrace… without even a whiff of fried potatoes.

This isn’t your average shopping mall. It’s not sprawled across the suburbs behind a moat of parked cars, plagued by oppressive lighting and clearance sales, echoing with the screams of tired children. The 21st-century mall has brands you’ve never heard of making their big splash and brands luring you with 3D printing workshops. They’re located right downtown, designed by visionary architects, not committees of bureaucrats.

The goal is to resemble beloved shopping districts like Le Marais in Paris and Xintiandi in Shanghai

In fact, don’t call it a ‘mall’ at all. According to Webber Hudson, executive vice president of Related Companies, which developed New York’s Hudson Yards, the so-called ‘Shops and Restaurants complex’ there ‘is a cornerstone of a vibrant neighbourhood surrounded by 14 acres of public space and new cultural landmarks’.

‘In cities like New York,’ he continues, ‘a solid retail mix alone is not enough to entire success. Retail centres must become embedded in their communities, responding to the people who live and work nearby with public spaces, stores, restaurants and experiences that make it part of the local fabric.’

The upcoming Ruffles City in China offers anything from shopping to a striking elevated swimming pool for visitors

It takes its cues from beloved concept shops like 10 Corso Como and Dover Street Market, designer mini-malls characterised by boutique-brands, installation art and fine-dining (the latter just opened a new space in LA; the former in New York). It lures spenders with ‘worthy’ pursuits like theatre and music, gives them convenient access to Uber, lets them touch and feel their favourite online brands and pioneers virtual fitting rooms. And it keeps them there with helpful apps and roving concierges.

As for the architecture, David P Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi, designers of the aforementioned Hudson Yards retail centre, says it begins with smaller store sizes to offer ‘more diversity and density of quality of tenants.’ The goal is to resemble beloved shopping districts like Le Marais in Paris and Xintiandi in Shanghai – ‘filled with many storefronts per block which engages pedestrians and adds intensity to the experience.’

Rather than focus the consumer’s attention inward, Manfredi emphasises openness to public squares and cultural spaces, ‘a place to build community on a grand scale.’ 

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