Retail Therapy

Magazine / Jan - Feb 2016

Retail Therapy

The world of retail has become painfully monotonous. Malls are the same everywhere. They sell the same brands; the same labels. There is no community space—nowhere in a mall where you can just be (unless you are prepared to dish out $5 for a latte). And let’s also agree on this: the Green mall, with its energy-saving bulbs and recharging stations for electric cars, does little to alleviate the boredom. The prefix ‘eco’ is simply not enough.

But malls did not start out this way. This typology was, at one time, a way of internalising public spaces where buildings became analogous to the urban grid. Walkways were ‘streets’, atria were ‘squares’. There was little air-conditioning. We let in the wind and the humidity, and shoppers did not seem to mind. All of this gave way to a mass-market mentality. Malls, like the fast food they sell, became generic—a formula for higher profits and lower sustenance.

So we, the editorial team, set out to look for retail experiences with a difference.

Some malls, we found, have returned to their roots as an urban intervention. Namba Parks in Osaka, Japan is a wonderful example of how a big building becomes part of a network. From canyon-like streets to terraced roofscapes, this is a mini neighbourhood that plugs into wider neighbourhoods. Not all malls, though, have the luxury of size. Kurve 7 in Bangkok is tiny by comparison but it too aspires to recreate the High Street. Here, being small has its advantages: intimacy is important to community space.

Other malls challenge the cliché of the air-conditioned box. Dilli Haat is more a bazaar than a mall—a concept that feels at home in Asia. This ethereal clustering of umbrellas and timber shafts looks borderline sci-fi, except that it makes perfect sense in the heat of the North Indian summer. Bazaar is also a good way to describe Kilang Bateri in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an exuberant example of adaptive reuse. Reusing a building is Green, yes; rekindling our love for it is Greener still. What is doubly nice about Kilang Bateri is its commitment to the local: craft, food and produce. Three other projects from Japan—Namba Parks, OKOMEYA and Blue Bottle Coffee Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Roastery & Café—work hard at capturing localness by creating spaces for farming or making visible the love of rice and coffee.

What does all this say about the pursuit of Green?

Green is about the way we choose to live. People attach themselves to an experience; something that offers meaning. And when that something is nostalgic or local, they are often prepared to accept discomfort and inconvenience. Yes, some will still clamour for an air-conditioned box but there are also many others—in crowded, chaotic Asia—who want to feel a connection with each other; with nature; with art and heritage; and with who they are.

Let’s make it happen.

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