How to design a Mall – Inside-Out, Susil Dungarwal

How to design a Mall – Inside-Out, Susil Dungarwal

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How to design a Mall – Inside- out, Susil Dungarwal, Chief Mall Mechanic of Beyond Squarefeet Advisory Pvt. Ltd, a boutique Mall Advisory Company

For most Developers, especially the first time Mall developers, building a Mall is their sentimental dream project, about which they are very passionate. The project starts with great enthusiasm & fervor, but many a times this dream soon turns into a nightmare, when reality strikes and it is realized that mistakes have been made which are irreversible. In most cases, the crux of the problem is improper planning & a disorganized design approach. The problem arises when one designs the space & decides to build without proper understanding or knowledge of the business requirements. Most Malls in India have been designed outside – in, which means that the elevation of the mall has been given too much of importance than the actual mall inside. In-fact, many architects first make the error of designing an elevation of the mall first, to impress upon the mall developer, which is a sure ingredient of failure.

Forum Mall & Susil Dungarwal, Chief Mall Mechanic of Beyond Squarefeet Advisory Pvt. Ltd, a boutique Mall Advisory Company

Forum Mall & Susil Dungarwal, Chief Mall Mechanic of Beyond Squarefeet Advisory Pvt. Ltd, a boutique Mall Advisory Company
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Forum Mall & Susil Dungarwal, Chief Mall Mechanic of Beyond Squarefeet Advisory Pvt. Ltd, a boutique Mall Advisory Company
photographs: Susil Dungarwal

Today, we have so many malls opening in the country, but at the same time, there are only a very few who are able to sustain the treacherous path of retail. Many of these malls are either closing or dying at the same pace.  One of the primary reasons for the decline of the mall is the improper Design & Planning. The Design & Planning of a mall is the foundation & spine of the structure, and it is one of the single most important contributing factors. A Malls design has to be custom made, to suit the specific retail needs. The developer has to have a clear thought process & vision of what he wishes to make & for whom. A Mall has to be planned, designed and built like a Mall from start to end. Any ambiguity in the mind of the developer or absence of clarity would spell disaster. One should not refrain from taking professional help in this context.

A common mistake is that while designing a Mall, a lot of emphasis is given to the look & feel or exterior finishes of the Mall, but not as much to the basic circulation planning, zoning – with respect to the site & project requirements. Look & feel undoubtedly is an important factor, however an efficient Design Planning & Circulation is most critical for example; A Mall in the suburbs of Mumbai, which opened around 04-05, is till today known amongst the best Malls in the country. This is in spite the fact that the common corridors, aisles, food court areas look overdue for renovation. The reason for this success is probably, an impeccable operations team but moreover a very efficient Mall Design. At the same time, a mall which is much newer & having better finishes, is probably not doing as well & the brands are dying or shuffling every 6 months. Which brings us to realize that without the correct Mall Design & Planning, even the best Mall Management team will not be able to deliver.

An efficient design is always driven by common sense. But having said that, there is always a certain science of shopping involved. Understanding customer habits & expectations play a very important role in the design of any mall. A Mall can be called efficient when it connects with the customer through the various touch points, whether the entry into the premises thorough pedestrian entry or entry to car park, proper & ample parking, easy connectivity from parking to Mall level etc.

Now that we agree right Planning & Design is critical, lets look at the different aspects, which indirectly affect the designing of the Mall and how one can get better their chances of achieving an optimum design through an organized approach.

Simple steps to achieve an Efficient Design

The Right Advice

We would all agree that Shopping center design is a learning curve, similar to any other aspect of Retail. In most cases it is very difficult to get everything right the first time. Therefore, considering the multiple complexities involved it is most advisable to appoint an “Shopping Mall Specialist” This Shopping Mall Specialist brings in, in depth knowledge, expertise, understanding & experience in various aspects of running a shopping center. In simple words one could say that these people have become experts by the sheer virtue of the number of mistakes made by them & more importantly by learning from their mistakes. This expert could either be an individual or a group of people generally from the background of Operations & Leasing experts, Design Architects etc. with in depth understanding of the Mall Mechanics. The objective of having such experts is that they can bring in a clear thought process and can handhold the entire development from the initial concept stages, till the Mall opening. The practice of appointing expert Mall Advisors is very common practice in the west & this trend is fast catching up in India. Most of the successful Malls in the country today, have & been guided by such experts. Beyond Squarefeet is the leading Mall Advisory in india by size, by team, by topline, by projects, etc.

The various services offered by such Mall Advisors may range from handholding the Market Research and Survey, Mall positioning, Concept development & Retail Circulation Planning, Zoning, tenant mix, Leasing, Fit-Out Management, etc. In the initial Design Phase, such an Mall Advisor can help in identifying the concept, selecting the right architect for the project, providing expert advice on retail planning, zoning, customer circulation, Wow factors to be incorporated in design etc. Infact, such Mall Advisors / Shopping Mall Specialists should be on board, even before you initiate dialogue/hire an architect.

Clarity in Concept

It is very crucial to have the right concept worked out for the Mall. There are various factors on the basis of which a Concept is based i.e. Market Study / Market Survey, Customer expectations, Demographics, Geographic Conditions, size of the Land parcel, whether the Mall is part of a larger Mixed use development or whether it is stand alone etc. All these factors & the data from the research play a very important part in identifying the Mall Concept, interpretation of this data collation, can for itself pave the way for Design direction, Mall size, Positioning etc. Once the Basic concept is identified and frozen, it is important that this Mall vision is shared with all the stakeholders of the Mall Design including the architect.

In simple words, once the Developer has identified the concept for their dream project, it is important that this dream is shared with all the concerned Design partners a Mall Advisors so that they are then completely in sync with what the developer’s expectations are.

The most important stakeholder in terms of Design of the Mall is undoubtedly the Architect as he/ she is the custodian of the Design; therefore it is very critical that this Mall vision is shared with the Design Architect. The appropriate method of sharing this vision & the expectations from the design is through a document commonly known as the ‘Design Brief to Architect’. The ownership of making of this ‘Design Brief to Architect to the Architect lies with the Developer’s or the Retail Mall Advisor – incase appointed.

Choosing the Right Architect

As the Mall culture in India had been inspired from the West, also considering that till a few years back, Mall development was a very new activity in the country. It was very natural for developers to appoint International architects who have the experience of designing Malls.

Even now, for most Developers, this decision is always a confusing one; whether they should appoint international architects, which is the trend set by the Leading Mall developers OR whether they should hire a renowned Indian architect to entirely design the project, which would attract & convince the local consumer about the development & instill confidence in him to lease space.

Which ever may be the case, what is most important is that the Architect who has been assigned for the job, should not only have an in depth understanding & knowledge of Retail Architecture but should have a hands on approach & a grasp also of the local market trends, shopping habits etc.

Utmost importance & emphasis should be given to choosing the right Architect, as he is one of the primary stakeholders from start to completion.

Once appointed, the architect should invest enough time to understand the requirements of the concept & efficiently work towards it. It is necessary that the Architect is provided a proper Design brief  & then onwards, it is the Architects responsibility to adhere to the design brief given to him/ her and Design the structure as per it.

Design Brief to Architect

Generally when the Design of a Mall fails, more often then not, the Architect is held responsible for this down fall. This may be true to an extent however; at the same time it is essential to understand that the Architect’s design can only be, functionally – as good or as bad, as the Design Brief given to him. Therefore, it is very important that the correct brief is given to the Architect and his team, as this is the first & most critical touch point in the Mall Design process. The ‘Brief to Architect’ should be clear, simple & easy to understand, all the Requirements & expectations from the design should be clearly listed down. This ‘Brief to the Architect’ has to be properly documented & presented to the architect who will work on the project and should be created by the Shopping Mall Specialist.

The intent of this document should be to provide an in depth understanding of the Developers vision for the Mall in terms of Design expectations & requirements from a retail perspective, which would in turn assist them in designing the Shopping Mall in tandem with the Developers vision/ findings from a market research etc.  This ‘Brief to Architect’ is intended to help the architects, consultants, Mall Advisors, developers to create the project in the manner conceptualized & agreed, also ensure that the Mall’s Design is in harmony with the market demand & the consumer expectations.

This ‘Brief to Architect’ generally consists of various phases, based on the study of several influencing factors including market visit, developer’s expectations & inputs, customer’s expectations, market environment, business potential, competitive analysis etc. The end result is intended not only to define the characteristics of the mall, but also to become a guiding force to plan, execute & implement the project.

A Design ‘Brief to Architect’ which is based on the Market research & its findings can help the Architect to align his Design appropriately with the consumer expectations, for example a market research of a small town in Punjab may categorically show that the consumer is very well travelled, aware of & exposed to the malls especially in a nearby Metro city and many have even visited Malls outside India or have family which are based there. Therefore this knowledgeable consumer has to be kept in mind, while creating a mall, which will not only change his shopping, habits but will also upgrade his lifestyle in general.

(to be continued…)