Today’s typical mall is structured around a redundant model of how to incorporate retail into our communities. Although originally envisioned as a way to foster community connectivity, the mall has devolved into a siloed set of boxes within boxes where traditional anchor tenants dominate corridors filled with rigid spaces allotted to smaller brands. As conventional anchor tenants fade or reinvent themselves online, the mall’s traditional support system crumbles. According to commercial real estate firm Co Star, in America alone, estimates place roughly a quarter of the nation’s 1,300 shopping malls at risk of losing an anchor store.
When our design team met on the second day of our Mall Plus+ Design Charrette, we continued our exploration of what’s next now that the current iteration of the mall no longer makes sense. Considering the trends shaping the future of retail, work – and life – it’s becoming increasingly clear that successful spaces must offer much more than simply a place to shop. In a world where necessities are progressively commoditized and we can make the same purchases in Venice as we can make in Bangkok – people are craving authentic experiences – memorable moments that exist in space and time.
Rather than pursuing a band-aid solution to “fix” the mall, we asked ourselves, “why does the mall exist?” Our conclusion landed on the true appeal of the mall as a destination and not simply as a place to buy “stuff” but rather, to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. In short, to engage in being part of a fulfilling community experience. What would it look like if the “mall” were truly integrated into our communities and connected to our cities in a seamless way? There would be a porosity between place and function with no clear delineations or boundaries and people would flow and mingle effortlessly. A humourous spelling error brought us to the concept of PoroCITY™: a place where the mall flows seamlessly into the community and creates spaces that draw people to connect, play, work, live – and shop.
As we continued to explore ways to bring life back to the mall by drawing people back to the spaces they occupy, we talked about the journey that connects different experiences. What happens when we explode the insular nodes of activity out of the box and instead create an experiential journey where people immerse themselves in sequential experiences? Today’s successful mixed-use communities effectively blur the edges between space, use, and function. The “mall” needs to find its new place in this ecosystem.
When public spaces are no longer defined by marked zones where specific activities take place, rigid boundaries and fixed edges around spaces begin to blur – offering opportunities for new interactions and experiences. Fluid connections between spaces and people, as well as between natural and built forms, contribute surprise elements that disrupt monotony, routine, and the expected. Livable, viable, and sustainable communities contain spaces that facilitate function and contribute to an overall sense of belonging for the people who live in, and frequent them.
As we begin to apply these principles to the mall, we also reveal the potential for community investment to play a part in shaping their future. If the community has a stake in the purpose and viability of the “mall”, new purposes and needs can evolve and grow organically, changing and adapting in response to time and tide.
Imagine a collection of flexible, adaptable spaces, served by a common infrastructure or “spine” that could support a wide range of community needs that in turn provide impetus and inspiration for further uses.