Think back to your experiences of shopping centres from the 90s or before. For me, they did one thing very well – they provided effective and comfortable retail environments for their time within which people could largely get what they wanted, from a pair of new shoes to the latest fashions and a whole lot more besides. What they didn’t often do is look up, out and beyond. Frequently inward-looking and offering little more than a blank façade to their surrounding environment, they didn’t, on the whole, integrate well with the places around them.
Because of the major shift to on-line and multi-channel retailing, many of these shopping centres now also have surplus space because of the shrinking physical requirements from some retailers.
My clients today want to see their shopping centres revitalised and repositioned through great design – they want to see schemes working hard to deliver value but also act as a catalyst for wider regeneration. For me, this translates into making every sq ft of the building earn its keep and ensuring the centre becomes a 360 degree entity which looks outside as well as inside in terms of its connectivity.
What I’m talking about is finding creative ways to combine uses and experiences so that all parts of the building become valuable and effective. Dead space that might once have worked for retailers in the 70s and 80s can now, through creative design, be re-born as a cinema, restaurant or other leisure space. Void space in or on the roof can be overhauled and re-worked as rooftop dining, residential or a hotel. Redundant corridors and old fashioned circulation space can be refined and, through intelligent designs and combinations of uses, offer both a route from A to B as well as an opportunity to experience something new and exciting along the way.
We are working on a number of shopping centres in town centre locations which may never compete with the high end primary centres but that can achieve a whole lot more. Today, we are looking at the totality of every site and asking questions as never before. Can we re-think that space? Will this shell accommodate a new use here? How can we link the roof to the rest of the retail space to generate more and provide a new destination? These are the questions we’re asking as we press to combine creative design with value-enhancing and pragmatic solutions which, above all else, will perform for owners and occupiers.
So as we approach BCSC 2015, what should people be thinking about when they consider how best to breathe new life into existing shopping centre assets? Well, for us it’s about total property planning. It’s about looking for opportunities to re-shape, re-invent and re-purpose space through imaginative and intelligent design. And it’s about overlaying those creative design ideas with a healthy dose of deliverability and genuine value assessment.
In shopping centres, often the glitz and the latest bling is what draws people’s eye. What’s important is to combine on-trend design with longevity and forward thinking so that the places created will pay dividends long after the fashions for glitz have changed. This is total property planning and, in our experience, that’s the route to unlocking true value and generating optimum performance of the asset for the benefit of all.
Chris Mead is a Director of Architecture at Broadway Malyan