South City Mall, Kolkata, India
South Africa, Johannesburg - May 2008: South African architects Bentel Associates International (BAI), pioneers in commercial architecture, have been making their mark on the Indian architectural landscape for the last few years. Currently, they have about 50 projects underway in the country with one of their recently completed projects, South City Mall in Kolkata, creating substantial international interest.
The one million square feet (93 000m2) South City Mall on Prince Anwar Shah Road is part of a mixed-use development project across 31 acres in south Kolkata. The development includes four residential towers with 1 600 flats, a 75 000 square feet (7 000m2) art club and 125 000 square feet (11 650m2) dedicated to school and car parking facilities for more than 1 600 cars.
"The planning for the one million square feet (93 000m2) South City Mall is based on symbiosis between large and small retailers to create a micro environment that encourages visitors to shop," says architect and senior director at BAI Nicolas Kyriacos, who coordinates the development of new business in India for the company and oversees concept, development and design direction.
Kyriacos says that ten years ago India did not have a single shopping mall. "Now, nearly 50 million sq ft (4.7 million m2) of mall space is in various stages of completion, across seven major cities. Calcutta and its fringes alone will have about 40 new retail centres in the next three years."
According to a recent survey conducted by global property consultancy firm Cushman & Wakefield, not all mall operators are likely to benefit equally: "Only the ones in favourable locations and having the right format and suitable strategies are likely to remain long-term players," the survey states.
Kyriacos agrees: "Prior to starting work on South City Mall we had already been working in India for a few years. We had observed that the planning of the existing malls in India lacked an understanding of mall culture. Malls were generally designed along high street or strip shopping principles rather than being based on mall design principles. Many of these malls failed to succeed."
"Large retailers were positioned incorrectly - as a result the traffic flow of shoppers did not provide opportunity for the smaller retailers to increase trade and therefore for the developer to increase his return. Lack of importance shown for vehicle parking resulted in a lack of convenient vehicle access and adequately sized parking facilities."
"In India, developers are highly experienced in residential and office developments. As the mall concept is relatively new in India, we have had to work on changing the developers' frame of reference. Everything about designing and building a mall is different, the rules are different. You cannot compromise the principles if you wish to successfully cater to an evolving market in the long-term."
In first-world countries, it is generally accepted that if a retail environment lacks synergy between its diverse elements and experiences it will not be successful. Although location is important, the right expertise in conceptualisation, design, development and management of malls is absolutely necessary to optimise long-term sustainability and profitability.
"A shopping mall should be able to bring together these diverse elements under one roof. The design must be geared to stimulate shopping or it will not succeed, no matter how spectacular the property is," adds Kyriacos.
The evolution of successful malls in India has been a slow process. The BAI architects have overcome many challenges including aesthetic and cultural differences, various construction factors such as high labour intensity, consistency of equipment and building material supplies, bureaucracy and infrastructural inadequacy.
South City Mall design concept
"South city Mall was an exceptional challenge in that we inherited a structural footprint within which we were asked to create a shopping environment that would be financially viable for the developers whilst also satisfying international standards."
Kyriacos and his team examined the existing structural footprint and recognised that by introducing a large central atrium and creating a double mall, they would be able to create space for many small shops as well as excitement and drama which would enable them to develop a world-class shopping environment.
The second and third floors have been visually integrated by introducing a focal point - an atrium along the entire length of the mall. This has been reinforced by designing the multiplex with the entry on the second floor and its exit from the third floor. The primary reason for doing this was to ensure that the food court, family entertainment component and the young fashion zone would not only contribute to creating excitement but also would become a destination. It offers the shopper uninterrupted visibility of at least 30 per cent of all line shops at a glance. This focal point can even be experienced from the road outside. It has also been designed to accommodate promotions of any type and size.
"This design allows us to concentrate and maximise the FSI (floor space index) of the development on one side of the site thus allowing us to introduce a multilevel car park on the other side. This will afford shoppers the convenience of parking and entering the five-level shopping mall at each level," adds Kyriacos.
Another innovative aspect of the design is that South City Mall functions as a 'race track' for shoppers with the anchors positioned along the 'track' in a way that draws the shoppers past the smaller retailers.
"Elevators have been included in the design. Interestingly, some malls have too many elevators and others have too few. Some Indian malls have four or five levels and escalators are the most efficient and effective means of vertical movement. In India, people hesitate to use escalators as this is a relatively new phenomenon. They will take time to get used to the escalators. Traditional Indian wear such as the sari also creates safety concerns."
Externally, the architecture is handled in a contemporary fashion, and is characterised by four large vertical "Towers of Light" that will stand as beacons within the Kolkata cityscape and which form the vertical spine of a weaving of horizontal elements of aluminium, glass and steel. This is in turn broken by the main feature of the street façade (which is the five-storey high glass face) of the atrium and the oval-shaped roof of the central court - this opens the atrium and the core of the building up to the street. Internally, this is reinforced by the contrasting play of natural materials, steel and glass of the atrium and the vertical circulation elements that serve to draw shoppers' eyes to the upper levels of the volume. "Whether a shopper is walking within the atrium, along the malls or merely passing by, the experience and drama of South City Mall will be intoxicating," says Kyriacos.
Currently, the BAI team are also working on the Acropolis in Kolkata for the Merlin Group. Elsewhere in India they have over 40 projects in 19 main cities and are working with many of the most significant developers in India including Emaar-MGF, IVR Prime, Reliance, Dainik Bhaskar, the Merlin Group, PS Srijan, Inorbit, Mantri Developers, Prestige Group, Shrachi, Pansari and Oberoi Construction.
Kyriacos says that all the malls they design conform to international standards. "However, we look at each mall individually. Each design is derived from the unique parameters of the site and the client's brief. We then look to introduce correct retail design fundamentals."
BAI's success in the design of shopping malls in India will continue well into the future. 'We are enjoying the challenges and successes of our growing presence in India," says Kyriacos, "and we hope to continue making an effective contribution to realising the goals of Indian retail developers and investors."
© Lois Aitchison, FVS Marketing & PR, 2008
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