I hate shopping malls. From suffering through traffic and parking on a treeless black inferno to immersing myself into the American consumerist culture – nothing about the experience is enjoyable. Sadly, occasionally I need something that can only be found at a mall. This is why I propose a redesigning of the Suburban Shopping Mall.
The current shopping mall is an unsustainable air-conditioned cube, that forces shoppers and employees to travel, by car, to an enclosed environment where nature and the outdoors are almost completely hidden, except for a few skylights and some topiaries. One of the most obvious unsustainable practices championed by the suburban shopping mall is the phenomenal waste of energy through a number of poorly planned systems.
First is the overall design of the massive structure. These malls are placed far from city centers, in areas that are usually cleared for the mall through a process that involves destroying many acres of natural wildlife habitat. Then the air conditioned boxes are placed in the center of a sea of black asphalt creating a heat island, which means even more energy is devoted to cooling the mall.
Another wasteful energy system is how goods and people access the site – by car or truck. Suburban malls are impossible to walk or bike to. They are like an oasis surrounded by a desert of pavement and car traffic. Additionally, it is basically impossible to find a product that is Made in the USA. This means that an enormous amount of fuel was used to transport these products overseas, truck them to warehouses and then distribute them around the country.
For me, one of the least attractive aspects of the suburban shopping mall is the lack of community and social system. The current mall set up creates an atmosphere that almost no one (other than the occasional teenage sweethearts) wants to spend time in. Employees don’t make friends with employees in nearby stores and when they get off their shifts they don’t hang out and get coffee together, they leave immediately. This is because the mall atmosphere is not a place most people want to be, most people go there by necessity and get out as soon as possible.
As a future designer I see an enormous potential for improving nearly everything about the suburban mall. First, I think malls should become urban mall and moved into the city, where since 2007 more than 50% of the worlds population is living (World Bank). With a transition to an urban shopping mall, a number of issues would start to fix themselves: people wouldn’t need to spend time in the car and in traffic to get out to the mall and the some of the social and community networks would already be in place.
The ideal urban shopping mall should be more than a mall – it should have a multitude of uses. In addition to being a shopping center, it should be a living area where people want to be and is intertwined with the urban fabric with sidewalks and bike lanes. The mall should even have apartments above the shopping area, in a effort to truly create a place that people can live in. Unlike current shopping malls, products should be domestic or even local, which may even inspire a greater sense of community. Imagine a shopping mall designed to be like a farmers market, where shop owners and employees interact and create an identity for the space.
Another important aspect of the urban shopping mall is the construction process. The downtown urban fabric is fundamentally different than the suburban, space is very important and cannot be wasted on useless acres of roof and parking lot. A great way to navigate the parking issue is to construct subterranean parking as the foundation of the mall itself. IKEA is a master of this parking scheme and the IKEA building model is a wonderful place to start because massive IKEA shopping centers take up relatively little surface area considering the amount of interior volume. In addition to underground parking, the urban mall needs to make use of the roof space, by either following the IKEA solar panel model or possible a green roof system that is accessible to the public.
This IKEA shopping center in downtown Atlanta, Georgia takes up almost no surface area with parking and the photovoltaics on the roof generate 1MW, that is, 1 Million Watt-hours of energy every hour (Strata Solar).
Urban malls will also need to be designed sustainably taking environmental design conventions into account. These environmental design methods should include solar panels, water management/runoff collection tactics, planning for the path of the sun, natural ventilation systems, and the important use of natural lighting. Most importantly however, is that the urban shopping mall should be a place that is one with nature. Plants and shrubs and trees should be an integral part of the mall and should keep shoppers and employees open to the outside world instead of isolated. While all of these things can not be enacted at once it is important that developers begin to think about the changes and plan for the future.
Strata Solar. Accessed 2 October 2013. http://www.stratasolar.com/spotlight/commercial-retail-atlanta-ga/
World Bank. (2013). Data retrieved 2 October 2013, from World DataBank