Plans for a temperature controlled, 48 million square foot indoors “city” in Dubai

The building boom in Dubai continues with plans to build a massive indoor city:

united arab emirates’ vice president and prime minister, sheikh mohammed bin rashid has announced the world’s first temperature controlled city to be constructed in dubai. the vast 48 million square foot project, entitled ‘mall of the world’, will contain the planet’s largest shopping mall and an indoor theme park covered by a retractable glass dome that opens during winter months…

envisioned as an integrated pedestrian city, seven kilometer promenades connect the design, bringing together a wide variety of leisure, retail and hospitality options under one roof. a cultural district forms the hub of the site, with a dedicated theater quarter comprising a host of venues. the ‘celebration walk’ modeled on barcelona’s las ramblas will connect the district with the surrounding mall containing a range of conference, wedding and celebration halls.

The pictures are quite interesting. The scope of the project raises several questions:

1. At what point does an indoor space transition from being a mall to being a city? Others have proposed towns or cities within buildings (even immortalized in arcologies in SimCity). But, this development is clearly within Dubai and the comments from officials indicate it is closely tied to tourism. So, it doesn’t quite sound like a city unless you want to make it sound more impressive.

2. With the emphasis on tourism, just how authentic will this space really be? If this is just for tourists, that is a lot of space to maintain and make exciting. If it is more mixed-use and include residential units, then some genuine street life could develop. Put differently, is this a Dubai version of the Las Vegas strip or something different?

Regardless, if this all is completed, it would be a sight to behold.

The difficulties of giving an old shopping mall a new Main Street

Randhurst Mall, the first enclosed mall in the Chicago area, has received a facelift in recent years but it hasn’t gone perfectly:

By the time Casto bought Randhurst in 2007, the shopping center had long ago ceded primacy to larger, highwayside competition such as Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall. Casto’s revamp, designed by the Beame Architectural Partnership of Coral Gables, Fla. and 505 Design of Boulder, Colo., removed the dome and the rest of the original mall’s core and replaced them with a traditional Main Street lined by an AMC movie theater, a Hampton Inn hotel, shops, restaurants and offices. A similar street leads in from the perimeter, creating a roughly T-shaped intersection with Main Street.The Main Street area — which Conroy said accounts for all the mall’s unleased space — gets the design basics right. Buildings, two to four stories high, frame both sides of the streets, creating the equivalent of an outdoor room. Benches, trellises and plant boxes add human scale. There’s synergy between the uses, and a link to the outdoors that some shoppers enjoy despite the obligatory piped-in music…

The many minuses begin with confusing internal roads, a predicament partly caused by big-box stores that don’t want their vast parking lots interrupted. In contrast to the modernist unity of Gruen’s design, the center’s outer buildings are an architectural mishmash. The postmodern Main Street buildings, clad in brick and metal, strain to achieve a sense of variety but offer little enticing detail. The street’s directory signs look cheap. The absence of apartments, either above the stores or in free-standing buildings, denies the merchants built-in customers who would drive activity 24/7…

Here’s hoping the signs breathe more life into Main Street and lead Randhurst to a future of greater density, a richer mix of uses and better connections to nearby neighborhoods. For now, its Main Street is essentially a lifestyle center in the middle of a mall — an urban fragment surrounded by the same old suburbia.

It sounds like the issue may be that the mall is trying to mix two styles that don’t necessarily go together: keeping big box anchors while also trying to create denser areas (that still are highly dependent on people driving to). Would it have been better to get rid of most or all of the old mall and start over with the lifestyle center rather than trying to mix the two? While this assessment focuses mainly on the design, there are also costs to keep in mind including keeping some parts of the mall open during renovation.

Perhaps things will change once the new Main Street area is leased. Perhaps there is a longer-term plan in the works that will better combine the two areas. But, I would suggest that even that carrying out the design of the new section perfectly doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good outcome for a suburban shopping mall.

The decline of the church steeple

USA Today reports that the church steeple, once a key feature of church architecture, is on the decline:

Nationwide, church steeples are taking a beating and the bell tolls for bell towers, too, as these landmarks of faith on the landscape are hard hit by economic, social and religious change…

Architects and church planners see today’s new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion.

Steeples may have outlived their times as signposts. People hunting for a church don’t scan the horizon, they search the Internet. Google reports searches for “churches” soar before Easter each year…

Today, he says, people want their church to look comfortable and inviting, “more like a mall.”

The article has some interesting points:

1. Churches look more inviting without a steeple. This is interesting as it suggests that a primary goal of church architecture is that people feel comfortable and avoid symbolic references to “old-time religion.” Several times in this story, the comparison is made to shopping malls: newer churches want to be inviting. I’m not sure that I particularly find shopping malls inviting – they are quite functional in what they intend to do, that is, generate profit – but I can see how they have more relaxed atmospheres. But should this be the major goal of church architecture?

2. Beside this cultural issue, this appears to be a budget issue for many churches as steeples cost money to build and maintain. These sorts of “frills” might be difficult to support in tough economic times. I like the example in the story of churches leasing out this space to cell phone companies: this is American pragmatism.

3. The idea that it was once important for people walking around a community to be able to see a steeple from a long distance is intriguing. What marks the skyline of a typical suburb or American small town today? (And let us be honest: how much can you see from a car, as opposed to walking, anyway? Perhaps this is why we have church signs that look more like signs for fast food restaurants or strip mall businesses. Are these more inviting as well?)

4. If the steeple is no longer a distinctive architectural feature of churches, what does mark these buildings from other typical buildings? Anything beyond a sign out front? But as the article suggests, perhaps this is the point.

High vacancy rates at strip malls and shopping centers

More sour news regarding the economy, this time regarding retail space in strip malls and shopping malls:

Mall vacancies hit their highest level in at least 11 years in the first quarter, new figures from real-estate research company Reis Inc. showed. In the top 80 U.S. markets, the average vacancy rate was 9.1%, up from 8.7%.

The outlook is especially bad for strip malls and other neighborhood shopping centers. Their vacancy rate is expected to top 11.1% later this year, up from 10.9%, Reis predicts. That would be the highest level since 1990.

In 2005, the mall-vacancy rate hit a low of 5.1%. For strip centers the boom-time low vacancy rate was 6.7% that same year.

The article goes on to mention how this problem is particularly acute on the suburban fringe where development was taking place or was predicted to take place.

While strip malls take a beating from those opposed to sprawl and suburban garishness (think James Howard Kunstler – see his TED speech on the topic here), they can be quite important to local economies. From where I live in the suburbs (roughly 25-30 miles west of Chicago), there are numerous strip malls, including a number that I can walk to within fifteen minutes. While most of these businesses are not flashy, they encompass certain consumer needs from car care places to drug stores to restaurants to hardware stores. I have always wondered how businesses thrive in these settings: there is so much competition (why can’t the customer just go to the competition in the strip mall down the street?) and many decry the strip mall (though it would be an interesting debate to see whether people think they are worse than big box stores).

Innovative (or strange) mall designs

Many shopping malls are not that exciting to look at: they are functional in providing retail space and enough amenities to keep shoppers coming back. When critics talk about the blandness or homogeneity of suburbs, shopping malls are often included in the analysis: if you have been in one shopping mall, you have been in them all. But what if architects and designers took the shopping mall in a new direction? Popular Mechanics highlights “the world’s 18 strangest shopping malls.”

Some questions: do these different designs increase retail sales? Do shoppers have a better overall experience in these places?

h/t Instapundit

Shopping malls and noise devices to discourage loitering

A shopping mall in Washington D.C. has installed a noise device, the Mosquito, to discourage loitering:

The owners of the Gallery Place commercial strip have installed an anti-loitering noise device — one to discourage any loiterers, not just teens. Gallery Place has further urged the D.C. Council to pass an anti-loitering ordinance, something the city currently lacks.

Youths in particular are said to be sensitive to a greater range of high-pitch sounds. But Gallery Place Partners, LLC, insists they did not install the “state-of-the-art safety feature” to target teens alone. According to Gallery Place, the Mosquito installed in the Metro plaza is set to a tone that can be heard by people of all ages.

I recall reading that prior attempts to install such devices were accused of being targeted at teenagers because they can better hear and are therefore more annoyed with high-pitched noise-making devices. It sounds like this shopping center is pitching the device as a boon for all users – but are teenagers still the main target?

But this is also a reminder that shopping malls are not public spaces. Even though they are often function as such as place with crowds gathering just to hang out, they are privately owned and the owners are ultimately interested in making money.

Bonus: a link at the bottom of the news story to that takes you to the makers of the Mosquito where you can then find how annoying you find the Mosquito!