Designing & Redevelopment of Malls

Mall design is no longer replication of standardized predictable architectural designs, finishes, layouts, environments and stores. There is now a general preference for authenticity, a deeper sense of connection to the community. While new mall designing requires high expertise, re-development of obsolete malls is an unavoidable and much more complex issue.

The average lifespan of a retail mall design globally was 15 years (Researchgate.net3), that’s when business begins to decline. In today’s context, the lifespan of a mall is considered at just about seven years, and is probably shrinking. The law of commercial gravity is a constant reminder that newer and larger shopping centres are likely to displace traffic according to their attraction power (size) and their relative proximity to the catchment, the Researchgate study states.

As new indoor malls, entertainment, and lifestyle shopping centres open, retail tenants are also likely to migrate along with shoppers. Rental income in real terms gradually decreases over time and renovation costs keep increasing. A mall is usually said to be due for renovation when the marginal cost of renovating equals the marginal loss of rental income.

“People visit malls not only to buy a product they need but also to enjoy the atmosphere or environment of the shopping center, based on design and eco-natural features,” says another study by Leonardo Ortegon-Cortazar and Marcelo Royo-Vela4.

There is as much the scope for setting up new malls with innovative concepts to match new market expectations as is the necessity to redevelop, rehabilitate and reposition the look-alike redundant malls.

Designing for redevelopment

Redevelopment of an obsolete mall is to be viewed as an opportunity to transform the property into an attractive projects that has increased value, is sustainable and makes its catchment communities more livable. Redevelopment allows malls to become more competitive in their market area by taking advantage of opportunities at the right time. It helps unlock the value of the property and restores viability to the site, says a study by Urban Land Institute (ULI), Washington DC.1

Before initiating redevelopment of malls, it is necessary to determine what all uses are appropriate for the market, and then build consensus among the existing tenants, the local population, government agencies and private businesses in the vicinity. The aim should always be to create a long-term development strategy and include pedestrian-friendly features and adequate parking so as to create a great place that serves as a magnet for the community, the ULI study suggests.

The old rules of mall development are thus breaking down rapidly. “The age of the cookie-cutter mall is over: developers are re-making malls as quickly as they need to in order to remain competitive,” the ULI study adds.

“Designing plays a vital role in the success of any Mall either REM or conventional, says Susil Dungarwal, Chief Mall Mechanic at Beyond Squarefeet Advisory: “The layout and circulation, of the mall, along with the supporting infrastructure are instrumental in creating a good customer flow, thereby letting the customer view and visit every store in the Mall. In specific REM, one need to plan in advance as the extra load of the Entertainment equipment can make the structure succumb to load. Hence a clear plan has to be executed in advance.”

How the site is developed is as important as what is on the site. Key decisions include vertical versus horizontal development, underground versus at-grade or structured parking, and enclosed versus outdoor shopping. While a redeveloped mall site is most likely a private venture, the area is perceived as part of the public realm, and the design of the public realm is key to the success of the project. Investing in high-quality design will increase the value of the project.

“Our focus was on creating various USP’s in the Mall, thereby increasing the catchment radius of the Mall & get more footfalls, says Susil Dungarwal, Chief Mall Mechanic at Beyond Squarefeet Advisory.

The firm has been instrumental in hand holding numerous projects and have been able to convert them into destinations. Notable ones are Omaxe Connaught Place – Greater Noida, Vivira Mall – Chennai, Oberon Mall – Cochin, Neptune Magnet Mall – Mumbai, etc.

Pre-requisites of redevelopment

Redevelopment solutions are unique to each project and hence will differ from one mall to the other. What is possible in one location may not be possible or desirable in another. The reforming effort calls for two major exercises: (1) a sophisticated understanding of each site’s current and future competitive position in the local market, and (2) a hard analysis of which redevelopment opportunities are financially realistic.

Redevelopment could call for more or less of retail than what existed in the old mall. Completely dismantling the old mall and building something very different could be one solution, other solutions could be: reconfiguring, expanding, or downsizing the old mall; turning the mall inside out to create an outdoor experience; creating a hybrid indoor-outdoor centre; adding other uses as part of the mix; creating a destination, luxury, premium, value or mixed-use centre, and so on. In today’s context, entertainment shall invariably be an integral part of each option, even though its nature and spread will differ.

Many mall sites are well positioned for mixed-use development that incorporate office, residential and hotel markets with the retail and entertainment core. There is need to determine their relative strengths to arrive at an appropriate mix, and then assess how the different uses might support each other, whether through the ambience created or through the market support generated.

Numerous other factors may also influence the redevelopment plan, like whether to keep the mall open during redevelopment, the cost of keeping tenants in business during reconstruction, and whether or not to accommodate public linkages, amenities and connectivity to the vicinity if it didn’t exist previously. It always helps to evolve a consensus among all stakeholders before embarking on the redevelopment.

Focus ought to always remain on the big picture: consider all the financing options, create partnerships in the community, think futuristic by provisioning for opportunities that could arise 10-20 years later, and so on. It helps staying flexible and thinking long-term.

Renovating a mall can be like renovating an old house: the work takes longer and costs more than expected, and the scope of work can expand at every step. Due diligence and careful contingency planning can reduce the risks associated with renovating an aging mall and protect against costly and unexpected headaches, says the ULI study1.

Symptoms that mandate redevelopment

Shifting demographics and evolving consumer tastes are transforming the retail markets of the 21st century. A mall project may have interesting architecture, top-quality streetscaping, and a multiuse environment — but without customers, the stores will falter and the project will fail. A decline in the vitality of a mall means that current and projected market conditions must be re-evaluated.

There may be a difference between what the community would like to have and what the market can support. Success requires market potential. A plan that respects and accommodates the new market realities will have the best chance of success.

When anchor stores look deserted, footfalls would have decrease and this will impact overall business in the mall. It could be due to internal corporate issues of the retailer, or its physical size being smaller or bigger than required, or due to a decline in market sentiments or a combination of these factors.

The moment businesses decrease rapidly, it is an indication for large-scale changes, for complete redevelopment or reconfiguration or for increase in nonretail entertainment components to pull customers. When businesses improve substantially, then too the situation may call for extensive rehabilitation or additional construction or adding more tenants, or repositioning and improvement in access, ease of parking, and so on.

Ingredients of successful mall design2

John Caulfield2, Senior Editor of, while providing five ingredients of successful mall design, contends: “Westfield Galleria at Roseville, near Sacramento, Calif., features an expanded indoor/outdoor promenade that became a centrepiece of a multimillion renovation led by architect Gensler and Westfield Design. That renovation increased the mall’s annual traffic by 46% and created a “brand” that more shoppers could relate to and want to frequent.” Artwork has become an increasingly popular design element in shopping centres, he adds.

Use design to engrain the “Wow!” factor into the mall’s brand

West Edmonton Mall, Canada

No mall is complete these days without some form of entertainment and leisure. And no mall owner takes that maxim as far over the top as Triple Five Worldwide, whose properties include the 5.3-million-sf West Edmonton Mall in Canada, which recently got approval to add a 150,000-sf wing. Its renowned water park features the world’s largest indoor wave pool and 17 waterslides.

Expand common spaces to create more points of convergence and grandeur

Parc Central, Guangzhou, China_Benoy)

Sometimes, more radical measures are needed to save a struggling retail complex. Prellwitz Chilinski’s redesign surgically extracted a few buildings, notably a Macy’s from Chestnut Hill (Mass.) Shopping Center, built in 1949, and converted the structures into a 378,555-sf open-air retail and dining venue with a movie theatre, a fitness center, and 60,000 sf of offices.

Add “live/work” to give purpose to malls

Adding live/work elements to the shopping experience is yet another trend in mall resuscitation. Macerich, a California-based REIT, was primarily a mall developer until it purchased Tyson’s Corner Center in Fairfax County, Va., three years ago. “Now, its mantra is mixed use,” Jeff Gunning says of the developer. The buildout of one of Northern Virginia’s top retail destinations will include three residential towers, along with an office building. As Ian Thomas, a retail consultant in Vancouver, B.C., puts it, “No longer are these [malls] merely town centers, but often they are the center of town, where public space can be the new anchor.”

The fourth ingredient for successful mall according to John Caulfield2 is to stop depending on retail anchors alone to drive the traffic. He cites the example of Triple Five’s American Dream that will include a ski slope, Ferris wheel, and a 225,000-sf water park sponsored by DreamWorks. The fifth ingredient is to leverage the digital technology, which can also place demands for physical space in the complex.

Parking & connectivity as a design element

Good transport linkage around and within the facility helps movement from one activity to another reducing the need to drive by own vehicle every time, it never intimidates the pedestrian, and offers easy walking distances between one use and another. The mall visitor’s first experience of the facility is on arrival at the parking facility, so it must be safe and comfortable, the walk from parking lot to the shopping and entertainment zone and back should be really enjoyable.

Functional mall refurbishing should target easier access and parking, signage and maps to facilitate wayfinding, more open spaces to reduce the negative effect of crowding, clean and appealing common areas and food courts so that shoppers stay longer.

Parking needs change over time, usually grows for the first 10-20 years in a new development zone and then reduces as more efficient public transport systems evolve. Parking needs also change due to changes in the mall anchors and tenants. Through better design and structure location the allotment of parking land can be substantially reduced. Structured parking is also cost-effective where land cost is high; if land costs are lower, surface parking often is more cost-effective.

Design for the community feeling

These days successful malls need to project the feeling of community with quality public spaces and connectivity. This aspect is as important as a mall anchor. As the mall’s image as a community centre gets established, people will love to come and socialize at a place where they can interact comfortably, in an environment that is neither a workplace nor the home.

“People connect to a place and make it theirs by being able to see the sky, experience the weather, enjoy natural light, listen to music or rushing water, relate to both urban and natural surroundings, smell the food and the flowers, and feel the merchandise. Seamlessly connecting the site’s gateways -parking and surrounding streets – to all of the stores, places, and activities on the site completes the sensual experience,” says the ULI study.1

Malls compete for the unique experiences they provide to customers, and the charm lies in not just chasing trends but staying ahead of the competition. But that’s just one, though vital and complimentary function – providing good quality value-for-money retail merchandise is and will always remain the core function of a mall.

Some unique structural mall designs

“Redevelopment is a tedious, time taking and money guzzling concept,” Susil Dungarwal says, and adds, “If the Mall developer is not prepared for the same, it is best avoided. Redevelopment encompasses total new vision and approach to the project, with a clear understanding of where it wants to be re-positioned.”

Illuma, Singapore

The Iluma, Bugis district of Singapore, opened in 2009, an arts and entertainment district. It is a typical inline retail, one side has curved façade filled with high tech light and illumination display with flashing messages

Volcano Buono, Italy

Volcano Buono, in Nola, Italy, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, opened in 2007. The mall has 150+ shops, a hotel and a cinema. Mall shape based on active volcano Mount Vesuvius.

Mall of Emirates, Dubai

Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, one of the largest shopping destinations in the Middle East, opened in 2005, has 500+ stores, besides a variety of attractions. Indoor ski resort with 5 runs.

Effect of redevelopment

A study by Researchgate.net3 entitled “The effects of mall renovation on shopping values, satisfaction and spending behaviour” says “Renovation has a direct impact on the perception of the mall atmosphere and an indirect one on shoppers׳ hedonic and utilitarian values, satisfaction, and spending. Renovation affects shoppers׳ spending through the perception of utilitarian shopping benefit, which affects shoppers׳ spending.”

The study further says that the decision to renovate a mall is the result of depreciation of rental income, the level and rate of change of renovation costs, discount rates and varying market conditions (Wong and Norman, 1994). The effects of renovation on shoppers’ spending are real, but fully mediated by utilitarian shopping value.

While renovating malls, managers should focus their resources on elements that will support shopping goals. Aesthetic mall design is certainly desirable. However, mall must also be functional to facilitate shoppers’ task orientation and trigger spending, the study Researchgate.net3 says.

Another study by Julie S. Higginbotham5 indicates that mediocre malls need makeover to survive; the fresh design needs to create great destinations that attract retail customers through greater attention to outdoor spaces and entertainment options. These spaces can be exploited as a setting for concerts, how-to workshops, and other events that will draw customers and keep them on site longer.

A notable finding of the study is that Green sustainable design saves money and also attracts customers, especially the females – 37% of women are more likely to pay attention to brands that are committed to environmental causes, an important stat because 85% of brand-driven purchases are made by women.

Another important observation by the Julie S. Higginbotham5 study is that big box and discount stores are still important, but many clients are rethinking the scale of their properties, reallocating and reducing the space as per the market.

To conclude

When a mall falters, it should be viewed as an opportunity to create a higher-value, more sustainable retail real estate. Re-evaluation of the changes taking place in consumer and market trends will provide a clue to optimum model for redevelopment, which will often want to tread the unconventional path with respect to positioning and tenant mix.


1. Ten Principles for Rethinking the Mall, Urban Land Institute, Washington DC 2006, Authors: Michael D. Beyard, Mary Beth Corrigan, Anita Kramer, Michael Pawlukiewicz and Alexa Bach

2. May 26, 2015 | By John Caulfield, Senior Editor


4. European Journal of Management and Business Economics, ISSN: 2444-8451, Authors:
Leonardo Ortegón-Cortázar and Marcelo Royo-Vela,

5. Seven fresh retail design strategies, By Julie S. Higginbotham, Senior Editor, Feb 2014,