Modern design helps close the digital divide, generate traffic for Indian malls

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The traditional mall is fast becoming a historical anachronism. With the blitz of e-commerce and the convenience of doorstep delivery, brick-and-mortar retail suffered heavy losses. To stop the modern mall from going out of fashion, shopping centre developers are working upon every aspect to entice consumers into coming to them, then be it through experiential retail, FEC offerings or a plethora of F&B options.

A less known – but equally important – aspect which mall developers worked upon was the architecture. The design and planning of a mall, its foundation in a sense, work towards pulling in consumers. Striking designs, outstanding installations, and landscaping help weave a success story for malls as much as offers within the premises.

Modern malls are well thought out structures, with most of them using environment friendly material and practices to attract shoppers. A well-designed mall serves to provide various well-placed offerings to consumers, transforming a simple shopping trip into a social event and converting visitors into loyalists and their malls into community hubs.

In this feature, Shopping Centre News explores various design concepts of the mall including design elements, innovations and the role of technology.

Design Concepts

Shopping centres are no longer perceived as physical structures. The concept behind malls is to create a sharable experience and offer patrons the convenience to shop. The design conceptualisation lays more emphasis on circulation, zoning and connectivity. The entire concept is designed post extensive market research on demographic conditions, consumer expectations and aspiration. An in-depth market analysis helps in understanding the latest trends and makes the mall relevant for shoppers.

Highlighting the design concept of Viviana Mall, Manoj K Agarwal, CEO, Viviana Mall says, “The mall is designed in such a way that a customer knows exactly where s/he will find a particular category of product in the mall. The design and placement of stores, food court, parking and other recreational space are unique here. There is a science to it too – upon entering the mall, at any given point of time or place, the maximum number of stores are visible to visitors. It’s a destination that will always surprise and stimulate visitors with its vibrant mix of unique retail and entertainment concepts.” “We have also incorporated factors like fountain lightings and artificial artefacts which are points of convergence. Proper placement of lifts and escalators, conventional air conditioners and right traffic and parking facilities are also for excellent customer experience at Viviana Mall,” he adds.

Quest Mall, too, strives to convey a modern and energetic atmosphere architecturally and graphically it is inspired by India’s rich culture and natural environment. “The architects and designers who designed Quest Mall ensured that the presentation of the mall – including ingress and egress – had to have international standards to present luxury for the first time in the city,” states Sanjeev Mehra, Vice President, Quest Properties India Limited.

“We wanted the mall to be aesthetically pleasing while simultaneously keeping customer convenience in mind. Our focus at Select CITYWALK was on key areas namely brand visibility, parking, handicap assistance, tenant mix and ease of navigation from a customer’s perspective,” shares Yogeshwar Sharma, CEO and Executive Director, Select CITYWALK.

Entertainment, dining, shopping and leisure are the four pillars that help to enrich all retail centres and give consumers a reason to deviate from the virtual world of online shopping and plunge into the more tangible world of retail shopping, eating, entertainment and leisure. Design plays an important role here because the architecture of malls must excel in helping to provide a global brand experience and decentralising F&B options for even distribution of crowds across the premises.

“The architect and the developer of Ambience Mall chose the right material to create an ambience which made us a destination mall that is the apogee of a premium lifestyle. Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, was conceptualised as a second-generation mall worthy of being an integral part of Ambience Island, a development that includes premium residential condominiums, corporate offices, quality institutional, leisure and entertainment developments, and golf greens,” says Arjun Gehlot, Director, Ambience Malls.

Traditional malls are fast trying to maintain traction and footfalls by bringing back that wow factor to stop themselves from becoming obsolete in terms of design and setup.

“Being a next generation mall, Sentrum Mall Asansol has striking attributes that make it a class apart. Set up entirely on a modern retail concept, it has been strategically contoured to ensure full visibility of all stores while facilitating easy customer movement at the same time. Its design is at par with global mall design standards with safety and security being of prime importance followed by location, visibility, central air-conditioning system, large atrium, central assembling point, open food kiosk area and hang-out zone,” explains Sahil Saharia, Chief Executive Officer, Bengal Shristi.

“Our architect has deliberately favoured a lighter, neutral colour palette and more natural light for the common area. Natural light gives a natural ambience to the mall and reduces carbon footprint at the same time due to less electricity consumption,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Seawoods Grand Central Mall, Navi Mumbai was conceived as a Transit Oriented Development – a concept introduced in India for the first time. This has elevated convenience of the commuters to a new level altogether.

Innovations in Mall

Design Mall architects design and create malls with a lot of meticulous planning with attention to detail to offer the best to consumers.

Talking about innovations introduced at Viviana Mall, Agarwal shares, “Two major innovations that Viviana Mall introduced while designing the mall were Calsi proof ceiling so that there is a future provision of installing solar panels and second was clear visibility of one end to another end of the mall.”

Sharma says that a plaza for events and people to hang around was an essential part of Select CITYWALK’s design. “We are also sensitive to those with physical disabilities and have made the shopping centre easy to access for the physically challenged.
Our parking has designated spots near the escalator for expecting mothers and physically challenged. The design is also in such a way that the shopping centre receives sufficient sunlight during the day to be energy efficient,” he adds.

Just like Select CITYWALK, Seawoods Grand Mall also ensures maximum natural light through its dome like structures built in atrium and other parts of the mall. Another innovation which the mall has introduced is ‘Parking Guidance System’ – which helps customers to quickly identify empty parking spaces.

Role of Technology in Mall Design

The Indian Retail Industry is at the cusp of digital revolution, transforming rapidly to meet the ever-increasing demands of consumers. Malls are leaving no stone unturned to embrace digital technology. In an increasingly competitive environment, digital transformation is, indeed, fast becoming a matter of survival for malls.

“Viviana Mall has provided digital touch screens at all entry points and on all floors so that a customer can quickly locate every brand in the mall without any assistance. The mall is planning to invest more in cutting-edge technologies to enhance customer experience smartly,” says Agarwal.

“From watching movies to enjoying a dining experience, shopping malls have to be continuously reinventing on improving the patrons’ experience. Further technology is now used to gather data and analyse how we can use our marketing tools better and more efficiently to the selected TG who come to the mall,” says Mehra.

And technology is not just restricted to the interior of the mall. Even mall exteriors have interactive public art. Aside from this, lighting and design are other touch points that excite customers.

“In Ambience Mall, Gurugram, technology plays a huge role is creating a customer-friendly retail space. Starting from ‘Automated Ticketing’ and ‘Smart Card Parking’ to security and navigational aid for shoppers, the mall is technologically updated to be in par with the global standards.

The mall also has LED screens and pillar for visual branding and a digital mall directory for shoppers,” says Gehlot. Mall developers are also using technology to study traffic, wind direction and sun movement while finalising the architecture of the mall.

“In today’s era, technology plays an important role at every step. The idea is to provide a unique experience to each and every customer which will be etched in their memory forever and thereby act as a natural pull which will make them want to come back to the mall multiple times. During the designing phase technology, things like data analytics, 3D imagery etc. contribute valuable details to make the design more aesthetic and appealing,” says Nilesh Singh, Centre Head, Seawoods Grand Central Mall.

“Technology is very important and nowadays is used by top developers even for finalizing the mall architecture. Just to given an example, a proper traffic study, a study on wind direction and sun movement is done to plan an efficient development.” Uddhav Poddar, Managing Director, Bhumika Group.


Malls were earlier considered as ‘icons of consumerist society’. Gradually they have started emerging as lighthouses of energy efficient systems and sustainable architecture. A sustainable and green strategy does not only mean sustainable environmentally but also financially. It is always beneficial to consider sustainability during designing at a nascent stage as it brings down the mall development cost.

Energy efficiency is a significant factor, and with the kind of technology available in terms of lighting (natural and artificial), air conditioning and ventilation can have a positive effect on running costs.

“Viviana Mall has taken a lot of ecologically responsible decisions while designing the mall, which can help protect the environment, and sustain natural resources for current and future generations. From energy-efficient fittings to architecture that reduces the need for high air-conditioning, the mall is leading the way in environmentally friendly design,” states Agarwal.

“We are the first mall in India to have an LEED Platinum rating and this was received after the mall has been in operation. This shows our foresight and readiness to ensure we were already at global green standards in our planning stage. All exterior lights are solar, making Quest Mall environmental-friendly,” Mehra shares.

Resonating the same thoughts, Dhruvajyoti Barua, Head of Architecture and Design & Development, Inorbit Malls says, “Inorbit has taken great pains to reduce its carbon footprint through various sustainable measures like generation of electricity with solar panels, LED lighting fixtures, organic waste converter, rainwater harvesting, treating wastewater and re-using it for flushing, efficient HVAC systems to reduce cooling load etc.”

Sustainability has become an integral part of the mall design. From green belts to vertical gardens, the mall integrates modern architecture with eco-elements. Talking about these modern eco-elements, Gehlot says, “The 3-level basement parking at Ambience Mall is equipped with Electric Vehicle Charging Points and plastic bottle recycler. The mall has installed decomposition machines to make the everyday process eco-friendly. In future, it will be installing solar panels to ensure clean energy and make the mall design even more sustainable.”

Importance of Interior & Exterior Planning

Design and architecture are the backbone of every mall’s structure. A mall design needs to be attractive, and custom made, to suit specific customer and retail needs. The architect should have a transparent thought process, approach and vision of what he wishes to make and for whom. While designing the mall, it is important to give equal importance to both interior and exterior structure.

“Shopping centres are an amalgamation of the exterior to the interiors knitted cohesively with a common thread called design. The exterior design is a reflection of interiors and the interior design is the pinnacle of the exterior design,” adds Barua.

“With interior planning, our primary focus was on sufficient sunlight inside the mall duringday time, the right positioning of lift and escalators for an easy commute in mall premises, placement of stores as per the multiple categories such as men,women, kids, restaurant etc. for enjoyable customer experience. And for exterior planning, we made sure to provide sufficient spacing for traffic movements, roll out separate provision for VIP automobiles, auto-rickshaw and valet parking,” says Agarwal.

According to Sharma, people go to malls to gain experiences and spend quality time with their loved ones beyond shopping. This was a central thought while designing and planning Select CITYWALK. Hence, the focus and floor space given to indoor and outdoor spaces was planned well. The outdoor space is utilised for various events, exhibitions and pop up bazaar among other activities.

“The interior and the exterior are the first touch points to govern how customers will react. At Seawoods Grand Central, we have tried to give the best experience with international standards. The access to the mall is designed in such a manner that at the time of the ingress the customer experiences the grandness of the mall. This is effectively conveyed through the huge glass façade which welcomes the customers and then followed by the grand entrance steps. The interior standards are very much in line with the international standards, which gives our valuable customers the ‘wow’ effect. The great grand central atrium which is the key attraction can accommodate around 30,000 people for any big event. It also serves as a community space,” Singh states.

How Mall Design is Changing

Malls have evolved dramatically over time. At present, shopping malls are designed keeping flexibility in mind. The spatial requirements of retailers and anchors have become very dynamic. Hence, spaces have to be flexible. A welcoming exterior, visually appealing atriums and activity spaces, along with aesthetically designed interior spaces and break out areas are some of the key elements which define the design of the new-age mall.

With the new generation of malls now coming into existence, every aspect of mall development is becoming critical, ergonomic, scientific, requirement driven, and process is driven thereby creating a niche for every segment of mall development to be of great importance. Over the past few years, malls have evolved at a rapid pace and so have design features. Retail space today is experiential and integrated with technology.
“Shopping malls have now turned into entertainment centres. The advent of online shopping and social media has caused shopping malls to rethink spaces,” says Mehra.

Resonating the same thoughts, Barua says, “The role that malls play in people’s lives has changed with the influence of global trends. Every shopper who visits a mall is looking for unique experiences. Despite its best efforts, the Internet has not killed the mall. Often incorporated into mixed-use developments that include offices, hotels, and green spaces, today’s shopping centres feel more like town squares than traditional malls. Eye-catching material, art installations, and landscaping are focus areas and a part of the new mall design.”

“Talking about the popularity of malls, it can be said that various factors such as design, diverse tenant mix, product, catchment area, amenities etc. play a significant role in the success of malls,” says Sagar Saxena, Project Head, Spectrum Metro. In the last decade, a lot of changes have taken place in the way shopping malls are built.

Before, they were built with no relevant thought given to the allocation of stores, facilities and how to get maximum mileage through the location. Now, they have become more efficient and effective making the allocation clearer and more sensible. “Shopping malls have evolved from just shopping centres to community centres and mall designs have become more and more simple and efficient. Decade long learnings have led to more efficient planning thereby enhancing circulation and sustainability. A lot of public spaces are very important now for socialising and for community activities. Parking and parking systems are the most important elements for the success of any mall,” says Singh.

However, there are a few constants that will never change, and which contribute to a successful mall design, they are location, access, visibility, good parking, a right tenant mix and sustainability. These factors together contribute to the mall being successful for the developers, traders and consumers equally.

Mall Design & Degree of Success

Design is all about adapting the ambience to the core audiences’ functional, emotional and psychological and social needs. Today there are only a few malls that are able to sustain the volatile market. An unplanned and inappropriately designed mall fails to meet customer expectations. Architecture of shopping mall significantly impacts consumer traction. The design must create space for everyone.

“In Ambience Mall Gurugram, novelty and functionality go hand in hand. This is done by grand entrances, extending to plush and well-lit atriums. The décor inside reflects the season and festivities. The escalators and lifts are placed strategically for easy navigation and promotes store footfall. A great tenant mix and designated zones for fashion, F&B and entertainment is essential to optimise the shopping experience for mall patrons,” shares Gehlot.

A well-planned mall always appeals the audience and connects with them instantly.

“The ease of navigation, visibility across all stores andminimising blocked spaces, contribute directly towards footfall and sales. Elements like landscape design, balance between indoor and outdoor spaces and other design elements all contributes towards the mall experience,” states Sharma.

“A good clean and simple designed mall along with a right zoning mix ensures all the retail stores in the mall good footfalls and provides ease of shopping to the customers,” adds Agarwal.

“I believe that if the customer feels comfortable, he will come again,” says Mehra.

“A well-designed mall is easy to navigate for consumers and enhances overall shopping experience. This is return, increases the stickiness of consumers and ensures their repeat visit to the malls,” concludes Munish Khanna, CRO, Express Avenue.

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