Shopping Centre

Make a statement

Published:  28 June, 2013

Creating a good first impression can make a shopping trip, putting the customer in a positive frame of mind to spend money

Having a clean, well maintained and welcoming entrance is a basic requirement for any shopping centre, but how can changes in design, however big or small, transform the mall?

“Traditionally the property industry has focused far more on the inside of a scheme than on the outside but externalising the shopping experience is an important part of what we’re trying to do now,” says Gerald Jennings, retail portfolio manager – North, at Land Securities.

“The journey, the expectation and the experience starts before you walk in but some shopping centre entrances don’t act as a front door to the scheme as they could and should. I’m a big believer in entrances in enticing both loyal shoppers and new visitors; they should say something about what’s inside. Entrances need to be more than just something to walk through and I think it’s increasingly something the industry needs to look at.”

Ensuring both the decorative and functional elements of a shopping centre entrance, like entrance matting, is up to scratch is one thing. But Land Securities is looking at rejuvenating entrances at its centres on a larger scale. Making a bold statement is becoming a priority and re-jigging entrances often forms part of refurbishment or redevelopment plans.

At The Bridges in Sunderland, the company built a new Primark across one entrance and a Café Nero at another. A lot of thought went into creating entrance features of the units, making them signposts for the centre.

“Prior to the building work it was a secondary entrance and it didn’t say ‘come on in, we’ve got something interesting here’,” explains Jennings of the Primark entrance. “We wanted to create a piece of architecture that was much more sexy and bold. As part of the development we built a red box onto the front elevation – linking the colour with the Sunderland football team in a bid to appeal to the local consumer. Not only did it make a big difference to the centre, it vastly improved the high street which it faces.”

Queens Square in West Bromwich is currently undergoing a refurbishment programme of which the centre’s high street entrance is a main focal point. Currently dark and unwelcoming, planning permission has been granted for ‘right of light’ to strip back the solid front and replace with glass, transforming it into a light, airy atrium and opening up one of the malls.

Centre manager Melvin Glasby, who has been in shopping centre management for 25 years, believes the entrance should be the key consideration when planning a refurbishment programme. 

“The entrance should be warm, welcoming, clean and free of clutter, light and pleasing to the eye but above all it should mirror the centre’s identity and make a big statement,” he says. “The centre has changed very little since it opened in 1971 so it’s in need of a drastic refurbishment. We average 95,000-98,000 customers a week but footfall should be at 120,000-125,000 for the catchment and the size of the centre.”

Designs have been developed over 12 years, while the head lease agreement went through, and the planned entrance has been changed several times to ensure it creates the right impression and meets the aesthetic aspirations of the town centre.

The centre has been through various owners in that time but the current landlord, who bought the centre in 2010, has a very clear picture of what needs to be achieved, according to Glasby. Now planning has been approved, work has started on site and it’s expected to be complete in the early part of next year.

“We needed to bring the centre into the 21st century and the architect came up with various schemes to fit in with the rest of the town centre,” he says. “At a time when new centres are few and far between, existing centres need to make an impact and part of that is enabling people to see what’s going on from the outside. The main focus is to encourage people to come in, so it’s vital that we get it right.”

An architect’s view

Terry Morley, partner at architect firm Holder Mathias, thinks it is important to create a compelling arrival to a development with clever use of materials and lighting. He gives Queen’s Arcade in Cardiff as an example of a centre that was being hindered by its original entrance.

“We came on board at Queen’s Arcade in Cardiff 12 years ago,” he says. “When we inherited the scheme, it was only 15 years old but it was already incredibly outdated and wasteful of space. It was originally designed in 1980, it had a sloping mall and it was incredibly complicated.”

The original entrance was a horseshoe shape with an escalator that went down to a toilet block and the management suite. People walking down the street often couldn’t see the entrance because it was set back off the street. And people were getting the escalator down to the toilets without knowing they were in a shopping centre, and without spending any time in the shops.

“The original entrance was a grand and over-designed arrangement, it alienated everything else in the city, and there was a general sense of confusion so we needed to simplify circulation,” explains Morley. “We got rid of the escalators, made it into a single level mall and moved the toilets to the heart of the scheme so people were forced to go through the shopping centre. Plus the new entrance had better visibility on Queen Street.

“We removed the unnecessary clutter and created a significant new retail space in the process, and as I understand it, that had a significant improvement on performance and added significant value to the scheme.”

Land Securities took advantage of the rare development opportunity that became Trinity Leeds, in pulling part of the domed roof down to the ground to create what Jennings describes as something “interesting, exciting and inviting” at one of the entrances. But with new developments few and far between, making existing shopping centre entrances more appealing doesn’t have to involve disruptive building work, at least not to the building itself.

Land Securities also uses public art to draw attention to entrances. The ‘Minerva’ statue stands proudly at the main entrance to Trinity Leeds on Briggate. And at The Gate in Newcastle it commissioned an artist to create a landmark that would sign post the scheme on New Gate Street and in the city centre.

“The sculpture says something about what to expect inside,” explains Jennings. “It adds ambiance and acts as a welcome message – if you can overlay an entrance with public art, sub-consciously, it becomes something different for the consumer and if they like it, they’ll be more likely to go inside.”

Mood Stockholm opened in the heart of the city in March 2012. Landlord AMF Fastigheter invested heavily in art and sculpture, particularly at the two main entrances. One of the shopping centre’s unique features comes in the form of a 4m-high sculpture of a young woman wearing high heels, hotpants and a studded leather jacket, positioned at one of the main entrances, as if she is propping up the building. The idea behind it was to create a landmark, something unexpected, to draw people in from nearby NK, Sweden’s equivalent of Selfridges. And digital artwork is represented by a screen on the ceiling at one of the other entrances, with colourful patterns rolling across it.

Morley says while an entrance is the first opportunity to tell a story about the character of the centre and about what they will find inside, there are no common rules for retail schemes.

“Each one is unique to the brief, the location and numerous other factors – they are all fundamentally different,” he says. “The entrance to Carnaby Street is underplayed, for example, giving the impression there’s something to discover, whereas at Westfield London, they need to be seen in scale by people who are driving past, because in centres like that, most people arrive by car or train.”

Whatever the project and whatever the aim, a large part of Morley’s role in redesigning shopping centre entrances is pulling together conflicting concerns from planners, agents and the owner.

“We have to understand where everyone is coming from,” he says. “They all have different requirements – the agents, who are closer to the retailers, want prominence, ease of movement, signage and visibility through to the retail units. While the planning authority are much more interested in how it integrates with the rest of the town or city.

“As an architect, you have to work through conflicting views until you come up with a blend of all the requirements and make sure what we put in relates to the scale and character of the town.”

While there is no size fits all, Morley is confident that in a changing and often challenging retail environment, much needs to be done to entice the shopper.

“Lots of centres are suffering from problems that remain to be fixed,” he concludes. “There is so much competition for where people choose to spend their money; if shoppers aren’t getting a great experience they could easily stay at home and buy on the internet so retail schemes need to be strong, compelling places to spend money and time in. When it comes to shopping centre entrances, some are great and some are horrible, but many are in need of refurbishment – there’s a lot more work to be done.”