What does it take to create a shopping centre for the 21st century? How do we go about designing spaces that cater to the needs of a new generation of customers, born and raised in the era of online retail? Here are a few thoughts.

Principles of shopping centre design best practice

I’ve been involved in a lot of shopping centre projects over the years, such as Via Vallejo in Mexico City. I’m not an architect, but as a real estate investor I have a vested interest in understanding the principles behind shopping centre design best practice. And as an investor, the question of how we design a shopping centre that delivers for everyone is a crucial one.

Most importantly, I’ve seen just how important it is that everyone understands what the design vision is, and that it is shared with everyone who is involved in the project, at every level. This vision shows everyone what role the shopping centre will play in life of the local community, and also informs so much of the design.

So, what does best practice look like for modern shopping centre design?

1. Understand what will generate traffic through your shopping centre

Clearly, one of the most important starting points for a shopping centre is to look at what the key driver of traffic to your destination will be. And in the shopping centres of today, that driver may not necessarily be retail.

Take a recent piece in Building, Design and Construction, which quotes research by the experts at JLL who say: “It is clear that we are heading for a de-emphasis of the anchor store as the main draw to a centre.”

It used to be the case that shopping centres were a place that you went to shop, full stop. To compete and survive, they simply had to be better than the competition at doing that. And yet now, the retail landscape is so much more complex – not least because of the rise of online.

It all means that shopping centres need to draw people in with a multi-faceted entertainment offering. This could be a cinema, or a performance space. But today, a shopping centre needs to be an entertainment space, not just a place to shop.

2. Give people spaces to come together and do things other than shop

Building on this idea, it’s clear that customers now see shopping centres as places to socialise and spend time together too. And brands can tap into this yearning for interaction by using technology to create even deeper connections with consumers as well.

This is particularly important in cities where people often lead isolated lives, even while they live among lots of other people. I believe that this understanding must be built into good shopping design.

On a very basic level, your design needs to include spaces where people can come together and interact. These community spaces build on this idea of the shopping centre as an experience. They are a place to interact with other people, but also with brands too, in new, tech-enabled ways.

A recent report released by Colliers supports this, and suggests that the latest generation of shoppers are tech savvy and well-informed about the brands they’re interested in. It all means that the spaces where they interact with those brands need to be focused on creating a great experience, rather than necessarily pushing benefits or features that the customer already knows about.

3. Bring residential and commercial together

I also feel that another key principle in modern shopping centre design is incorporating the use of mixed-use developments.

Creating spaces where residential and commercial spaces sit together is great for the people who live and work in them. The global population is becoming increasingly urban, and as the pressure on room in cities grows, we are going to see more and more of these hybrid spaces.

Mixed use makes sense too – people want to live close to where they work, and also to where they play, interact with each other and spend their money. We’ve moved on from single use developments. Making shopping centres multi-purpose spaces where people live and work side-by-side is a basic principle we need to follow in the future.

And it’s true – increasingly, people are looking at mixed use real estate as a way to live, work and play more closely together. The experts at Henry Miller suggest that the growing trend for mixed use real estate development comes, not least, from a desire for social interaction (and for good food and drink) in our cities.

4. Flow and engagement

Shopping centre designers now have a clear choice. They can stick with traditional ‘build it and they will come’ models of shopping centre, pack them full of ‘big name’ shops and hope that they stay afloat. Or they can take a different route: one in which shopping centres are designed to engage an endless flow of customers in a myriad different ways.

That flow is managed by a new approach that is based on pull marketing, rather than the old model where retailers push their products outwards, onto customers. When you design and build a space that engages and excites customers in more ways than one, they will come back more often, and spend more time and money there when they do.

The experts at Forbes agree, saying that the “future for malls is to re-imagine and re-engineer malls and shopping centres as ‘Consumer Engagement Spaces’ or CESs”.

Finally, I’m often asked if there is a shopping centre that I feel executes this new design model well.

And for me, it is hard to think of a shopping centre that shows this better than the Galaxy Soho in Beijing, China. It’s a remarkable building, if only from an architectural perspective. It was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and they have done an incredible job of combining fluid lines – encouraging that flow of movement I’ve spoken about – with a truly engaging space for visitors.

Most importantly, it combines everything that the mall of the future needs – bringing together retail, entertainment, food and drink. And, crucially, it creates a place where city dwellers can come together to live, work, play and interact.