Numerous headlines have declared the decline, or death, of the high street and, indeed, many facts would seem to support this point of view. 2019 was the worse year on record for British retail. High Street sales fell for the first time in 24 years with 12% of stores now standing empty. In the United States there are about 1,200 shopping malls with one-third of them already failing.
Originally the high street and shopping mall was the centre of activity and social life for many people. With technological and social changes, we are shopping and interacting differently. Our current generation is the most informed and diverse in history, actively seeking out new experiences. High Streets and shopping malls cannot remain a collection of independent outlets that make up a whole, they must become contributing factors that create an experience for the consumer.
I photographed the Mall of Egypt in Cairo for the architects CallisonRTKL and operated by the Majid Al Futtaim Group. Last year CallisonRTKL topped the “Visual Merchandising and Store Design” ranking for the third year in a row. The 280,000-SM Mall of Egypt offers a dynamic mix of activities connected by a series of indoor and outdoor public spaces that respond to the region’s climate and lifestyle.
Located in Cairo’s modern 6th of October district, the retail and entertainment destination is designed to LEED Silver standards and is intended to foster a family-centred sense of community. The two-level centre includes a hypermarket, global flagship retail, a range of dining options, and exceptional entertainment venues including a cinema complex, the first indoor snow park in Africa and Magic Planet entertainment. The centre’s master plan is divided into three themed zones, each designed to complement the other and integrate with the overall 6th of October city master plan: Zone 1 or “The City” is arranged in a series of streets lined with retail and family-friendly public spaces. Zone 2 or “The Desert Valley” has an elegant interior, housing the centre’s upscale department stores, international retailers, and a central courtyard for music and cultural events. Zone 3 or “The Crystal” is characterised by its dynamic lighting and is the mall’s destination for leisure and entertainment.
The Mall of Egypt has been designed as a consumer engagement space with a sense of community created out of the entertainment, experiences, and services which are offered. It is no longer a place for retailers to push out product offerings into a mass market but somewhere which has a pull-marketing approach orchestrated around the needs and interests of an increasingly diverse consumer market, segmented by age, ethnicity and locality.
To succeed in the future the industry will always have to think like the customers it serves. The high street and shopping centre have to create a platform where people engage with brands to facilitate sales in an environment that is conducive to their requirements. There won’t be a “one size fits all” design concept but there will be certain elements that will transcend different shopping centres. Entertainment and the experience will be a key factor along with the dining facilities.
Specifically designed mini cities where people live, and work is one concept foreseen as the future of the mall. These would also feed into the appetite of the increase of consumer tourism of places to visit and shop. What we can foresee is that where we shop in the future will not look like the traditional high street as we know it. It will be an entirely new retail experience—one that will change throughout the year and even throughout the day to keep people coming back for new, fresh experiences. These advancements will affect developers, consumers, retail brands and designers, from the smallest neighbourhood to the most impressive Class-A regional shopping centre. The future of retail is ever-changing and ever evolving and it’s up to developers, retailers and designers to pinpoint what fads will fade and what trends will cement themselves and flourish into the future.
Behind the scenes
Photographing any project abroad has a number of challenges. I always work with the architect / designer and the building management team.
There are three important elements to photographing this sort of project. The first is understanding and appreciating the design of the project through talking with the architect and drawing up a shot list of spaces and features to be captured. After establishing a shot list, we agree on how long the shoot will take and start organising a suitable date agreeable to all parties involved. It is always best to photograph any space as soon as possible to showcase the project and avoid any wear and tear. However, too early after its completion and you may not have all the units filled and subsequently less people visiting. There are also additional considerations of local public holidays or unique events to consider. It definitely pays to speak with the building’s management team.
The third element is the logistics of photographing such a project and working in a different country. There is the obvious consideration of what essential equipment I need to take, where to stay local to the project, visas, weather etc. Then there are the unforeseen challenges that you have to work with, such as equipment failure and illness.
When I first landed in Cairo I had organised being picked up and taken to my hotel. The driver explained how I needed to pay for my visa in either Euros or dollars. I had neither so had to negotiate a local currency rate. On learning that I was a photographer he asked me how much equipment I had and whether I had more than one camera. I always travel within a whisker of the weight allowance with as many bags as permitted. These will contain some extra clothing and a toothbrush but 99% is equipment! My driver proceeded to tell me that of the last two people he had attempted to pick up with film and stills cameras one had been detained for five hours and then allowed to proceed without his equipment and the other had been turned away. Lucky for me we were just waved through.
I was presented with 2 honourable mentions and 1 nomination in the 14th Annual B&W Spider Awards in the category's of “People”, "Portraits" and "Abstract", at a prestigious Nomination & Winners PhotoShow streamed Saturday, October 12, 2019. The photograph in the "People" category was taken for International Alert in Liberia; the photograph in the "Portrait" category was of Lenny Henry, comedian and co-founder of the charity, Comic relief; and the photograph in the "abstract" category was of the ICON Outlet ceiling at the O2 in London, commissioned by the architect and designers, CallisonRTKL.
The live online gala was attended by industry leaders and the photography community from around the globe who logged on to watch the climax of the world's premier event for black and white photography. 14th Annual Jury members included captains of the industry from Musee de l'Elysee, Lausanne; The Guardian, London; Contrasto Galleria, Milan; Travel/Discovery Channel, New York; Harper's Bazaar, UK; Portuguese Centre of Photography, Porto; Aeroplastics Contemporary, Brussels; Silvan Faessler Fine Art, Zurich; ADK Creative One Inc., Tokyo; Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna; Conny Dietzschold Galleries, Sydney; and Pereira O'Dell in New York who honoured Spider Fellows with awards and nominees in 32 categories.
"It's an incredible achievement to be selected among the best from the 6,418 entries we received this year" said Basil O'Brien, the awards Creative Director. "Jonathan Banks's "Sharing," an exceptional image entered in the “People”, "Portraits" and "Abstract" category's, represents black and white photography at its finest, and we're pleased to present him with the awards."
BLACK AND WHITE SPIDER AWARDS is the leading international award honouring excellence in black and white photography. This celebrated event shines a spotlight on the best professional and amateur photographers worldwide and honours the finest images with the highest achievements in black and white photography. www.thespiderawards.com
I was recently commissioned, in association with Project Pictures, to photograph the new Devlin Hotel in Dublin.
Pure Fitout are the craftsmen behind the project, and have sourced and manufactured nearly every feature of the hotel – from the 40 rooms, to the timber panelled rooftop restaurant and bar, art deco cinema, bronze-finished Americana Bar and Moroccan tiled bathrooms. The firm collaborated with renowned designers, O’Donnell O’Neill Design Associates, and Lawrence & Long Architects to complete the first new-build project for Press Up Entertainment Group.
My brief contained the usual long list of external and interior photographs but also requested that I capture the unique playful /edgy and stylish design of the space, from the “Feck Off – Don’t Disturb” signs to the art throughout. You see the Devlin Hotel is pitched as the coolest hotel in Dublin if not Ireland! It has everything great about Ireland, past present and future.
After reviewing the plans / drawings and some photos taken during construction, and discussing the key design elements I was afforded a two day shoot photographing late into the night and early on the second day. I requested a cherry picker to capture the feature roof top restaurant bar with the Dublin skyline.
The Devlin enjoys a wonderful location at the centre of Ranelagh, just south of the central city. It is in the heart of Ranelagh’s bustling main street with good connections to the city centre and airport. As such the hotel describes itself as a “community hub” and “more than a hotel” where you can stay as a resident or just enjoy the public spaces. Head in and relax in the café and bakery with space to meet friends or hot desk. Make use of the excellent concierge service to connect with a wide range of city offerings. Take in a movie at the 42-seat subterranean cinema, with its 1950s-style seating, leather trim, popcorn machine, food offerings and two daily screenings. Sample the spacious, light-filled Americana Bar on the ground floor for fresh, modern cocktails, and all-day bites. Or dine in the rooftop restaurant, “Layla’s”, with 180 degree views of Dublins skyline and a terrace for al fresco dining.
Don’t get me wrong this 40-room hotel is compact so there is no spa, fitness centre, garden or even parking. The hotel rooms have “Everything that you need and nothing that you don’t”. Standard rooms are on the modest side, but smart design – in particular cunning fenestration – removes any sense of lack of space. There's comfort and a decided sense of style. The techy mod cons (Nespresso machines, Smeg fridges, and Dyson hairdryers) also impress. A range of rooms are on offer: triples include bunk beds. Bathrooms are sleek and high quality, with rainforest showers and Moroccan tiles.
The Devlin ticks all the boxes, with excellent fittings and finishes. There are five specialist timbers featuring throughout the hotel, including the intricate Iroko panelling of the Americana Bar, pitch pine ceilings in Layla’s restaurant and walnut burl to the free standing case goods throughout the hotel’s interior.
Over 160 pieces of original paintings and prints hang on the walls, including work by Dorothy Cross, Cian McLoughlin and Eva Rothschild, as well as emerging artists like Alan Butler, Leah Hewson and Eve O’Callaghan. A bespoke Tracey Emin neon piece hangs above reception that says “I Came Here For You”.
The Devlin hotel has already been shortlisted for several awards including the RLI Interior Excellence Category 2019. My photographs have also helped it to be featured in the a whole host of publications including the Daily Telegraph, Irish Times, Independent, Hotel Owner Magazine.
At the end of last year I photographed the new ICON Outlet at the O2 for CallisonRTKL. The opening of ICON Outlet completes CallisonRTKL (CRTKL) and the clients’, AEG and Crosstree’s, vision to deliver an unparalleled leisure and entertainment district for London – a place where retail and leisure converge. The development will complete the circuit within the Entertainment District to create a 360-degree visitor experience that not only supports the main arena events but has the critical mass to be a customer draw in its own right.
“The retail world is ever-evolving, the focus on the curated experience is a real shift of approach. Shopping destinations are now seeking new leisure experiences to attract, activate and energize their existing offer. What we have here is one of the most iconic leisure destinations in the world, anchored by the world’s favorite arena. We believe that the addition of the ICON Outlet is the final critical piece that will not only transform the O2 but in its own right create a new paradigm,” said Nathmya Saffarini, Senior Associate Director at CallisonRTKL and thought leader in sports anchored entertainment districts.
The success of a mixed-use project hinges on activity. The more people are walking around, using the space and engaging with it, the more it creates an inclusive atmosphere and people want to be there. Creating spaces where communities can come together, alongside major entertainment destinations would ensure that the district will never ‘go dark’ and the different zones will offer varied, engaging experiences for visitors any day of the week.
New contemporary food concepts were curated for ICON Outlet to compliment the fashion district and deliver a true lifestyle destination.
The urban outlet has been divided into key themes, which the developers state reflects consumer trends and behaviour, from ‘Best of British’ highlighting quality and heritage to ‘Global fashion’, featuring premium brands from across the globe. Other areas include ‘Beauty and accessories’ and ‘Sports and lifestle’, offering some of the most exciting names in athleisure.
To complement the retail offer, Icon Outlet will also host a range of experience-led services, including personal shoppers and stylists, hands-free shopping, and unique event shopping packages.
CRTKL’s concept focuses on the creation of two unique retail experiences – the Petals and the Clouds – to correspond with the leasing strategy and the character of the space they occupy. The ceiling treatments within these spaces are a unique feature to the site, designed to create a sense of light, space and tranquillity. Clever use of LED lighting enables the tone and look and feel of the development to shift depending on the time of day.
“The two-storey mall section referred to as the Petals creates a sensory explosion of colour and form inspired by London’s fashionable retail streets. The canopy that runs along its street is designed to replicate the dappled shade of a tree-lined thoroughfare,” said Nathmya Saffarini, Senior Associate Director at CallisonRTKL.
The single storey section referred to as the clouds is designed to be a column-free retail space, the ceilings, roofs, walls are hung from the existing trusses in the space. It is a clever solution that gives the client the flexibility to move internal partitions as needed to meet retailer requirements.
“‘The Cloud’ is designed as a calming retail escape. It creates an ambiance of light and tranquillity with its immersive forms and cool colours. The ceiling treatment consists of a series of fins that envelops the space below,” said Nathmya Saffarini, Senior Associate Director at CallisonRTKL.
Designing the ceiling treatments was one of the most exciting challenges, the design needed to be lightweight, work with the O2’s smoke fire strategy whilst creating visual interest underneath the tent liner.
A second phase comprising another 32 stores on the lower level will open in Spring 2019. Being in the middle of a global city, it has an amazing residential catchment so an outlet would work in its own right but being in an iconic building, with river frontage, tourist attractions and the huge profile of its leisure offer Icon Outlet should mature into one of the very best outlets and should set the bar for others.