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 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.
Jonathan Banks picked up one “honorable mention” title in the “Children of the World” category and three “nomination” titles in the “Architecture”, “Fine Art” and “portraiture” categories.
12th Annual Jury members included captains of the industry from Sotheby's, New York; Benetton, Ponzano Veneto; The Art Channel, London; Kolle Rebbe, Hamburg; Droga5, New York; Preus Museum, Norway; Art Beatus, Hong Kong; Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg; Wieden & Kennedy, Portland; Fox Broadcasting Network, Los Angeles; Gallery Kong, Seoul; and Phillips, New York who honored Color Masters with 761 title awards and 1,032 nominees in 37 categories.
"It is an incredible achievement to be selected among the best from the 7,241 entries we received this year," said Basil O'Brien, the awards Creative Director. Jonathan Banks's photographs represent contemporary color photography at its finest.”
INTERNATIONAL COLOR AWARDS is the leading international award honoring excellence in colour photography. This celebrated event shines a spotlight on the best professional and amateur photographers worldwide and honors the finest images with the highest achievements in colour photography.
Towards the end of last year I photographed the Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch in association with Project Pictures.
Sitting happily among Shoreditch’s re-purposed warehouses and factories, Nobu Hotel is a bold architectural statement whose marriage of complexity and urban generosity delivers a global destination in the heart of London’s most vibrant neighbourhood.
Occupying a tight urban plot, the hotel follows the street line and accents its strong linear form with horizontal steel and concrete fins at each floor level. A playful, informal grid of board-marked concrete panels and generous full height glazing expresses the range of activities contained within the hotel, dematerialising at its sloping southern end to give sculptural presence to a lush sunken pocket park.
The original architects of the scheme, Ron Arad Architects, were appointed in 2011 to design the new Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch, gaining planning permission in 2012. The original scheme featured overhanging floor slabs, and cantilevered steel beams forming a frayed edge to the east, where a landscaped garden is terraced to provide natural light to the lower restaurant space. Ron Arad Architects left the project in 2013. Ben Adams Architects were appointed by Willow Corp in December 2013 to develop the design and complete the project.
Subtle material cues demarcate the public and private layers of the hotel. Refined bronze portals signal the hotel and restaurant entrances. Overlaying its raw concrete frame, timber, echoing the hotel’s concrete cladding, creative textiles and warm fabrics create an earthy, elegant aesthetic that delivers a variety of moods in its public spaces. This materiality creates a seamless link between the double height bar/restaurant in the hotel basement and the landscaped garden that adjoins this space. Sliding bamboo screens sandwiched within the hotel’s glazed cladding give flexible degrees of privacy to the suites that overlook the sunken garden and the 150 bedrooms occupying its upper floors, while maintaining a strong sense of harmony with the building’s architectural treatment as a whole.