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.
Earlier this year I was commissioned by CallisonRTKL to photograph the new Outlet Village in Dubai. Whenever embarking on any such project there is always a lot of organisation to ensure coming away with the best set of pictures. I like to speak to the creative team involved with the design of the building, to discuss the particular features that they want me to capture. I believe that it is important to understand the design concept behind the architect’s vision in order to relay it in the pictures. I have a similar conversation with the marketing team to establish the images that they require and where they will be using them. We can then determine a schedule for the photography taking into account capturing it at sunrise, during the day, and at night, for both the external architectural shots and the interior photography. I also liaise with the shopping mall management and security in advance of the photography to make sure that everyone is on board. And I always like to ask if they have a cherry picker to photograph from!
The Outlet Village is an indoor retail destination developed by Meraas that offers a value shopping experience in a distinctive and stunning environment. The architecture is inspired by the picturesque medieval Italian hill town of San Gimignano, located in Tuscany. Bringing together a striking design inspired by a rich past with an innovative approach to construction, The Outlet Village harmonises architectural history with contemporary lifestyle and invites visitors to explore the contrast between old and new. Located adjacent to Dubai Parks and Resorts and within easy reach of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as Al Maktoum International Airport, The Outlet Village is set to emerge as an iconic and must-visit destination for visitors and residents.
Spanning over actual 25,000 square feet with a projection to expand shortly by adding 3 million square feet of space bringing its total retail square footage to 4.5 million by 2018, making it the largest luxury outlet shopping destination in the UAE.
Adding another dimension to Dubai’s rich retail landscape, The Outlet Village currently houses over 125 luxury retail brands including three department stores, international dining and a plethora of brands such as Galeries Lafayette, DKNY, Dunhill, Armani, Lanvin, Coach, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Roberto Cavalli, Carolina Herrera, Ermenegildo Zegna, Hugo Boss and many more.
The launch of The Outlet Village is part of Meraas’ commitment to build on the Dubai Fashion 2020 strategy, helping to diversify the city’s retail infrastructure and bolstering Dubai’s position as an evolving fashion capital of the world. The retail mix of prestigious high-end fashion and consumer brands within The Outlet Village is perfectly matched to the tastes of sophisticated UAE residents and visitors.
Once visitors have wandered around The Outlet Village’s stunning paved walkways and perused a selection of fabulous stores, they can relax in one of the elegant Piazzas which boast a variety of eateries.
Complimentary Tourism Shuttle Buses are also available to transport visitors to The Outlet Village from selected hotels and popular tourist destinations.