Special Feature Design

Place at the heart of everything we do

The new South-west Mall, Pacific Fair

There is an ever-increasing use of the term ‘sense of place’ when talking about shopping centres today; SCN design contributors constantly refer to it. However, most of the discussions involve theories and trends. At AMP there is reality. Narelle Hutchins takes us through the latest additions to Pacific Fair and Macquarie Centre.

“When the Gold Coast opens something, it does so in spectacular style, that is unrivalled in many cities across the country. Pacific Fair opened its second stage of the South-west Mall today and it was nothing short of breathtaking. Forget your everyday shopping trip – going out to Pacific Fair is about to revolutionise the way that we see shopping in the Gold Coast for a very long time”.

Imagine if you could generate this kind of response to your brand, product or destination every day? It’s a sentiment not born from clever marketing or branding manoeuvres; it’s a reflection of true authenticity of a place that creates a genuine connection with consumers and their lifestyles.

Applying the processes and philosophies of placemaking to shopping centres is by no means a new concept but, with the pressure on super-regionals to become so much more than a place to shop, creating authentic, localised destinations that establish emotional connection with their audience becomes more a competitive necessity and less a choice. Understanding what is real to your audience is only the first step; of course, the real value of a placemaking approach is only delivered through clever execution. Shoppers can only tell you so much about what they want in a shopping experience, so interpretation, and creative and innovative user-centred thinking, are key to success. As the old adage goes, no one ever asked Steve Jobs to build an iPad.

The choice of where to spend our ever-diminishing ‘free’ time can be considered as the result of the interplay between logical, emotional and egotistical drivers. We like to think we make a rational decision on where to shop based on location, shopping needs, and practical factors, like ease of parking. However, logic is regularly overridden by emotional factors; many parents will drive further to shop where there are superior facilities for families, and egotistical influences, like what their choice says about their social standing or tribal affiliations. Egotistical drivers, in this age of the curated online persona, can be most powerful in terms of their ability to influence the choice of a shopping and leisure destination, and creating a connection with customers.

When exploring the emotional connections people have to a place such as Pacific Fair, it’s a complex, layered process. Locals express a mixed array of emotions about wanting the newer, shinier and cooler but, at the same time, they reminisce about ‘remember when’, with a strong nostalgic connection to a place once graced with everything from a blue concrete whale to tepees!

Visitors – national and international alike – associate Pacific Fair with a much-loved summer holiday: lazy mornings on the beach followed by retail therapy and respite from too much sun in the afternoons. Living up to the memory on the next visit can be quite a challenge.

To understand what attracts people to the centre, placemaking advocates taking a broader view and exploring what underlies the attraction of the Gold Coast as a place to visit and live. Once you understand those drivers – which are more sophisticated than kilometres of beaches and sunny skies – you can create a layered experience with multi-audience appeal.

Hence, the Pacific Fair future experience will be one that references not only the beaches, the ocean and the lushness of the hinterland, but also a growing urban edge that reflects a city that has come of age in recent years. The Gold Coast has always been that place where something that could be a little wrong – a little too bright and a little too loud – elsewhere, seems to fit right in. After all, we don’t head to the Goldie for the same experience that we could have at home. For our team, this presents a unique opportunity to push the boundaries and have some fun discovering our own ‘wow’ factor for Pacific Fair.

To create experiences that leave an emotional imprint on our customers, we know we need to deliver an authentic, multi-dimensional experience that is not just about the shopping offer – it’s the architecture, the people, the activities, that combine to create a sense of place that is quintessentially Queensland and, more distinctly, Gold Coast.

All of our design decisions are carefully considered opportunities to express the unique story of a centre and place. At Pacific Fair, we draw on the essence of a coastal, cool palette, combined with the lushness of the hinterland, and playful pops of colour that express the unique nature of the Gold Coast.

One of the challenges with larger centres is how to make them welcoming to a broad range of customers, yet simultaneously highly relevant and tailored to the needs of all potential users. Strong, individual precinct characters are key, that provide visual cues to signify that these spaces are welcoming and tailored to people like me – a place where I belong.

This is not just about creating a space that is aesthetically appealing in mix and design; it’s about careful planning that provides for natural, organic and sustainable uses of places by people in daily life. Having a place full of people attracts more people, so we design our spaces to facilitate social interactions.

The recently opened South-west Mall and fresh food market demonstrates this approach, and is just a taste of the unique experience to come when Pacific Fair is completed in mid-2016.

Fresh food markets are no longer about functional fulfilment for a essential food top-up; they are places to catch up with a friend for coffee or have a quick bite to refresh and recharge. We have redefined the fresh food market, in Gold Coast style, to create a sensory food experience. It’s cool and refreshing – a place to escape from the heat, where a large skylight brings the sunshine in through a double-storey void. Customers can look up through 2000 glass spheres, glistening like raindrops, to evoke the feeling of the subtropical hinterland. Three curved screens on a one-of-a-kind digital chandelier feature creative content, developed in partnership with Griffith University students, and supported by advertising.

Seating provides choices for all customer types and needs, places for groups to be loud or to be quiet, and nooks nestled in lush landscaping to escape the bustling food market. Pale timbers, high whites and soft greys are used to create a sense of openness and lightness, forming the perfect backdrop to enable the retail to be the hero. Pop colours are introduced through seating and custom-design fabrics, and playful graphic table tops reflect the Gold Coast’s energy and spirit.

We look for opportunities to embed this local spirit in the very fabric of the building, through feature tiles in our amenities reflecting the stripe of beach towels, and vintage beach photographs developed into life-sized amenities icons and custom wallpapers. Our female shoppers are welcomed with playful messages on our make-up mirrors, and special touches like custom make-up lighting, purse shelves and feature pendants.

Another of the ways we’ve chosen to communicate a unique and local feel, both at Pacific Fair and in our major redeveloping centres around the country, is through incorporating visual arts into the experience, and embedding cultural context into the building fabric.

Artistic works and collaborations are a key platform for engagement with visitors and the local communities: everything from bringing in that ‘wow’ factor installation that becomes the Instagram moment for thousands of international visitors, to working with local printmakers to embed a quintessentially local expression of creativity into the everyday.

For Pacific Fair, we developed a series of custom table tops and fabrics unique to the centre, working closely with Sophie Bell of Peppa Hart, a young Gold Coast artist, stylist and online fashion and art retailer.

Even our furniture pods are designed like art installations, with bold colours, relaxed furniture, rugs with tropical kaftans prints from Designer Rugs’ collaboration with Camilla Franks, and oversized lamps that look like giant sun hats.

For Macquarie Centre, art is also one of the key threads of a sensory shopping experience, where emerging, nationally and internationally recognised Australians artists are celebrated throughout the building. ‘Perpetuate’, ‘Australia Luminescent’ and ‘Epic Love’ are placed throughout the centre for best effect, and reflect the incredible growth of the north-west corridor, the colourful joy of life and the beauty of Australian landscape. The artworks were designed to evoke all five senses, and bring the centre together as a cohesive, sensory experience.

The feature piece in centre court – ‘Epic Love’ by Nike Savvas from Sydney – fills the atrium space with an explosion of brightly coloured spheres, suspended in ‘space’. The 2500 hovering spheres appear to link, creating infinite parallel lines to give the sense of being immersed in a carnival of colour and movement, and evoke a joyous celebration and exaltation of life. It’s still early days, however the response to Macquarie has been overwhelmingly positive, with measured increases in both customer satisfaction and market share.

The challenge for placemakers, in this very commercial world of shopping centres, is capturing and measuring the value created for owners by investing in this approach.

In the short term, it is difficult to draw a direct correlation with financial performance, particularly with so many other factors influencing the bottom line. However, consumer advocacy and satisfaction is readily measured, and it’s possible to see the connection between positive growth in these indicators and increased growth in visitation frequency and dwell times. From the perspective of creating competitive advantage that has longevity, authenticity is the best defence against imitation.

Unlocking the value of a place-led approach to redevelopment and ongoing management at AMP Capital is about alignment across the entire business. Putting place at the heart of what we do grows the value of our centres, not only for our core business as investment managers, but for our communities, our team and the people that choose our centres. SCN


About the author

Narelle Hutchins

Narelle Hutchins is the Head of Place Strategy and Design for AMP Capital Shopping Centres. Her team is responsible for driving a place-led approach across the portfolio and designing inspiring environments to improve customer experience and maximise value. Narelle has over 17 years’ experience working across a broad range of sectors, including commercial, residential, infrastructure, hospitality and retail in both Australia and the UK, with the last 12 years working in the shopping centre industry. Her experience in design spans many facets of architecture-design management, interiors, building design and master planning.

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