They’re impossible to miss and impossible to avoid.
For millions of residents and pedestrians, then, entering commercialized areas becomes an inevitability, not a choice. It normalizes a culture of consumerism: Everyday life is played out on the terrain of the mall, and the private shopping atrium takes on the role of the public square. Because Hong Kong’s apartments are small – its summer climate hot and humid – the mall becomes a default gathering place. And why not? There’s plenty of space and the air-conditioning is free. And while you’re there, you might as well browse around the shops and spend some cash.
In this respect, Hong Kong’s mall cities achieve the maximum potential of something scholars call the “Gruen Transfer.” This tongue-in-cheek term, coined in “honor” of architect Victor Gruen, refers to the moment when the mall’s undulating corridors lead them to simply shop for shopping’s sake, rather than approaching shopping with a plan to buy a specific product.
The mall’s inventor – who lamented the closing of small individual stores in cities because of “gigantic shopping machines” in suburbs – would have surely turned in his grave had he known this machine had become the city.
Will Hong Kong’s malls go global?
Today the fate of Gruen’s invention will take another turn.
Hong Kong’s urban mall developments have become the envy of other cities – including Shenzhen and Shanghai – that are looking for ways to build compact, transit-oriented, lucrative developments.
The Asian hyper-dense urban mall is also making an appearance in American cities. Miami has Brickell City Centre, a five-story mall in the heart of the city. Covering three city blocks, it’s topped by three high-rises (and was built by a Hong Kong developer). New York City is building a seven-story mall attached to two skyscrapers in Hudson Yards, America’s largest private development. The Santiago Calatrava-designed Oculus – the centerpiece of the World Trade Center – has a mall with over 100 stores, with its white-ribbed atrium attracting an army of tourists taking pictures with selfie-sticks. Since the hub connects office buildings with train and subway stations, the stores are also “irrigated” by the 50,000 commuters who pass by each weekday.
In short, the mall isn’t “dead” – it’s just changing.
The development model is so popular in China – a symptom of the country’s rapid rise of domestic consumerism – that developers even coined a term for it: “HOPSCA,” an abbreviation of Hotel, Offices, Parking, Shopping, Convention center and Apartments.
But to do justice to the centrality of the mall in these projects, perhaps the “S” should have been put up front to read “SHOPCA” – short for “Shopapocalypse.”