Nature-inspired shopping malls in China

Jessica Bernadetta, an interior designer in Chapman Taylor’s Shanghai studio, argues that people need a new kind of retail destination for a post-pandemic era. Nature-inspired shopping malls can promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage visitors to reduce their environmental footprint, whilst increasing their social horizons.

Pandemic-related shutdowns have accelerated the failure of many ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers, many of whom were already facing the challenge of the exponential growth of online shopping, which threatened to upend decades-old customer habits.

In China, after almost three years of restricted travel and limited opportunities, people are enjoying the chance to get outdoors again, whether to participate in activities, get closer to nature, or just experience a change of scenery. Significantly, they are also enjoying having some real-time ‘retail therapy’. It’s always essential for retail interior designers to understand people’s priorities and lifestyles. We believe people everywhere need a new kind of destination in the post-pandemic era.

Many mall owners have already embraced aspects of sustainability in their buildings’ fabric and management, but to survive (and thrive) during the next ‘new normal’ they must broaden their horizons further. Nature-inspired shopping centres can be a positive influence, encouraging ecological responsibility whilst satisfying a need to get out-of-doors, indulge in leisure activities and enjoy shopping and dining.

Promoting environmentally friendly spaces

Being environmentally friendly will attract more visitors, as people are increasingly motivated to make sustainable choices. By incorporating sustainability measures into the regular operation of shopping centres, we can reduce energy consumption and move closer to a more sustainable future.

Increasing the amount of natural light entering a retail centre has multiple positive outcomes, including lower energy costs and a more aesthetically beautiful layout (particularly when combined with additional plants). By taking this approach, designers can improve indoor air quality, giving the impression of a much more spacious and comfortable area to those who visit. When people's physical and mental well-being are taken care of, they tend to spend more time and money at the location in question. Incorporating this concept into commercial space projects could bring benefits to all parties involved and satisfy visitors' desires for a connection with nature.

Using transparent and light materials can also help bring the benefits of natural light into the interior spaces of shopping malls. Our Changchun Beihu Wuyue Shopping Mall design in China, for instance, features numerous skylight-atriums that allow natural light to flood the interior. We developed a two-tone prismatic glass dome in the tropical-themed space, which reflects the atrium's skylights and creates an effect of shifting hues.

Another great option is to showcase natural elements. Within the same mall but in a smaller atrium, we designed a water pool that reflects sunlight and resembles a wetland. Movement is reflected in the water . It is crucial for designers to enhance air quality and minimise energy consumption by incorporating natural components to create the optimal atmosphere for consumers.

Introducing local landscapes

People enjoy spending their time with family and friends and feel a connection to the natural world through outdoor activities. By incorporating elements of nature, such as local flora and fauna, into artistic designs, we can create an interior setting that is culturally significant, aesthetically pleasing and comfortable. As designers, we can create this sense of comfort and relaxation at retail sites that are surrounded by nature but also in an urban setting, we can apply local natural components. This can raise visitors’ environmental consciousness – we can create an eco-friendly experience and they can learn more about the environment.

Our designs are often inspired by China's stunning landscapes and traditions and we often incorporate parts of local culture that are recognisable to the Chinese people. The key idea behind the Vanke Kunming Yinhaiboan Shopping Mall project is the use of local native flora, fauna and water features. We used natural, organic forms in our designs, such as butterfly shapes, and lots of real lush vegetation. Sounds of nature, such as the sound of a gentle breeze, running water and birds singing, were also incorporated into the plans. The visitor’s sense of calm and well-being will be enhanced by these sounds. Kunming is often referred to as "the City of Eternal Spring" due to its year-round springlike weather and abundance of flowering plants. A sense of security will be created by the mall’s resemblance to Kunming's rural environment and this familiarity will create a feeling of comfort derived from the natural world. The leafy and lively look creates a relaxing and refreshing atmosphere for visitors by bringing elements of the rural landscape inside an urban building.

Creating attractions within the building

With the right mix of indoor and outdoor attractions, even bringing elements of outdoor attractions indoors, shopping malls can compete with the convenience of internet shopping. It has become clear that the presence of well-known fashion brands is no longer sufficient for a mall to attract visitors and instead we need to create a mix of uses, not just retail. As designers, we can give shopping malls a facelift while also providing customers with social benefits and novel experiences by bringing different activities to the fore. Bringing elements of nature and the outdoors into the interior space will provide customers with an engaging experience and encourage repeat visits. Visitors are looking for opportunities to engage and socialise with one another outside of their homes and this has multiple benefits for them and society.

Changchun Beihu Wuyue Shopping Mall, which has a mountain motif, is an example of this kind of trend in action. Its goal is to create a multi-purpose space with a wide variety of entertainment options. We made indoor climbing walls and play areas for kids and adults. The layout is intended to entice shoppers to spend more time in the complex. In addition, since public parks continue to disappear, many families prefer to spend their vacations in enormous shopping centres, which serve as significant recreational locations. Adventure golf, elastic leaping, aerial parkour and countless more outdoor sports have all been effectively reimagined as inside activities.

Inspiring people to a green world

Design professionals and the general public alike might benefit from being more familiar with the concept of enhancing the indoor environment by using natural components. Designers can indirectly improve the health of the public and the environment if they succeed in inspiring others to adopt sustainable practices. Plants, for instance, can absorb carbon dioxide and add to ecological diversity while also promoting an atmosphere of calm in occupied spaces.

Within a retail environment, including natural elements such as plant life and water in building plans can lead to an increase in footfall and sales. We create settings that offer more than a generic storefront aesthetic.

Futureland Shopping Mall in Taizhou has an ecological theme that includes suspended luxuriant plants and large timber features. Creating a green and relaxing atmosphere has increased footfall. We make it our responsibility to understand consumer behaviour and to design attractive, sustainable environments that appeal to people and encourage good habits.

Looking to the future

Shopping malls can play a role in shaping environmental sustainability and can inspire the people that use them to think ecologically. A well-designed shopping mall can promote good indoor air quality, give access to direct sunlight and promote proximity and interaction with nature and greenery. In stark contrast to the isolation and lack of human interaction inherent in online shopping, people can enjoy the company of others, take in the sights of the outdoors, and relax in a comfortable interior environment while doing their shopping. Using environmental concepts will help to rebrand shopping malls as cutting-edge commercial places that consumers want to visit; particularly crucial as the retail industry works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Bringing shopping malls and stores closer to nature will also make people more active and help them to live healthier lives.

About the Author

Jessica Bernadetta

Interior Designer, 上海

Jessica joined the Chapman Taylor Shanghai Studio in 2018 having graduated in Interior Design in her native Indonesia. She began her career managing design and build for commercial projects for a Singaporean company in Jakarta, before receiving a scholarship to study Chinese at the University of Hangzhou.

Following these studies, Jessica moved to Shanghai and joined Chapman Taylor as an interior designer. She has worked on a variety of commercial projects including major shopping centres and premium retailers throughout China, as well as getting involved in some award-winning master planning projects such as 'Jiaxing High Speed Rail New Town'.

Working in different countries with different cultures and climates has been a revelation, and inspiration for her to focus on sustainable design approaches in tropical and temperate countries.

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