Shopping Malls

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Some call it the chief cultural activity that most city dwellers indulge in. Others say they are temples of naked consumerism. Environmentalists want to raze them to the ground for the way they guzzle up fossil fuel energy. Love them or hate them, one thing is clear – Shopping Malls are here to stay. Symbolic of convenience as well as excess, the glitzy Shopping Malls of today mix shopping with entertainment, food courts, multiplex cinemas, amphitheatres and much more. In fact, one of the latest in Dubai even has a five-run ski slope with real snow!

The concept of Malls arose in the US in the 1920s, and today, this American export has found its way into every world city – from Santiago to St. Petersburg and Manila to Mumbai.

Why should I be aware of this?

  • There are many reasons why people across the world throng malls.
  • Some swear by the sheer convenience of having so many different places to shop at one location.
  • Most malls have better discount options than retail stores in city centres.
  • They offer much more than shopping, they are also venues for entertainment since most have arcade games, amphitheatres for music concerts, plays and so on.
  • In modern cities, there are few public places to meet and socialize, other than malls.
  • In many places, malls are welcome havens of safety and security. In Rio, where teenagers (especially young men) are the main victims of street crime, parents breathe easier when they know their kids are at play in the mall, some of which deploy hundred or more private police personnel.

Shopping mall and environment

Here are some strategies that newer, eco-friendly malls have adopted across the world.

  • Sustainable Design substantially cuts down greenhouse gas emissions and power consumption. Insulation of all exterior walls helps greatly bring down heating and cooling costs.
  • Another strategy to bring down these costs is to ensure all windows are well insulated. Having two door entrances also helps minimize loss of heating/cooling energy.
  • Usage of the most sustainable materials available locally to develop public and retail spaces within the mall. This would mean minimizing the use of melamine, plastic and other synthetics, and replacing them with bamboo, local wood and other durable and fairly sustainable materials.
  • Well designed heating and cooling systems are available now, which have energy recovery technology. These are expensive, but go a long way in minimizing heating and cooling expenses and improving indoor air quality.
  • Have timers on all outdoor lights -- there's no need to illuminate the entire parking lot at 2 AM.
  • Directing exterior lighting downward, rather than upward reduces energy usage and helps control light pollution.
  • Providing waste recycling facilities for mall tenants, or just encouraging them to actively recycle packaging, plastic, glass and other waste helps reduce the load on landfills.
  • Incorporating lots of green plants into the interior decor of the building not only looks great, it also improves air quality and could even reduce heating costs, as plants are natural humidifiers.

Here are some eco-friendly tips to bear in mind when building a new mall.

  • Consider using pre-fabricated modular panels for the exterior walls. These are often made with some recycled material and tend to be better insulated and sturdier than built-on-site walls.
  • Choose a mall site near an existing development. If your building is within walking distance of residential areas, this will reduce traffic impact (and may also reduce your overall construction cost, as many towns will require road/signal/curb/parking improvements to address increased vehicular traffic!).
  • You could also consider passive solar design-- orienting the building towards or away from the sun depending on which part of the world you are in, and using windows and thermal mass to collect and distribute heat and light energy from the sun.

All about shopping mall

The Greeks had their Agoras, the Italians, their Piazzas – both market places which were social hubs. So in many ways, Malls are not a new concept. But modern Malls grew as the Industrial revolution made city centres crowded and dirty. The first modern Malls developed in America’s suburbs – sprawling covered arcades with shops on either side of a broad walkway. The concept of developing a shopping district away from a city is often credited to JC Nichols of Kansas. He built the Country Club Plaza in 1922, as the business district for a large-scale residential development. It had shops, supermarkets and covered parking areas.

Shopping mall design

All shopping malls have some or all of these features: food court, movie theaters, customer service/information desk, security, stroller rental, "anchor stores" (big department stores like Sears, Macys or Bloomingdales in the US, Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle or Pantaloons in India), play areas, recreation areas, kiosks, vending machines and ATMs.

Often, inside the Mall, it is impossible to tell which country you are in. They all look plush, with shiny floors, lots of glass, bright lights, escalators. One design feature they share is that stairs and escalators for different floors are always located some distance apart. One invariably has to walk through part of a floor to get to the escalator for the level one want to reach. In all likelihood, malls are so designed to ensure that consumers walk around to see more stuff. The more merchandise they see, the more likely they will be to make that impulse purchase!

Themed malls

One interesting trend is that new malls across the world often have a specialty or theme. So Las Vegas has its Fashion Show Mall, Dubai and Delhi have their Gold Souk Malls, while the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai takes you on the journey of famous Arab traveller and scholar, Ibn Battuta. There are Indian malls dedicated to weddings, while in the West, you’d find malls selling only home improvement products, children’s products or food. Discount malls are another popular theme.

Shopping mall terminology

Mall Rat -- young person who frequents a shopping center primarily for socializing and entertainment, instead of shopping

Mall mayor: the retailer who acts as the informal spokesperson for the tenants of a shopping center

Mall walker: person who walks in a shopping center for exercise, especially during a period set aside for this purpose before stores have opened in the mornings.

What is it with teenagers and malls?

Teenagers, especially in the West, are the classic Mall Rats, and many critics believe they are spending more time in the Mall than they are in fresh air. Here are some reasons why teens have a special affinity towards malls --

  • Malls are public spaces where they can meet friends.
  • Malls offer romantic opportunities at times.
  • Malls are, very often, parent-free environments.
  • Teens can catch the latest movies there.
  • Food courts in malls offer many cheap eating options and plenty of junk food.

90 degrees

Why some hate them

Malls are notorious guzzlers of electricity (think of all those lights everywhere and that air conditioning). They involve the paving of large tracts of land, the excessive use of water and increased emissions from all the extra traffic they generate. Hence, the environmental cost of building and maintaining these mega structures, many critics believe is way too high.

Perhaps as significantly, shopping malls tend to completely destroy small businesses and shops. Whenever a mall opens in a new neighbourhood, it sounds a death knell on that corner drugstore, local boutiques and perhaps even that little neighbourhood pub. The mall, with its glitz and glamour tends to become the place for families to go for a fun evening out, a hangout for teens and places to visit for the best brands at the best prices.

The shopping behavior of people in malls has spawned two other criticisms. Retailers in malls often complain that malls seem better suited to window shoppers than to serious ones. They say that in comparison, standalone shops have better sales. In sharp contrast is the criticism that shopping malls are soulless temples of blatant consumerism, building people’s aspirations for more and more material goods that they may not ever need.


  • The largest mall in the United States is probably the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, which includes a seven-acre amusement park, nightclubs, restaurants and covers 4.2 million square feet (with about half that total devoted to retailing).
  • The West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada has parking space for 20,000 vehicles, an ice-skating rink, a miniature-golf course and four submarines (which is more than what the Canadian Navy has)!
  • The $1.3 billion Golden Resources Shopping Center in northwest Beijing, has nearly twice the floor space of the Pentagon!
  • By the end of the decade, China is likely to have at least seven of the world's 10 largest malls--many of them equipped with hotels, on the theory that no one can possibly see everything in a single day.


  • Shopping Malls
  • Ten Largest Malls in the World
  • Forbes Traveler Article on Shopping malls
  • Malls
  • Economic and Political Weekly Article

Additional Information

  • See The Evolution of Shopping Malls
  • See Glossary of Shopping Mall terminology