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How Malls Learn


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I've read several threads about the history of different malls around town and started to wonder if the way they are designed and built has an impact on their long term success. Some relatively long lived malls (like Memorial City, the Galleria, Sharpstown and Gulfgate) have undergone fairly significant changes over the years. Galleria has expanded, Memorial City has been heavily modified, and Sharpstown added an entire 2nd floor, which has to be one of the most traumatic changes a building can undergo.

I recognize that success and failure of malls depends on a multitude of factors, and architecture may not be the most significant. But can we find a pattern of common architectural elements that makes it easier or harder for a mall to keep going?

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Town and Country Mall was not hindered by architecture, (it was a 3 story monster!), but rather its close proximity to Memorial City Mall and the Beltway-8 construction in the late 80's and 90's. That is what caused its demise.

Edited by Pumapayam
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Can we better define what success looks like?

For the purpose of this discussion, longevity. Sharpstown isn't as financially successful as the Galleria or Memorial City, but it's still operating and could potentially make a come-back.

Town and Country Mall was not hindered by architecture, (it was a 3 story monster!), but rather its close proximity to Memorial City Mall and the Beltway-8 construction in the late 80's and 90's. That is what caused its demise.

Like I said, architecture may not be the most significant factor in a mall's success. But maybe there's something about Memorial City's architecture that helped it survive while T&C died. They were both close to another mall, and they were both impacted by freeway construction. Maybe the extra floors restricted T&C's ability to change by increasing the cost of renovation? Or maybe T&C failed for reasons entirely unrelated to its architecture.

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Maybe the extra floors restricted T&C's ability to change by increasing the cost of renovation? Or maybe T&C failed for reasons entirely unrelated to its architecture.

I noticed as the mall started to degenerate, the third floor was the first to empty out. Once people had no reason to explore the third floor, they got into the habit of ignoring it, and nothing could ever replace empty stores a generate business. Ditto for the second, until only the first floor existed with stores.

Then when Saks Fifth Ave. closed, the small tenants around that anchor had no traffic. This was more prominent when JC Penny's closed, since it was at a wing of the mall, rather than in the middle like SFA was.

Food court was always lacking too, so people would never hang out, and venture out for food.

It really was a great mall in it's hey day (is that spelling right?).

Edited by Pumapayam
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I noticed as the mall started to degenerate, the third floor was the first to empty out. Once people had no reason to explore the third floor, they got into the habit of ignoring it, and nothing could ever replace empty stores a generate business. Ditto for the second, until only the first floor existed with stores.

Then when Saks Fifth Ave. closed, the small tenants around that anchor had no traffic. This was more prominent when JC Penny's closed, since it was at a wing of the mall, rather than in the middle like SFA was.

Food court was always lacking too, so people would never hang out, and venture out for food.

It really was a great mall in it's hey day (is that spelling right?).

Maybe Memorial City's single floor layout helped with visibility. I remember going to T&C when the 3rd floor was almost empty and the few stores that remained open were so tucked away up there that it was hard to notice them.

I think Memorial City had similar problems with anchors closing and wings losing traffic (can't remember specific anchors, though), but it seems like Memorial City was quick to use that as an opportunity to remodel a wing and fix the traffic flow problem. Again, that had to be easier with a single floor than with 3.

The Galleria is currently having customer traffic problems with the old Galleria 3. When I worked across the street in the 90s, that area was full of people heading to Macy's. Now that there's another Macy's in the new Galleria 3, the old Galleria 3 is dying.

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I don't know the area very well, but driving on the beltway it seems that south of I-10 is where all the residential is, and north of I-10 there are tons of warehouses, distribution centers, or businesses. So as far as Town & Country vs Memorial City Mall, one is just on the better side of the tracks.

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I don't know the area very well, but driving on the beltway it seems that south of I-10 is where all the residential is, and north of I-10 there are tons of warehouses, distribution centers, or businesses. So as far as Town & Country vs Memorial City Mall, one is just on the better side of the tracks.

Both Memorial City and T&C were on the south side of I-10. T&C was just outside the beltway, Memorial City is inside.

Yeah, Galleria III is creepy. Part of the problem is, you're forced to go to Saks, so many people forget about it. The traffic level compared to Gallerias I, II, and IV is way higher than Galleria III.

Saks used to be Marshall Field's (I think), and there was a surprising level of traffic that passed right through to Macy's. When they built III over there it seemed a little silly to expect people to cross Marshall's to get to it, but it worked (until Macy's bought Foley's and left two Macy's in the same mall).

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Both Memorial City and T&C were on the south side of I-10. T&C was just outside the beltway, Memorial City is inside.

Obviously I don't know where T&C is/was. Does it even still exist? I have only seen that building on the north side of I-10 that says T&C something, but clearly it is something else.

I think mall success has a lot to do with "freshness". It's not even the stores, it's the perception that it is the "place to be". In Baton Rouge, when the Mall of Louisiana was built, the previous "hot" mall, Cortana, near instantly became deserted. Same great stores, same exact place that people flocked to before the new mall. I prefer it now since there are no crowds at all. I think it's even cleaner. But I'm guessing, if it hasn't already happened, they will start to lose tenants and it will go into some decline. Mall-going I think is as fickle as fashion. There is little reason to it. Yeah, you need the basics (decent stores/body coverage), but past that it's about trendiness.

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Both Memorial City and T&C were on the south side of I-10. T&C was just outside the beltway, Memorial City is inside.

Nope. Both were inside the Beltway. I think that was the main problem--they were too close to each other and cannibalized each other. The whole T&C area is pretty fascinating and mutable. When I was a kid, it was basically an outdoor shopping mall, all the way from I-10 to Memorial, with several neighborhood streets running through it. The landmark stores were Sakowitz (a lovely department store that went bankrupt long ago) and Farmer's Market, a flea market/ice-skating rink located where the post office is now. The Aeros used to practice there. Great flea market, by the way.

The mall came subsequent to the demise of both of those institutions, existed for a while, then died. In the scheme of things, it was a really short-lived mall. (Mem City preceded it and outlived it.)

Mem City, on the other hand, has constantly reinvented itself, losing and gaining anchor stores all the time (remember Montgomery Wards? Lord & Taylor?). Sears, amazingly, has remained a constant. Its cruciform floor plan has evolved a lot too. I went there to girl-watch and play pinball when I was in junior high. Now in my mid-40s, I recently went to see a movie there (the movie theater is, amazingly, a relatively new addition), and I observed that boys and girls are still there, hanging out and checking each other out. Lots of stores seem to cater to them, so maybe that is one of the things that has kept Mem City vital for so long--its appeal to the ever-renewing population of teenagers in the area.

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Regarding architecture, I think the late Cinderella City Mall is a good example. At 1.3 million square feet, the mall, located in Denver, Colorado was America's largest in 1968. Unfortunately, the mall quickly became outmoded. It had a very unusual floorplan (see Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella City ), structural problems, and if a corridor looks like this following a major mid-80s renovation:

670730727_1c620254a2.jpg

I'd say the architecture was to blame!

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Mem City, on the other hand, has constantly reinvented itself...

Was there anything about its architecture that made that more likely than the architecture of T&C mall?

I'd say the architecture was to blame!

Why?

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Was there anything about its architecture that made that more likely than the architecture of T&C mall?

MC is only a single story, versus 3 stories for T&C. If people are lazy and don't want to explore up the staircase/escalator/elevator to see what is up there, then the tenant won't get any traffic because they are essentially "out of the way", out of sight etc.

Edited by Pumapayam
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Someone on here said Sharpstown may make a comeback... I thought they were knocking that one down. I may be wrong though.

Memorial City is once again going through another transformation, ajoining itself to the New Memorial Herman tower.

T&C Mall is now going to be CityCentre. I think this go round will be a success. It's catering itself more to those that live, eat and work in the area, rather than spinning itself as another mall destination.

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Why?

Well, for one thing, you must start with the mall's layout. It was a giant "M" (more like an upside-down W) with two corridors running down the legs of the "M" and four anchors on the legs (top and bottom). The center of the "M" had a large fountain. That was the first level. The basement corridors were the same but lacked the court, so they were basically two dumbbell-shaped corridors linked by a massive parking garage. The second level, located only in the court area, had offices. In the mid-80s, the court was changed, to add a food court in the basement (but removing the fountain). The mall was also built on a landfill in the high Colorado plateau, leading to ground shifting and cracks. It was closed for almost three months. Even with a massive renovation, at $36 million dollars which added:

Skylights

Parquet flooring

Holes cut in first floor concourses to allow light in basement corridors

A food court in the basement

Removal of fountain

A new anchor store (ultimately Foley's before closing)

The mall was way too uninviting for anyone, as it was said in the papers. The stores left at an alarming rate, the current structure was deemed unfit for new development, and in 1998 the whole thing was knocked down for the new city center.

Photos: http://flickr.com/photos/28235843@N00/sets...57600567062196/

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As much as we'd like to think the architecture matters, it seems painfully obvious that the location, demographics of the neighborhood, and nearby competitors have a far greater impact on the success or failure of a mall.

Heck, if interesting architecture mattered, Westbury Square would still be a thriving shopping center.

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I should be working right now, but very quickly I'll say that if you look at the sears dpt store in midtown as the proto mall, notice it's lack of fenestration, metal box art deco design, and internal focus esp since AC was a new technology when it was built, then look at the galleria a generation later with it's barrel vaulted sky light, multiple tiers for engaging and disengaging social interactions and communal hearth in it's ice rink. Now come to the present and you'll notice many of these techniques are being reinvented, the communal hearth in the "town center",water feature, etc & that the natural lighting has been taken to new heights and dimensions, & also the layout plans that have concentrated on structural modularities that evoke complexities, i.e. staccato rhythms despite anchored nodes (dpt stores)

A good jump off would be to read Koolhaus' famous junk space essay. Talks about the reno process that commercial properities are constantly having to perform to stay madonna.

cheers~

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  • 5 years later...

http://www.houstonarchitecture.com/haif/topic/4384-galleria-expansionrebuild-300-unit-highrise/page-8

 

-- The Galleria III is learning.

 

I wish some Houstonians would actually go read and discuss design theory, instead of letting the thread drop.  We are so patriotic when it comes to defending the hometown, but so lazy when it comes to improving its level of architectural literacy by doing our homework - something that might have patriotic substance.  Speaking of learning.

 

 

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http://www.houstonarchitecture.com/haif/topic/4384-galleria-expansionrebuild-300-unit-highrise/page-8

-- The Galleria III is learning.

I wish some Houstonians would actually go read and discuss design theory, instead of letting the thread drop. We are so patriotic when it comes to defending the hometown, but so lazy when it comes to improving its level of architectural literacy by doing our homework - something that might have patriotic substance. Speaking of learning.

Excellent reason to bump this topic. Malls are changing. Interesting how the affluent malls "learn" a completely different lesson than malls in low income areas. Or, is it the same lesson with a different model? Gulfgate/Northline vs Memorial City for instance.
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