UNStudio, the wonderfully imaginative firm of Dutch architect Ben van Berkel, has built something virtually unheard of in the architecture world: a shopping mall that doesn’t suck.
Not only does it not suck, it’s actually pretty damned cool. The Galleria Cheonan, in South Korea, pairs pragmatic design moves aimed squarely at how people shop today with some razzle-dazzle flourishes (dancing walls!) to elevate what would otherwise be an unlovely epicenter of conspicuous consumption into something approaching a museum.
Consider the facade. During the day, it’s all business — shiny and monochromatic and, if not for a few slight (vaguely Thom Mayne-esque) deformations here and there, a hair shy of boring. Then at night, it transforms into an explosive light show, as colors and animations custom-designed by UNStudio rip across the surface. The architects bill it as the largest dynamic facade of its kind in the world.
Indoors, the place subscribes to what Alicia Silverstone taught us years ago: Malls should be, like, totally super-fun to hang out at! Per van Berkel: “The Galleria Cheonan responds to the current retail climate in Asia, where department stores also operate as social and semi-cultural meeting places. Because of this, the quality of the public spaces within the building was treated as an integral aspect of the design.”
So you’ve got floor plates that curve every which way, imbuing the mall with a maze-like whimsy that encourages visitors to nose around like explorers. At the same time, the architects broke up the space into what they call “programme clusters” — three-story chunks, each with its own public plateau. That creates intimate zones for people to stop and chat, grab food, and rest their feet. (It also keeps the space from feeling like an unwieldy Super K.) There’s a seductive logic here: The more people see a shopping mall as an elegant social hub on par with the local fine-art museum, the more time they’ll spend there, and the more likely they’ll dig deep into their pocketbooks.
[Images courtesy of UNStudio]