SMALL BUILTS

Written by root. Posted in FEATURES

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Published on July 05, 2017 with No Comments

Bangkok’s community malls provide a physical place to congregate, connect and engage.

Words EMMA RAMSAY

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Credit(s): The Maharaj

 

Bangkok wants you to rewrite the way you experience malls. At The Commons, yesterday’s fluorescent-lit indoor space has been replaced with a vertical open-air outfit that seems to fold upwards. Indoors, pockets of garden on every floor create a visible green element that is a welcome oasis for urbanites. It’s airy, it’s spacious, there’s a lot of light. It’s signalling to Bangkok’s love affair with a new kind of urban space that offers more than just a shopping experience.

“It’s our intention to build first a community, then a mall,” say Vicharee and Varatt Vichit-Vadakan, founders of The Commons. “We hope to promote wholesome living and a true sense of community.” Indeed, the four-storey architecture is not your typical shopping mall. Divided into four distinct areas, each with its own character, The Commons gathers specialised producers offering customers an intimate social experience, whether it’s in shopping, lifestyle or leisure pursuits. Its layout invites people to linger, an inviting change to the numbing mundanity of the everyday malls. There is a distinct backyard vibe, with tables hidden in leafy nooks, wooden stairs designed as hangout spaces, a miniature herb garden for the kids to explore and a cooking corner that hosts workshops on occasion. A colossal fan creates a constant breeze through the tropical outdoor space to cool pedestrians.

A community mall goes beyond a place for those in the neighbourhood to see each other often. It also allows people to drop by and be “at home” in public. When The Circle first opened on the other side of the river in Thonburi, it added a touch of hip to this otherwise sleepy neighbourhood. Yet it served the area well. Surrounded by gated community homes, The Circle targeted the well-heeled suburbians who preferred to stay and shop where they are. Restaurants and cafes aside, The Circle created a close-knit community with its regular family-oriented programmes and activities. Warinlada Limcharoenpornchai, The Circle’s Sales and Marketing Director says, “It’s important to us to continuously offer the community an urban but balanced lifestyle. That is why we are now in the process of re-branding The Circle as well as renovating some of the space.”

The new, revamped community mall will be organised around common spaces set within lush green areas. There will be wooden patios to create more opportunity for interaction and activities, with many paths that connect guests with trees gracing the sidewalks and tree-ringed courtyards. With the primary goal of engaging the community with nature, The Circle’s revamped tenants will also focus heavily on producers of organic and sustainable farming with products that promote nature conservancy, artisanal craftsmanship and green ethics. “More than that, once The Circle is relaunched, we want it to become a centre for more family activities; a place they can consider their second home,” says Warinlada.

“I think the popularity of Bangkok’s community malls goes beyond the community experience. It’s a nod to the growing urban trend of wanting an experiential shopping experience, where people feel a sense of ease and belonging,” says Joe Wigunya. The Maharaj, for example, boasts of the best prime real estate address by the Chao Phraya river. It captures the neighbourhood’s charming colonial past, has a riverside promenade and a community garden to chill out. Its string of carefully curated restaurants, cafes and boutiques ensure that guests’ experience is “fresh”, so that they don’t feel like it’s just another trip to the mall.

A community mall’s intimate design that allows for specific tenants to be handpicked also promotes relationships to form between customers and retailers. “The longer people linger in a place, the more likely they feel an affinity to the place and the more likely they are to buy and cultivate realtionships,” Joe continues. “So I’d say it’s a win-win situation for all.”

Beyond that, many community malls are shaping to be key activity centres within the community that they operate in. The Commons, for example, began putting bottled mineral water in different areas of the mall for people to grab and put money in honesty jars provided. Proceeds from the water sale are collected monthly and given to those within the community who are destitute and needy. Additionally, The Commons partners with Thai Harvest to launch their first community fridge in Bangkok. Every day, various vendors in the community place their leftover food and raw ingredients that would otherwise go to waste in this fridge. Thai Harvest then comes by daily to collect, repurpose and donate the food to orphanages, halfway homes and other low-income communities in the area.

Indeed, community malls have elevated the shopping experience beyond simply offering a place to pick up a handbag or do groceries. With independent producers preferred over international franchises, and space that allows people to hang out and escape the city, it’s a matter of time before other cities begin to follow in Bangkok’s footsteps.

 

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