After a massive repurposing and renovation (9 billion) of Battersea Power Station the mall has finally opened to the public. It is an impressive redevelopment of a listed building, but a mall is not yet quite a destination it could have been.
Architecture is the best part
The power station, located by the river Thames is the largest brick building in Europe, so the scale of the space is enormous. The best part of the mall by far is the incredible architecture and sensitive refurbishment of the space. To see the building is enough for a reason to visit.
Destination design that is not yet fully working
Entering the two main halls gives similar vibes to entering another famous repurposed power station Tate Modern art museum. It is a ‘city within a city’, an enclosed space (with almost no natural light), walkways on three levels. Tate Modern is a great example of a successful destination design, a public living room. It is a place were people come to spend time again and again. When Tate Modern opened over 20 years ago it showed a future direction for gathering spaces as ‘a public living room’. There are older similar examples like Southbank centre and Barbican, which are still enormously popular today. But they are cultural and not commercial places. Good example of commercial gathering spaces are the Westfield malls. They provide a good combination of shopping, food & drinks, entertainment and areas for public to just sit down and rest.
At the moment, Battersea Power Station design offers almost no space to sit down, which makes it not only a bad visitor experience but also not inclusive. (Every inch is a commercial space that needs to earn back money for the investors). There are a few small uninviting benches around and a couple of sofas, but they don’t reflect the scale of the space. A tiny café truck on the ground level provides the only tables and chairs for the entire mall outsides the shops.
Another mall for high street fashion stores
Almost all shops in the mall are familiar high street labels, many of them fashion. The thinking behind this choice seems very dated in today’s world. It has also been pointed out that the store designs of the brands in generic and not tailored for the unique location, Starbuck beign an exception of a great localisation example.
An obvious thing that makes a place a great destination is the food & drinks offering. At the moment there were surprisingly few options available, and the existing ones were already struggling with amount of people. Hopefully in the near future there will be more things to do other than shopping.
It is not only the content that is important, but also the execution. Entertainment is a big attraction of future malls. At the moment the mall has a cinema, but only one major bar. In the near future, entertainment offering will be key to success or failure. Plans of a wellness and gym space will provide vital addition to the experience of the place. Lift 109 will be the most unique activity this mall will offer. It will be 109 metres lift journey inside a chimney to have 10 min access on the top viewing platform costing 15£. As an idea on the paper this sounds interesting, but the execution will be a decisive factor.
Place making and branding
The mall’s website makes it looks like a lot more interesting place than it is at the moment. Successful place making requires a combination of variety of different type of activities. Mixed use buildings are increasingly common in city centres. Battersea Power Station also has both living and working spaces (including Apple offices). It is part of a new neighbourhood, and has it’s own tube station, so it is early days to judge the development.
Branding of the mall is quite nicely done, both inside and outside the mall. It includes many different touchpoints with historical elements and industrial roots.
The wayfinding of the mall is pretty minimal. Surprisingly there are no interactive elements I could easily find anywhere. There is an app, but it is an old one. The obvious interactive touchpoint would have been the map, which everyone tried to touch to navigate, but is is only a screen.
Looking forward to the future
If the mall manages to offer enough variety of activities, it has a better chance to survive. The new neighbourhood that is not been built yet should provide much needed visitors. It will be interesting to follow in the next 5+ years how the area will evolve.