In 1990 the total was 2.4 million square metres of retail space. Back then, Queensland had a population of 2.9 million people – which means the space to people ratio was only slightly less than now. But further back in 1980, there were 1.3 million square metres of retail floor space when the population was 2.3 million people – a significantly lower ratio of space to people than later periods.
Can we read anything into this? I don’t suggest you do. Too much has changed in that time – our social, spending and lifestyle habits have been totally reshaped in that period. Queensland in 1980 was a community of mostly single income families, weekly shopping trips, no late night trading (and certainly no Sunday trading), a small but developing capital, nascent tourism regions, no internet (what’s that?), landlines only for telecommunication (a mobile was a child’s toy) and the very first Holden Commodore was a late model car. A lot has changed and those changes have impacted massively on how retail space is used.
Retail will continue to change and evolve as it responds to changes in society and the way we spend our time and money. This won’t just affect the amount of floor space but also what it’s used for. And because those uses are changing, centre designers are trying to adapt centres for new uses they were never originally intended for.
For some structures, this adaptation will have its challenges. Consider that nearly one in four of today’s shopping centres were first opened prior to 1980 – making parts of them 40 years old or more. At the heart of those centres there are quite possibly the original slabs, pylons, structural steel bracings, service ducts, below ground services, and other key elements of the original design. Added to and covered over many times since then, unearthing the original design elements and determining their structural or service merits can have all the challenge of an archaeological dig. Finding the original drawings can itself be a challenge, given they were drawn by hand in pen and ink. As owners move to further adapt their centres and look at options including multilevel mixed use development, these legacy structures and components can make their presence felt in unexpected ways.
Designing mixed uses from community spaces, entertainment, dining, residential, education, health and hotels into a new centre is a different proposition to introducing these uses into an existing one. Not only does the design need to reinforce traffic density and centre performance (rather than disperse it) but some of these uses invoke very different building codes. Private health, for example, is a fast expanding industry which logically works well in many existing centres, and it can. But the nature of building codes and standards involved in a private health facility are vastly different to what may have been found in a 1980s traditional mall.
Introducing a wider range of mixed uses into existing centres has a compelling logic to it. It also requires a consultant team who understand the design and construction challenges involved and who can bring non-traditional retail thinking to the table. It will be exciting to watch our shopping centres continue to evolve into even more dynamic community centres serving a wider range of uses and APP looks forward to contributing its insights to that ongoing evolution.