The Retail Bubble

An investigation into the densification of city centers through retail collectives

By: Neville Mars

movie clip of the growth of The Retail Bubble

MALL / 购物中心 More than any other building in the city it is the mall that most stands out. This is a direct result of the migration it has undertaken since the years of its suburban existence. In order to survive downtown it had to assume a radically new form, in profoundness only comparable to a sex change. As today its customers are no longer the stranded inhabitants of the void that is suburbia, flocking from far in cars and trucks, but the occupied and saturated pedestrians of the Cunning City. The new challenge of the mall is to tickle, allure and entice the passers-by.

First and foremost this is done by the strategic positioning of the main volume in the heart of the urban web; secondly an appearance is created that constantly changes screaming out for attention amidst the grey building-mass of the city. The outer skin of the air-cushioned façade is made translucent to allow colour and light to seep through. This conspicuous architecture seems to have landed accidentally from outer-space, but it is well embedded in its surrounding streets. Its underground tentacles reach out far and link up with the passages and subway stations of the area. So whichever way you were heading you are bound to cross the glitzy tubes of this mega-mall. As a machine for shopping it is shaped like a sponge to effectively absorb the incoming crowds. Approaching the building on a crash course to enter it, you sense the actual front door is awkwardly absent.

Where slowly neon takes over from daylight the streets and passages converge and empty out in an enormous curving atrium. This is the world of the downtown emporium. Inadvertently you find yourself walking through the majestic caves that conceal all possible tricks to lore you deeper into its vaults and upwards to higher floors.

In the most expensive part of the city getting customers to a higher part in the building is of vital essence. Consequently the ground floor serves mainly this purpose. Promoters of all the events and shops in the building assist and persuade people upwards. And a big red cinema-elevator can bring people in groups of a hundred at a time to the twelfth floor. The ride is free and you get to see a trailer of a new movie during the ten minutes it takes the cinema to glide upstairs. The batch of people exits near to the top, from where a slow and lingering descend can begin.


This mall proves that the collaboration of architecture and commerce is successful. Architecture has become entertainment, space its commodity. Public areas are moulded according to the rules of retail, to become sublime, aggressive or inconspicuous selling space. Even space itself is marketed as a product aimed to attract the impulse buyer. The traditional shopping arcade has ingenuously outperformed itself to become a deeply integrated compound in the urban network. No longer operating as a single enterprise, commerce, leisure and mass-transport now form its new rudiments.

646 648649
472650 652
711 712 713
714 715

Excerpt Burb Magazine: 'GHOST IN THE SPONGE'

By: Neville Mars,Adrian Hornsby

Ever since our story last month about how clairvoyant Minnie See felt a presence in the new Spongemall, our inbox has been literally bursting with your responses. Thousands of bURB readers have visited the mall with their spook-sensors pricked up, and come back to us with sightings and strange tales. Who the ghost is or quite what they want is yet to become clear, but one thing’s for certain: it loves retail!

“The Spongemall’s a great place to hang out,” explains Minnie, “and so we shouldn’t be so surprised if someone from the spirit world thinks so too.” But whether it’s the thousands of great bargains, the fantastic range of food, or just the lively atmosphere that draws the ghost there is anyone’s guess.

“We believe spirits have divested themselves of their earthly shell, and so they actually can’t eat normal food. I don’t think this presence has anything to do with Yumsy Noodletopia,” Minnie insists. “It’s about something deeper, which perhaps we can’t even perceive.”

But we spoke to Lin Kao, 44, of Yumsy Noodletopia, who couldn’t disagree more. “Personally I’m not all that superstitious,” says Kao, “but I know our noodles are superlicious. I don’t see why the ghost wouldn’t make Noodletopia his top spot in the Spongemall. After all, he’s still got a nose — I mean ghosts can still smell, right? Smell that! Mm mm mhmm!”

One thing the Sponge-Specter may appreciate about his favorite haunt is how easily you can glide in and out of the space, and with all those curving atria, it’s always full of light. What’s more, because the mall is a co-op, owned collectively by representatives from the hundreds of different stores within, there’s no sense you are intruding on a corporate sphere. “This is very important,” Minnie tells us, “because ghosts don’t like places where they feel they have no right to be.”

A number of readers have felt the soft transitions of the Spongemall may have something to do with it. “It’s funny, you know,” laughs Wang Mi, 19, a student who likes to spend lunchtimes in the Spongemall. “When you go there you don’t really feel like you’re going into a building, and then before you know it you’re right in the middle. One time — I was wearing this cute little tartan skirt — I was deep in when I felt a wind on the backs of my knees. I knew immediately the presence had come in with me, probably accidentally, and had only just realized it himself! Then I turned round and there was this old man blowing bubbles at me. The whole thing was incredibly exciting.”

But not everyone has such a great experience. Career girls Wen Wa, 24, and Fun Li, 22, were traveling up to the wax clinic on level 4 to get Brazilians when they encountered the phantom. “We were on the escalator,” Wa starts to explain. “It’s a double helix so you spin round as you go up and there’s always plenty to look at. But then somewhere around two and a half there was this awful eggy-cabbagey smell.” Li goes on: “We were stuck behind these two businessmen so we couldn’t start walking to get up out of it any quicker. The men were both really fat, and I think they’d just been drinking at some business lunch or other. They seemed a bit wobbly. We just had to stand there and watch their backs, and wait for the smell to go away.”

“It was a bit gross at the time, but I’m glad at least to have met the ghost,” Wa reflects.

The mischief doesn’t stop there. People have not only felt and smelt the wraith, but some have heard it too. Sun Hong, 32, was sitting minding his own business on the public square on top of the Spongemall when he had a ff-ff-fvairy strange encounter.

“I was just sitting on a bench,” Hong says. “It was all pretty normal. There were some oldsters playing mah-jong, and a few kids roller-skating. Perched on a wall were these two girls with big knockers — and I mean BIG! — and they were wearing these Haier + Haier t-shirts. You know the logo? So they had that, with the two little mop-tops pulled over tight. I was just staring at them. And then there was this like deep voice in my head saying, ‘Go downstairs and buy a bottle of Haier shampoo.’ Well I wasn’t going to mess around with a poltergeist or whatever this thing is, so I did what he said right there and then. Thank god he’s left me alone ever since. That trip was scary.”

Of course, the man who has seen the most macabre mall moments of all is Zhi Yu, the chief security guard. “I don’t think there’s a single part of this Mall that that ghost hasn’t been,” Yu informs us. “And I’ve been watching. He’s on all the levels and the split-levels, in the light as it comes through the spongy airbags of these walls, and I felt him in the museum near that giant razor and he skulks around the Hotel Without Operator — peeping through keyholes I’ll bet!”

The retail program of the Spongemall is interspersed with hotel floors, offering people rooms for as short or longer period as they like (you just swipe a smartcard at the door). It’s filled with tourists, exhausted shoppers, schoolgirls doing a spot of homework between class and volleyball practice, cute couples stealing a moment, and people just taking a break. But there’s creepy company in there too these days it seems. A number of guests have described incidents of mysteriously losing small items, hearing “sounds”, seeing “things”, and experiencing odd or even “out of this world” sensations while staying there.

“There was even a crazy incident in the cinema-elevator, on the other side of the building,” Zhi Yu shares with us. “This guy spent almost a whole day just riding up and down, watching the trailers for the new Shell & Motorola movie. He didn’t leave the lift at the top as he should. It was like he was possessed.”


Send us your real life story and if we print it, we’ll send you up to 10,000 RMB. Don’t forget the gory details, and any pictures you might have snapped! Contact us through with your name, age, address and mobile number.

Owned by neville mars / Added by Stephanie Yao / 16.7 years ago / 185383 hits / 3 hours view time



  • notes
  • quotes
  • the chinese dream


Login to post an entry to this node.