A microcosm of urban consumption
Zuhair Fayez Partnership Consultants
Othman Suliman Al-Dobaikhi
Rabya Trading and Agriculture Co.
Shopping malls, emblematic places of false modernity confused with transitory hyperconsumerism? Marc Augé (Professor of Symbolic Logic and Ideology at the Ecole des Hautes Études en Science Sociales in Paris) lists them under the « non-places » category, spaces with no history, areas still in the making and as such without any real identity. This study is perhaps a little dated as it was carried out early 1990s, and the subject was later dealt with in the well-known book Non-lieux by Marc Augé, published in 1992 and subsequently translated into English under the title Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity.
Riyadh’s Granada Mall proposes an anthropologically ambiguous space in a Middle Eastern style, and therefore lacking (at least according to Augé) the cultural characteristics that are able to produce homogeneous signs and characters. The project carried out by Zuhair Fayez Partnership in fact has the clear aim of attempting to formalize a border place in which at least two dominant cultures co-exist: on the one hand Western culture, with an array of commercial products originating mainly from European countries, arranged in a context inspired a little by the Italian Renaissance, but also in some instances by a revisited Rationalism and with a few references to Pop Art (stylized palm trunks like giant ice-cream cones); and on the other hand an overall layout clearly based on the original oriental souk.
Clearly, the problem of recognizability emerges in a totally new way as the anthropological identity of shopping malls is in the process of formation. This underscores the way in which the world is changing through intercultural osmosis, avoiding a homogeneous block configuration.
It is likely that in future nothing will be as it appears and we will find ourselves living in strongly hybridized places. So what will be new? Many of the world’s places will be culturally defined by a mapping made up of interpenetrated areas that are fused together like camouflage spots. Skilfully designed to make predominant use of natural light, the Granada Mall shines with a light of its own due to the mirror effect of the high-gloss ceramic tiles from Casalgrande Padana. The floor of the main entrance is a triumph of stylized geometric elements. Routes lead off from the main entrance to stores with grandiose portals. The solution adopted for the mall’s avenues is rather unusual in that, unlike first-generation shopping centres, the Granada Mall simulates a huge outdoor area characterized by planted palms contrasting with the polished brilliance of the floor surfaces. And to complete the concept of a retail area as a kind of urban microcosm, there is also a children’s play area with a mini funfair with early twentieth century style rides. This brings us full circle back to anthropological considerations: it is not so much the unity of time, space or identifiability that defines a place as the willingness of the place itself to be transformed into new cultural options without any form of conditioning.