A "convenience" truth

A "convenience" truth

New-town housing and shopping malls are designed to make it difficult to leave

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A "convenience" truth_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
Special offers, new arrivals and best buys are what most people look for when they enter a shopping mall. But architect Alfred Ho is more interested in finding out how a mall's design is able to influence the behaviour of its visitors.

Hongkongers seem to favour brand-name stores over mom-and-pop shops. This is not necessarily because it is their choice. Designers, Ho says, are making it inconvenient to visit outside stores.

Ho carried out research on the shopping malls of Hong Kong for his thesis when he took a master's degree in architecture at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. He found that the design of a shopping mall can affect shoppers' behaviour.

He says: "One common feature of malls is the placing of the cinema or food court on the highest floors so that visitors will walk past as many shops as possible before they reach their destination. Another common tactic is to design a one-way route in shops, so that shoppers need to walk through an entire store before leaving."

The biggest goal for corporations is to make sales, and businessmen try their best to promote their products and services. But through his research, Ho found a worrying trend of developers attempting to manipulate residents through architectural designs.

Many housing estates in areas such as Tseung Kwan O and Tin Shui Wai, are built around the MTR station. These estates usually have a shopping mall at the bottom of estates, with blocks of high-rise residential buildings above.

"I call these housing estates 'birthday cake buildings'," Ho says. "The shopping mall at the bottom is the cake, with the 'candles' and the residential buildings on top."

Hongkongers highly prize convenience in their fast-paced lives, which explains why many people enjoy living in a birthday cake building environment, with everything located right on their doorsteps.

Ho says every birthday cake building is like an island by itself, with footbridges connecting it to the MTR.

"Developers are trying to create the impression that there is nothing out there except the malls," Ho says. "There are no pavements, no shops on the streets, or anywhere near the birthday cake buildings. So, when there are no other shops around, by default the mall downstairs is the best."

Ho also says developers ask for their buildings to be specifically designed so that they confine residents, and encourage them to shop in their own estates because shopping anywhere else would be more troublesome.

Many birthday cake buildings pride themselves on being conveniently located above MTR stations. Anyone who lives there knows that, while the MTR station may be just across the street, they must take a long, winding route to get home.

"On arriving at the MTR station, people need to go through the mall, then get to the podium level, before walking to their building," Ho says. "Rather than carry heavy grocery bags on a long journey home, residents make life easier by shopping downstairs."

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