Design Aspects of the Perfect Indian Mall

Retail in India is changing the way people perceive and experience shopping. The process of evolution began with the traditional high street and air-conditioned markets of pre-1990s. This led to the large shopping malls, multiplexes and shopping centers of the present generation. Such shopping establishments are not limited only in India’s metro cities – Tier II and III towns are appearing on the retail map with increasing prominence, too.

The increasing demand for new format retail stores in India has put pressure on designers to create lifestyle destinations that match international standards in shopping establishment design. Can we claim that India’s retail districts have attained a level of design and ambience comparable with those in developed countries?

We are getting there, but the answer is still a resounding ‘no’. Rather, we are at a stage where the retailers, developers and investors perceive the need for additional innovations in mall design. We still have a long way to go.

The design process of any retail formats is largely dictated by the consumer’s culture and behavioral pattern. In other words, one cannot transplant one set of design patterns from one place to another. However, international standards in designing and circulation of spaces can and should inspire formats in for shopping centers in India.

The International Blueprint

Let us consider the international best practices observed in designing of retail formats. These stores are generally characterized by the large volumes of space they occupy, and their capacity to attract customers from the immediate catchments as well as beyond.

Such stores, often called city centers or malls, are situated in out-of-town locations made sustainable due to the robust infrastructure, which allows weekend trips to such locations for shopping and leisure. The interiors, exteriors and ambience they create suggest a definite strategy of the mall developers in image-creation.

The format’s potential is gaining recognition in India, but how many family destinations or Family Entertainment Centers (FECs) can we boast of? Not many. One of the reasons is the high real estate cost. However, there are some large shopping centers coming up, and these have made their mark in the highly competitive market.

Elements in the Design Process:

Occupier Identity

Internationally, it is possible to identify proper demarcation of the occupier mix. There is a clear strategy for the placement of occupiers within a mall. Types such as high-end boutique or jewelry store, fashion, supermarkets, white goods, electronics, entertainment etc segregate occupiers.

Such segregation of spaces is currently observable in the upcoming retail formats. However, the flow and location of different spaces need to be viewed in the context of customer shopping and entertainment pattern.

Food courts should be strategically located in a manner that avoids noise but boosts visibility. The obvious intention behind such design strategy is to increase the number of footfalls (which may increase the number of conversions) in a shopping center. Clear demarcation of spaces also acts as a guide for a customer while strolling inside the store.

Anchor Spaces

Mall designers in India understand the importance of anchor spaces. These are very evident in every shopping center. Such anchor spaces are occupied by large retailers and act as a magnet for attracting the customers to the store. Hence, a proper understanding of the requirement of anchor spaces is necessary before starting the design process. These spaces should follow a path, which connects the other activities of the mall.


This is a make-or-break point in shopping center. Global standards show that the parking is generally allotted on the ground or on the higher number of floors, be it a superstore, a discount store, a mall or a FEC. A perfect example in this context would be the parking allotted for Warner Village (parking on higher floors) in the UK or the one for Wal-Marts (parking on ground) in the US.

Parking is designed considering the flow of traffic during peak hours. Developers in India, however, seem to be averse to the parking at ground level. This can be again attributed to the large ground area required, and the implied increase in real estate cost. Parking in Indian malls is generally made available in the mall’s basement, though various other formats such as multi-level and roof-top parking are also in evidence now.

As per municipal regulations, 1 car per 1,000 sft of area is sufficient, while the global norms denote at least 1 car per 250 sft of area. Indian developers are now learning that adequate parking is a critical component of the shopping experience, and that adequate parking needs to be given free of charge.

Ratio of super built-up to carpet area

The need of large lobbies and circulation spaces such as atrium and lounges in shopping malls has increased the loading of gross leasable area over the super-built up area. Mall developers in India have been traditionally charging 25 – 30% as a loading factor on usable area.

This is because the sanctioning authorities include the area consumed by lobbies, lounges and atriums in the calculation of total Floor Space Index (FSI). However, global standards suggest that 5-10% of the total built-up area be allowed free of FSI for such areas in the shopping center design.

Other Spaces

Retailers use the volume of space available to them as a medium of interaction with the end-users or customers. Most retailers (globally) love spaces with floor-to-floor height of 16-20 feet.

However, Indian developers until recently have been using standard heights as 14 feet. This resulted in a lot of heartburn amongst the retailers. Retailers now demand more column-free spaces for the optimal utilization of leased area and more height for the appreciation of spaces in the store.


In the context of shopping centers, circulation is the ability of the space to conveniently accommodate movement of people around the mall both horizontally and vertically. All the spaces in the store should be designed in a manner in which a harmony, relationship and movement of traffic between different areas is maintained.

Interiors and ambience

From the point of view of retailers, well-lit (either artificially or naturally) lobbies, atriums and store spaces as well as elegant and good flooring are of utmost importance to attract customers. Lighting and interiors should be in line with the themes and sections of shopping center.

For example, sections with movies can have a darker interior and colored lights that focus on displays, while the sections with food and children stores should have lively interiors. Wherever possible, natural light through glass or canvas can be used.

Hoardings and Signage

Hoardings of advertisements (one of the sources of revenues for mall developer) and signage are design elements and proper care in placing these at the appropriate places should be taken. This should be considered as a part of the design process. Retail formats of the pre-1990s severely lacked these essentials.

Facade treatments

Most Indian malls have a modern look with glass and aluco-bond facade treatments. In an attempt to create an international image, the architectural vocabulary of today’s Indian malls denotes heavy Western influence. However, these spectacular facades have tempted mall developers to load its cost to the retailer.

The question that arises is – is it applicable to have such fascinating and expensive treatments for facades in shopping centers? It depends entirely on the design concept perceived by the designer. Probably, designers feel that to create an inside-out image (which is in vogue) glass and aluminium are most suitable.

After understanding these design elements, should we then ape west in the creation of shopping centers? We suggest that global standards be adopted for the creation of large spaces in the local context of shopping, eating and other habits of Indian consumers.

A retail space is no longer a store – it is a stage. It is an environment that tells a story, creates an image and sets a mood. Hence, proper utilization of design elements will definitely make a difference in creating landmark destinations for retailers as well as consumers.

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