Does the future of shopping malls depend on top galleries and extraordinary restaurants?

Hong Kong – What does the future hold for the shopping mall? ‘U.S. mall-vacancy rate hit its highest level in seven years,’ according to a Forbes report published several months ago. It’s a statistic that belies a period of strong economic growth. Take a closer look, and you’ll find that high-end malls perform admirably and that the overall decline is due mainly to shopping centres that have failed to innovate.

Malls trace their roots to department stores. Whereas these one-stop shops are found in city centres, however, the mall represents a suburban alternative: a broad selection of stores under one roof, public space that functions as a town centre, and a parking garage for optimum accessibility. The history of malls is well known: advancing e-commerce, a middle-of-the-road product and brand supply, and few signs of modernization have undermined the concept in recent years.

Nonetheless, hope abides. Forward-thinking property developers realize they have to invest in attractive play areas for children and in an aesthetic upgrade. They also see the necessity for expanding an often one-sided portfolio with non-retail – from F&B and hotels to fitness studios and co-working spaces – and for aiming such facilities at one specific lifestyle.

H Queen’s was conceived with only two types of tenants in mind and one type of customer

An extreme example in this category is in Hong Kong’s historical art district, where a sleek 24-storey tower soars 125 metres into the sky. Unlike other shopping centres, H Queen’s was conceived with only two types of tenants in mind and one type of customer. Its art galleries and restaurants target a well-heeled clientele with superb taste.

Architect William Lim, founder of local firm CL3 Architects, translated their well-defined demands into a programme that occupies an austere glass tower with two disparate features. The three bottom and five uppermost floors are slightly staggered relative to each other to make room for spacious restaurant terraces. The low-e glazed façades are partially covered with a grid of white dots that tempers sunlight. Along with its distinctly white street image, these features attained an LEED gold status for the building.

The interior couples the anticipated luxury with unexpected efficiency. Stepping out of the lift, you instantly find yourself in a gallery or restaurant. Public space was not included in the design. A roof lift hoists works of art weighing as much as 1.25 tonnes into the building through a 3-m-wide, 4.5-m-high opening in the curtain wall. Among the tenants are David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth, premium galleries previously unable to find a suitable spot in art city Hong Kong. Of equally high calibre are the restaurants, one of which is Ichu, a spin-off of Lima’s legendary Central.

The one-stop art-and-food shop H Queen’s is unique in its genre: a building with a comparable programme is nowhere else to be found.

This feature is part of Frame 127. You can purchase a copy of that print issue here.

Location 80 Queen's Road Central, Central, Hong Kong

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