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A Dubai lookalike in Noida
Sushmita Choudhury | April 28, 2007
Not for nothing is it called The Great India Place. The name fits on all scores -- it's certainly great in size, over a million sq ft in total, making it one of India's biggest malls; it is a complete destination in itself because trawling all those shops will take a day at least; and is "expected" to be fully up and running by end-June. The mall, claim some authorities from the mall, has taken some time to launch because of the "amount of research that has gone into it".
It's hard to miss the structure located opposite Noida's Sector 18, parallel to the main road. Not only because it is the longest building in the vicinity but because of the way it looks.
At first glance it resembles a giant warehouse, a solid wall without a single window. You'd be hard pressed to even guess that it is a mall, though the huge hoardings across its facade might give you a clue. Isn't that a bad idea, especially for a retail outlet? Isn't a glass and chrome structure more suited to drawing eyeballs?
Counters Sanjay Chandra, managing director of Unitech, the firm behind the mall, "Our design is, in fact, better because it will invoke a sense of curiosity among passerbys because they can't see what is on offer inside. With a glass facade, you can see what you'll get but there is a tendency to think, 'Oh, I'll come back and try it for size another day'."
The building's design also has practical advantages -- not only is a basic wall the easiest on the wallet, it is also more conducive to efficient air-conditioning and allows more room for retailing than a glass facade. "A glass window would not only take up room for window dressings but would also require elementary panelling before the shelf area can start, which means wasted space," says Chandra.
It also forestalled a bloodbath among those who have bought retail space in the mall -- since all shops open on the inside and there are no windows, there was no need to fight for "good" road-facing locations. And this enabled them to stick faithfully to the "zoned" mall concept, one that lays special emphasis on positioning and visibility by devoting entire floors to a specific purpose: home and grocery on the basement level; women's apparel on one side, men's on the other; the food courts and multiplex on the top floor.
"While we are similar to a regular modern American mall in design, there is a significant departure -- in the West, the lower floors are devoted to the mass market while the higher floors focus on lifestyle and expensive products. In India, it is the reverse. We tried to ensure a blend of both by following the zoned concept," says Chandra, adding, "The idea is that if you encourage people to circulate in the mall, they will end up buying something." And this is how the mall plans to convert footfalls into revenue.
Entry to The Great India Place is along the breadth of the rectangular building, with two ramps on either side leading into the colossal split-level basement parking area. Alongside are the entrances for pedestrians.
The building design resembles a dumbbell -- in retail-speak, there are a number of vanilla stores anchored by the heavyweights -- for example, on the ground floor we have Globus, Pantaloon, Shopper's Stop and Lifestyle and a multitude of shops in between.
Endless corridors link the four anchors on each floor, and to break the monotony, the architects have introduced atriums at regular intervals. There are some "frozen palm trees" every few metres on the ground floor, also to "break the monotony", but the less said about them, the better. What impressed us were quaint signposts guiding the traffic along and announcing each individual store.
Design is all about convenience but that is something few malls take into account. Those of you who have ever suffered aching feet in malls with none or few seats to rest on while shop-hopping while irate security guards shoo you off staircases, it is time to rejoice. The Great India Place has a bench to relax on every 10 steps.
"There are fewer benches on the second floor, but that's only to encourage people to go to the third floor to rest and grab some food and maybe a movie," laughs the security in-charge who takes us around the mall.
While it's not operational yet, the food court does hold promise. Imagine 1,80,000 sq ft dedicated to gastronomes and a six-screen multiplex to boot, which may be taken up by Adlabs or Rave Entertainment.
So far, so good. But "good", unfortunately, is not that good we accidentally discover. Our guide lets slip that the mall was designed by Callison, one of the largest architectural design firms in the United States, the people behind Dubai's City Mall, which in turn was the kind of mall Unitech envisioned. The Great India Place may compare with the Dubai wonder in terms of scale but in design appeal it comes across rather poorly.
Nonetheless, it is the best we have. Most consumers aren't craving the new and novel per se. We aren't dying to be entertained, or hankering for an ersatz safari experience, or even looking for a buy-three-get 30 per cent-off bargain.
What most of us crave in this world of overwhelming selection is a place that makes choosing easier, and that is where this new mall wins hands-down. Does it also thwart the anonymity of today's shopping centre experience? Yes, it does. Or more accurately, it will in a couple of months time when the adjoining theme park comes to life.
This is the USP of The Great India Place. For the first time in the country we will have a world-class integrated retail and entertainment complex. If they had just opened the million sq ft mall, they would have only got Noida residents and a few odd Delhi-ites as customers and would have failed to recover costs.
But now this mall is a fun destination to while away a Sunday. After the teen zone is fully operational, the next addition to the park will be a family zone followed by a water park.
The plans don't end there. In the next few years, Unitech will add another mall and a hotel, a Marriott Courtyard no less, to this complex, thereby converting it from a day destination to a weekend sojourn. Not for nothing are they expecting 80,000 footfalls a day. Who needs Dubai anymore?