Shopping centres in India - design perspective

Change in Indian retail is a function of people’s shopping perception and experience. Significant evolution in the industry began with the onset of traditional high street and air-conditioned markets of pre-1990s. Later, progress led to setting up of large shopping malls, multiplexes and shoppingcentres of the present generation. Such shopping establishments are not limited only in India’s metro cities for tier II and III towns too appear already on the modern retail map. The increasing demand for new format retail stores has exerted pressure upon the designer to create lifestyle-shopping establishments that meet international standards. Have India’s retail establishments attained, in design and ambience, a level comparable to that of their peers in developed countries? As our level is yet to rise up, the answer is still a resounding ‘no’. Rather, we are in such a stage where retailers, developers and investors feel the need for extra innovations in the domain of mall design. We have still a long way to go. Design process of any retail format is largely dictated by consumer’s culture and behavioral pattern. In other words, one cannot transplant a set of design patterns from one place to another. However, international standards in designing and circulation of spaces can and should inspire formats designing for shopping centres in India.


International blueprint

Considering the international best practices observed in designing retail formats, these stores are generally characterised by large volumes of space and capacity to attract customers from immediate as well as far catchments. Such stores, often-called city centres or malls are situated in out-of-town locations. Made sustainable with robust infrastructure, these centres provide weekend trips opportunity for shopping and leisure.  The interiors, exteriors and ambience of such centres reflect a definite strategy of the developer. The potential of these formats is gaining more and more recognition in India.


Elements of design process

A number of elements come into the designing process:

Occupier identity

Internationally, it is possible to identify and demarcate properly occupier mix. There is a clear strategy for the placement of occupiers within a mall. However, the flow and location of different spaces need to be viewed in the context of customer shopping and entertainment pattern. Obvious intention behind such design strategy is to increase the number of footfalls (which may increase the number of conversions) in a shopping centre. Clear demarcation of spaces also acts, for the customer, as a guide while he strolls inside the store.

Anchor spaces

Mall designers in India understand the importance of anchor spaces. These are very evidently predominant in every shopping centre. Large retailers occupy such anchor spaces and act as a magnet in attracting customers to the centre.


Designing a parking takes into account the flow of traffic during peak hours. Developers in India, however, seem to have an adverse attitude for parkings at ground level.  . Parking in Indian malls is generally allotted in the basement. As per municipal regulations, one car per 1,000 sq.ft of area is sufficient, while the global norms prescribe at least one car per 250 sq.ft of area. Indian developers are now learning that adequate parking is a critical component of the shopping experience, and adequate parking needs to be served free of charge.

Ratio of super built-up to carpet area

Mall developers in India have been traditionally charging 25-30 per cent as a loading factor on usable area. This is because the sanctioning authorities include the area of lobbies, lounges and atriums in the calculation of Floor Space Index (FSI). However, global standards suggest that 5-10 per cent of the total built-up area be allowed free of FSI for such areas in the shopping centre design.

Other spaces

Retailers use the volume of space available to them as a medium for 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 recent times, have been using 14 feet as the standard height. This resulted in a lot of disappointments amongst retailers. At present, retailers demand more column-free spaces for the optimal utilisation of leased area and more height for the appreciation of spaces in the store.


For shopping centres, 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 that maintains harmony, relationship and movement of traffic between different areas.

Interiors and ambience

From retailers’ point of view, well-lit (artificial or natural light) lobbies, atriums and store spaces as well as elegant flooring are of utmost importance to attract customers. Lighting and interiors should be in line with the themes and sections of shopping centre. For example, sections with movies can have darker interiors 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 should be taken in placing these at the appropriate places. This should be considered as a part of the design process. Retail formats of the pre-1990s severely lacked these essential aspects.

Façade treatment

Most Indian malls have a modern look with glass and alucobond façade treatments. In an attempt to create an international image, the architectural vocabulary of today’s Indian malls has suffered heavy western-influence. However, these spectacular façades have tempted mall developers to recover its cost from the retailer. The designers feel that glass and aluminium are most suitable for creating an inside-out image (which is in vogue).

Create image, set mood

After understanding these design elements, should we then ape the west in the creation of shopping centres? 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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