In 2005, the doors to the New South China Mall first opened, promising a new age of Chinese consumerism and signaling the rise of the middle class. Located outside Dongguan, an industrial city located in the rapidly-growing Pearl River Delta with a population comparable to New York’s, the nearly 10 million-square-foot mall was the largest in the world in terms of leasable space. The developer, Chinese instant noodle tycoon Alex Hu, expected 100,000 daily shoppers, but the crash-strapped factory workers who populate the nearby metropolis never bothered to make the 2.5-hour trek to the overgrown shopping center, and so 8 years later 99 percent of the mall’s 2,350 retail outlets are still vacant. In the wake of this failure, a new developer, the Dongguan Minying Real Estate Development Company, has hired California-based architecture firms 5+Design and SWA to design yet another mega-sized mall in the rapidly growing city, this time with a few important adjustments that the team hopes will make their project a success.
The New South China Mall, featuring a 1.3 mile canal, was nearly empty in 2010 just as it is today (Remko Tanis/Flickr)
Developers of the 11 million-square-foot Dongguan International Trade Center (DITC) hope to succeed where the New South China Mall failed by offering an accessible downtown location with integrated public transit, lush landscaping, and a diverse, mixed-use program. Situated at the intersection of several public transit lines in the center of the city, the 1 million-square-foot site will be connected to multiple subway and bus routes, as well as provide pedestrian and bicycle access to offer an enticing alternative to the traditional car-based mall.
The development will be composed of five towers gathered around a compact, 6-story retail complex. The towers, while all rendered in reflective glass and metal paneling, each have their own distinct design and program. The tallest of the five, coming in at 1,409 feet, will be the 25th tallest building in the world and contain offices and a club, while the others will house offices, a hotel, creative technology studios, residential spaces, and a bank. At the center of the DITC will be the retail center, containing a wide spectrum of tenants to cater to the city’s economically diverse population, as well as a below-ground market hall, exhibition spaces, an ice rink, amphitheater, rooftop park, health club, and a 15-screen cinema.
But, still, many may ask, why build a 11 million-square-foot mall in a city with an empty 10 million square foot mall? According to 5+Design principal Michael Ellis, a lot has changed in the years since the New South China Mall opened, and Dongguan is ready for something new. “There is a new generation in China that likes the conveniences of great shops and dining experiences near where they live,” Ellis told China Daily USA. “You see that in the US too, with young people moving to downtown Los Angeles for the same reason. It’s a worldwide trend, but new development is happening so quickly and at a large-enough scale in China that it allows us to operate freely there.”
Construction of the DITC is set to be completed by 2015.