Malls keep trying to outdo each other in so many interesting—and sometimes strange—ways. Some strive to be noticed through their scale, others by some grand feature or through a prominent anchor tenant. Others do it by a novel concept in the shopping experience.
The popular Mall of America boasts of its sheer size as it is still considered one of the biggest in North America. Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates ensures shoppers the opportunity to cool down with its Ski Dubai, the Middle East’s first indoor ski facility. It also houses the 500-seat Dubai Community Arts and Theatre, and Magic Planet, one of the largest indoor family entertainment facilities in the Middle East.
The Dubai Mall is popularly known for its aquarium that broke the Guinness World Record for its “World’s Largest Acrylic Panel.” Yes, in this part of the world, enormity is fashionable.
The mall has areas zoned separately, like “River Island” for affordable fashion and “The Grove” streetscape for an outdoor shopping experience, boasting of a fully retractable roof to complete its indoor-outdoor concept. The Venetian chain of hotels and their Grand Canal Shoppes take you to faux-Venice where you can shop alongside gondolas under the cloudy blue “skies.”
Back here, we have our ever-expanding Megamall and its sister with a sunset view, the Mall of Asia. Both put us in the map for their sheer size. The smaller yet more outdoorsy Bonifacio High Street charms us with its park-like environment, green grass and sunshine.
While in Thailand last week, I explored Terminal 21, a multi-level shopping mall located along Bangkok’s busy Sukhumvit Road. While malls veer from too many floors for fear that shoppers are too lazy to make the climb, Terminal 21 equates that climb to the dream of traveling the world.
Each floor differs in design
Every floor is designed as a different city. Its nine levels is home to some 600 small retail shops and food outlets including movie houses, a food court and a gourmet supermarket, the latter being in the Caribbean–themed basement level where your eyes won’t miss its red and white lighthouse rising in the atrium.
The ground floor welcomes you to Rome where marble statues and fountains are found in the junctions of its cobble-stoned hallways. Rising up a floor, the mezzanine level is dressed like Paris’ Champs Elysee, lined with the better known international fashion brands, their entrances framed by shutters and awnings, just like the Parisian sidewalk cafés.
It gets more interesting as you go higher. You can’t miss Tokyo on the first floor with the two giant Sumo wrestlers battling over a column. Here, shoji screens frame the retail shops and paper lanterns hang below the ceilings. A variety of Japanese print papers decorate the larger walls.
Oxford Street is on the second floor where the fashion is predominantly for the male hipster. Red telephone booths, the Royal Guards and the classic red double-decker bus are unmistakably London. The Union Jack hangs in some places too.
The third floor is aptly themed as Istanbul, where the many little toy, jewelry, fashion accessory and gift shops recreate the feel of a souk. Some shop openings are arched and tiled, while others are in tents. An assortment of middle-eastern pendant lamps hang against Moorish patterned ceilings.
You’ll find San Francisco’s Chinatown on the fourth floor and Pier 21 of Fisherman’s Wharf on the fifth floor. Across these floors in the void of the large atrium hang a tram and its tramway, and a miniaturized Golden Gate Bridge. Suspended fishnets with crabs and lobsters hang above the hallways of the restaurant row.
Iconic Hollywood sign
The next floor is Hollywood, with an Oscar statuette rising through two floors. The iconic Hollywood sign and other humorous wall installations complement freestanding fiberglass movie characters like Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear. Star patterns on the floor gave it that tinsel town charm.
But the most fascinating part of the mall were the restrooms! On my way down, I had to stop at each one of them. With no retail elements to confuse the eyes, they carried the concepts faithfully. The most amusing are the London theme that mimics the subway train or the “Tube,” complete with the route map used as a wall cover; the Roman concept with a handwashing area in the form of a fountain in lieu of lavatories; the Japanese floor and its vanity mirrors formed from sunglasses! The forms were picked up from a blown-up photo of a group of girls; and the Istanbul lavatories, carved from a block of white marble and paired with Moorish looking brass fittings.
I made my way out of the mall without buying anything but my children did their shopping. I think I was too distracted by the variety of themes. Having scrutinized every nook and cranny of its interiors, I can probably focus on the merchandise next time. Terminal 21 had left its mark on my memory bank, and quite assuredly, I will be coming back.
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