Of Museums and Malls…

A lot has been written on what museums can – and should – learn from shopping malls. When you think about it, this makes complete sense. Malls have perfected the art of inviting visitors in, and getting them to stay for prolonged periods of time. A typical mall is a safe public space that offers its users a variety of engaging activities, food and drink choices, places to simply hang out, opportunities to browse easily and for free, and finally, a range of products that compete to connect with the lifestyles, needs and desires of buyers. Each visitor is able to create, and has ownership over, his/her own mall ‘experience’. An experience that is likely to be enthusiastically repeated on a regular basis. Malls also successfully attract visitors of every age group – including teenagers, a group that is especially difficult for public institutions like museums to engage!

Since museums aspire to all this and more, there are clearly lessons in popular appeal to be learned from malls, and museums across the world are learning them. And contextualising them. Really well.

Fascinatingly, a new mall that I stumbled into last week in Bangkok’s busy city centre appears in turn to have taken a few lessons back from museums . . . and the result was – is – amazing!

The Mall’s design denotes an airport terminal; its main information board is suggestive of an arrivals and departure board, and its escalators lead you to different world destinations – specifically, the Caribbean, Rome, Paris, Istanbul, London, Tokyo, San Francisco and Hollywood! This is where the ‘museum’ influence comes in. The brilliant design of each floor creates an immersive experience (extended even to the restrooms) and together with the merchandise on display, provides insight into the material and visual culture of the place it represents. The mall’s floor plan is a ‘passport’ and its tag line, The Whole World is Here.

Mine wasn’t a planned visit, nor one with many expectations – we are talking about a mall – but one that was surprisingly stimulating and really fun. Perhaps I’ve even learned a few things about the places I have yet to see. Definitely not your regular shopping experience, with an innovative approach that left me well impressed!

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