Rundle Mall Redevelopment

The design of the Rundle Mall Redevelopment takes its lead from the South Australian landscape and embraces a new model of retail activation.

The design of the Rundle Mall Redevelopment takes its lead from the South Australian landscape and embraces a new model of retail activation. It’s easy to criticise the $30 million Rundle Mall Redevelopment; urban projects of this scale and significance always make for easy targets. Everyone has an opinion because everyone uses it [the Mall] and this invariably generates very unflattering commentary. The most recent debate centred on the type of trees chosen for the landscaping; there’s also been debate over the paving, the lack of cover and insufficient seating arrangements. These discussions continue to play themselves out over social media and talkback radio, with no sign of abating. Much of this negative commentary can be silenced with an understanding that what we’re judging isn’t yet complete – the project is only half-finished. According to Adelaide City Council, the current Stage 5, which is the final stage of underground and paving works, is on target for the scheduled mid-October completion date, followed by installation of the lighting, which is the final stage of infrastructure redevelopment. The project’s completion date is early 2015 and the Rundle Mall Management Authority will officially launch the new Rundle Mall shortly thereafter. For Cassandra Chilton, Senior Associate at Hassell and Design Leader on the Rundle Mall Redevelopment, the project has not been without its fair share of obstacles. “One of the main challenges we faced was re-grading the street,” she says. “It’s hard to make people appreciate what that involves, but when it became a mall in the 1970s they didn’t change the shape of the street, leaving it undulating, and this led to accessibility issues as well as a real issue with flooding.” The key to improving these infrastructure issues was to put a central drainage line down the street. Rather than try to conceal it, Chilton embraced the line’s visibility and it became a major element that informed her resulting design language. It’s a clever concept based on a reading of the South Australian landscape; the way its natural formations have been created by both wind and water over time. “That central drainage line needed to meander up and down the space; to get the right amount of water falling as it does in a natural landscape we needed to make it shift,” she explains. “So that idea of the ‘meander’ became very important both as a way of moving people up and down the space and as developing the pavement design in response to that.” The paving works with the landscape theme in creating an organic pattern that oscillates between lightness in the heavy pedestrian circulation areas and darkness in the smaller, intimate zones accommodating seating and landscaping. Each element of the design sits within an asymmetrical framework that is not repeated or replicated in any part, much like nature itself. It may seem completely random and very far removed from what we’ve come to generally expect shopping malls to look like, such as Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne, but the positioning of the seating and landscaping is actually quite deliberate. Chilton has based it on a series of complex diagonal movements that run across the mall. “It seemed wrong to apply a geometric grid over the surface because nothing lines up,” she says. “All of the laneways connect to the mall at different locations and all of the entrances to the arcades are slightly offset.” Chilton is to be commended for working with her existing site conditions rather than against them and the mall’s new spatiality possesses a high degree of flexibility, which was one of the driving concepts informing the design’s planning. The resulting openness is in direct contrast to how the mall functioned in the past. It was the new design’s intent to allow people to see from one end to the other (so everything was moved from the middle to the sides) and to also open the site out to the rest of the CBD for a greater sense of connection. It has left the mall feeling overexposed, but what jars now should make more sense as the redevelopment unfolds. According to Chilton, “We spent a lot of time thinking about creating these areas that allow curation and collaboration of spaces so they can change in response to the requirements of different communities that use them. You don’t just build a kiosk in one spot and it stays there for the whole life of the mall anymore.” While this new retail thinking allows for dynamic movement and change in the form of pop-ups and temporary events and exhibitions, it will only work if the mall is properly programmed. This responsibility falls to the Adelaide City Council and Rundle Mall Management Authority who, by all accounts, are willing to embrace this new model of activation. But beware if it is not sustained, because while the ‘life’ of the mall now relies on pop-ups and temporary installations, without them it is in danger of looking empty and lifeless. Once the trees grow, however, they will not only provide shading, but also bring another visual element to the space. This greening of Rundle Mall will take time and requires patience, regardless of the current size of the trees or the reason for their choosing. One look at images of the Adelaide Botanic Garden from the late 1800s should remind us that they are an investment for the future, as all tree planting is. On the issue of time, it may seem like the Rundle Mall Redevelopment has taken forever (and it’s not even finished yet), but such is the nature of urban redevelopments. The mall could not have simply been shut down for six months, because traders and businesses need to continue operating and the public needs access, so the project’s stages have been spread out over an extended period of time. Criticisms aside, this redevelopment was long overdue and its completion is greatly anticipated.

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