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Park View Green, Beijing

The fortunes of the shopping mall and the so-called BRICK economies have become inexorably linked. Together with a few other players – perhaps most notably Mexico and Singapore– the shopping mall has been rehabilitated from the position it was in at the end of the 1980’s. No longer a shorthand for the entropy of the suburban dream, climate, culture and urban geography have conspired for a revival of the form in new locations.

Surpassing any of its wildest dreams during its US heyday in the sixties and seventies, in these arriviste economies, the shopping mall is home to the world’s top luxury brands in a way almost unknown in the West save for a few quirky examples in places such as Texas or Las Vegas. Oh yes, and that one in London that has outposts of Gucci, Prada, Longchamp and Vuitton all under one roof…

Late 2012 saw another addition to the trope throw open its doors in Beijing’s Fangcaodi central business district. Providing a hub for a slew of upmarket retailers eager to establish their presence in China, the project was most notable for claiming to be the most energy-efficient development of its type in the country.

Designed by Integrated Design Associates and engineered by the internationally renowned ARUP, Park View Green achieved an impressive LEED Platinum rating. It combines a shopping mall, a luxury hotel and offices under glass ‘envelope’ technologies pioneered by ARUP. In effect, the whole building behaves a bit like a giant double-glazed tent, creating a micro-climate within.

The tenants have been equally bio-dynamic. Luxury fashion and accessory brands play good neighbour to more quotidian fashion. But, perhaps one of the most interesting games is to compare and contrast its original high-profile line-up of stores and brands with those that are here today; after the Financial Crisis. If it teaches us anything, it’s that any luxury brand that assumed that China was simply there for the taking should have thought harder. The difference between the original occupants and those today teaches a lot about vainglory in the face of international economics and cultural specificity.

However, some of those bombastic pioneers are still going strong. For example, IWC Schaffhausen with a massive store that still dominates the mall with an interior of club room tradition and sumptuous luxury still shows no signs of losing its appeals to Communist-sanctioned free market billionaires.

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Park View Green retains the usual smattering of watering holes you’d expect from a top-class shopping mall, including an excellent Japanese katsudon eatery and even Alfie’s, a Modern British restaurant with a good list of whiskeys. There are worse locations you could pick whiling away time between meetings if you’re in Beijing and don’t have a clue where (between the glyphs and the sprawl) to start for food.

Using contemporary art to animate retail environments is nothing new in China. As elsewhere, exactly what art projects you’re able to pull together defines your cultural credibility. Let’s just say that Park View Green has been far more impressive in the list of upmarket tenants it has been able to gather than its attempt at art projects. They’ve already figured out that chucking the tatty Dali Estate crap and focussing on their young home-grown talent is more likely to deliver the kudos that the seminal efforts didn’t. Then again, it’s all going to depend on which locals they decide to exhibit moving forward.

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