Marketplaces are the hubs of activity in urban centres. From the outdoor bazaars of early civilisation to shop front streets of medieval cities, the market places have now come to indoor shopping malls in the North American cities. Especially the suburbs. May it be due to climate, may it be owing to zoning laws, may it be in the wake of consumerism or may it be the changing icons of market economy, shopping malls have come to become new landmarks of North American settlements. These icons are fast making way in the developing world. Some of the key concerns such typologies raise are:
The market, money or consumerism being the denominator of such developments, it implies similar obligations from its user and thereby selective accessibility.
The staleness and sterility of the indoor environments compared to ever changing moods of the outdoor bazaars.
Overcoming some of these concerns, Toronto’s Eaton Centre has proven to be one of the successful examples which has not only induced life within an indoor environment but has also been an interesting case in achieving public benefits from private development initiatives.
The Eaton Centre case seems to offer evidence of how various interests i.e. citizen’s, administrator’s as well as that of developer’s can be served without necessarily compromising on public objectives. The development of Eaton Centre has been a story of negotiations.
Negotiations have resolved the best of functional and aesthetic demands, that of private and public interests as well as that of economic versus social dynamics.
One of Canada’s most visited landmarks, the Eaton Centre was conceived and realised by architect Eberhard Zeidler in 1984. As he believed, the mall should find its meaning from the reality of urban activities. A logical extension of this concept was to create the activity nodes where they would be found in a city – at the intersection of streets. He created a node that visually interacted at all levels and located such to get flanked by roads from all sides.
Eaton Centre has been the result of long discussions between the city and the developers, exploring various factors including social, economic and the political. The first development proposal for Eaton Centre in 1966 had envisioned demolition of several historic structures to pave way for three skyscrapers. The Eaton department store combined its venture with Cadillac Fairview – a development agency that saw big potential for rejuvenating this commercial node was otherwise beginning to lose out to suburban and mid town shopping outlets. In 1972, six years after the first proposal, the new development proposal was freshly reviewed along with Toronto City’s development authorities. This was when city got to negotiate with the developer to impose development guidelines and special conditions to ensure and extract extra benefits for the city and its citizens. In lieu of special amendments and transfer of densities, the city authorities bargained for the twenty four hour right of way for pedestrians through the mall, providing a sheltered street in the cold climate. Another gain for city was the public open space in the form of a plaza in front of adjoining Trinity church. This was carved out of the proposed development with an undertaking from development patrons to develop this space as a landscaped civic plaza. Yet further gains were the aesthetic controls by way of height restrictions, maintaining views to city hall, and mass compatibility with surroundings.
The design, as realised was inspired by outdoor urban streets. The mall recreates an internal shopping arcade through a linear high volume central space which is over looked by flanking boutiques, offices, cafes and facilities like a day care centre, post office, bank etc. at different levels over five floors. Apart from the linear configuration and clear open volume the sense of street is heightened by the roof’s transparent vaulted covering, which maintains daylight penetration and a sense of sky even within the floors much below ground level. The space is further animated by kiosks on wheels. Hired street performers along the movement path add to the spontaneity of actions. Fountains, trees and hanging bird sculptures add further the visual references to Real Street outdoors. It has realised the richness of social interaction along with an aesthetic complexity, while acknowledging the economic demands of the developer. It has in a true sense come to be one of the most active civic nodes of Toronto. This area, once the addresses for body shops and massage parlours, has now come to become the most visited landmark in Canada, surpassing even Niagara Falls and the CN Tower like attractions. When now we are emulating Mall typologies in urban centres of India can we derive our lessons from Eaton centre, to turn them into humane, participatory and pluralistic civic nodes rather than mega shop structures.
The writer is an Ahmedabad-based architect.
He can be reached at email@example.com