Lauded as leading the green movement in shopping centre design, the Mall of the North in Polokwane incorporates strategies that consider the various environmental, social and economical factors of its environment. We highlight key aspects of the project and look at how this pioneering retailing concept will influence future retail developments.

“Measures that are labelled as ‘green’ really boil down to good design practise”, believes Pierre Lahay, lead architect of MDS Architecture. His design for Mall of the North incorporated a number of green elements supported by developers Resilient Property Income Fund, Flanagan & Gerard and Moolman Group, who want to ensure that their brick and mortar assets are as energy efficient as possible.

WSP joined the project at an unusually late stage of the planning process as mechanical engineers and as a result the team had a lot of catching up to do but ultimately successfully reached the prescribed targets for the enormous 83 000 m2 project.

The biggest challenge for the mechanical engineers was the heat factor. The glass dome created a greenhouse effect and to deal with it, automatically activated fans which are sensitive to temperature fluctuation, were installed. Three different types of energy saving air-conditioning systems were chosen to meet the varying needs of anchor tenants and smaller shops. With roof top units alone numbering 38, the total capacity of all the units come to around 11.3MW. However, clever forward thinking to enhance energy savings resulted in each restaurant in the food court area being given their own unit regulate.

The entire cooling and heating system is controlled by one operator monitoring, and every unit in the centre is controlled by a sophisticated central building management system (BMS).

Paul Gerard of Flanagan & Gerard believes that it is no longer option not to incorporate sustainable measures into new projects or in the refurbishment of existing shopping centres. In this regard, Mall of the North has set a benchmark and all lessons learnt will influence future retail developments.

According to Peter Bull, global retail business leader for Arup UK, sustainability is very rarely a focus in the retail sector in Africa. “Consumer demand for greater sustainability in retail is a new driver in this market.”

He continues: “Shoppers want greener products but only a minority are keen to pay significantly extra for them, particularly in this economic climate. The same applies to retailers when they consider their space. Retail developers are therefore interested in any proposal that saves money or is green and cost-neutral. I think of this as a form of cascading sustainability that tends to become diluted the further from the source. So, the greener the target consumer, the greener the centre!”

Bull also says that in some parts of Europe, “legislation, in the form of an obligation to reduce carbon emissions, has driven some significant and impressive technological solutions. In some areas, sheer developer enthusiasm for sustainability has also driven investment. Examples of centres where one or two of these factors have combined are Meydan in Istanbul, MyZeil in Frankfurt and Forum Duisburg, Germany.”

While retail is a sector that has not yet prioritised sustainability in its built environment, the passing of the Carbon Tax bill, the National Response to Climate Change as well as other similar policies may influence developers in South Africa.

Read the full feature in the June-July 2011 on p76.