Shopping Malls Not Below Libeskind's "Dignity"

October 16, 2008

By C. J. Hughes

After a decade of creating jutting projections for museums, Daniel Libeskind has attempted to redefine the look of another institution: the shopping mall.

Called the Westside Shopping and Leisure Centre, the low-slung 1.5-million-square-foot facility in Bern, Switzerland, is the first project of its type for the New York-based architect. It opened on October 8.

Westside Shopping and Leisure Centre
Photo © Bitter Bredt/courtesy Neue Brunnen AG
The Westside Shopping and Leisure Centre, a 1.5-million-square-foot facility in Bern, Switzerland, was designed by Studio Daniel Libeskind. The mall opened on October 8. “Architects for a long time thought malls were below their dignity,” Libeskind says. “But if you bring nature and culture into the building, you can make it a radically different place.”
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Like many of its mid-20th-century suburban American counterparts, Westside features known international retailers strung along enclosed corridors, with 70 stores across three levels, as well as a compact 10-restaurant food court (McDonald’s and Starbucks included). Also on the property, which lies on the city’s western edge, is an attached 144-room hotel and 11-screen cinema, both designed by Libeskind.

Moreover, the $440 million complex offers an 18-pool water park called Bernaqua Adventure Pool and Spa. At 575 feet, one of its three outdoor slides is Switzerland’s tallest, according to developer and grocery chain Migros Aare, which is an arm of Migros, the country’s largest employer.

Instead of locating the mall far from residential neighborhoods, Migros is attempting to create a residential enclave around it. Already standing on the property is a two-building, 95-unit senior complex, designed by Libeskind. Eventually, it will be joined by 800 new apartments on surrounding land, according to Franzisca Ellenberger, a Westside spokeswoman.

Details of the mall’s physical appearance, too, seem a departure from tradition. The interior features Libeskind’s trademark sharp angles and diagonal lines. Windows, many of them triangular, funnel ample natural light into hallways that otherwise might have been bathed in fluorescent light; they also provide views of cow-dotted green pastures. Also unexpected, perhaps, is the dark-brown robinia wood cladding on the exterior.

Instead of being adrift at the end of a vast parking lot, like so many contemporary shopping centers, Westside sits on top of A1, a busy highway. Though there are 1,275 parking spaces, the mall also has a commuter train stop, which can be reached from downtown Bern in eight minutes.

The pools at Westside will typically stay open until 10 p.m., movies could get out as late as 2:30 a.m., and concerts are planned for a permanent stage inside the mall. In these ways, Westside could become a round-the-clock social center, which might further help redefine its larger function, Libeskind says. “Architects for a long time thought malls were below their dignity,” Libeskind says. “But if you bring nature and culture into the building, you can make it a radically different place.”

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