International : Bentel Associates designs India's first Speciality Mall

Providing holistic design expertise to top developers

India's first high-end niche mall recently opened in Bangalore, a city which is rapidly becoming one of the most sought after destinations for global financial and retail giants. The growth in the Indian economy and the country's vast middle class with its expanding purchasing power are increasingly attracting international retail investors wanting to enter newer markets.

The mall at UB City is known as UB City: The Collection. It is a joint venture between the Prestige Group and Vijay Mallya, CEO and owner of UB Holdings, to create the country's first luxury speciality mall. The exclusive destination forms part of the prestigious UB City development that is situated in the most affluent part of Bangalore. The 193 752 sq ft GBA (60 000m2) UB City is a landmark mixed-use development consisting of commercial offices, a five-star hotel, banks, serviced apartments, food courts, exclusive high-end retail outlets, health clubs, cafes, restaurants and extensive parking facilities. On completion UB City will be one of the most dynamic, cosmopolitan and multicultural developments in India. Bangalore is an important commercial centre and the development is expected to considerably enhance the city's business and tourism infrastructure.

With a rapidly expanding population of high net worth individuals, India has become one of the world's five largest markets for luxury products and this sector is expected to grow at a rate of 15-20 percent per annum over the next five years. There is great diversity in the Indian customer base and developers are beginning to understand the particular needs and aspirations of different market segments. In the last ten years, there has been a proliferation of traditional malls across India but demand is now creating a focus on niche markets and the necessity to provide differentiated shopping experiences. Research has also shown that the conversion rate for customer walk-ins into sales are as high as 70 to 80% in speciality malls as compared to 8% to 10% in traditional malls.

A number of prestigious foreign brands are infusing direct investment into the country through the single-brand retail window. UB City: The Collection features an array of some of the world's most exclusive brands including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi, Dunhill, Christian Dior, Canali, Mont Blanc, Van Cleef & Arpels, Estee Lauder, Tiffany's, Lladro, Vertu, Apple Zegna and Kimaya. Top watch brands will be well represented with Omega, Rolex, Patek Philippe and Breguet stores. Also featured are several big names in Indian haute couture, designer labels such as Manish Malhotra, Tarun Tahiliani, and Manish Arora. The food and beverage outlets feature a range of fine cuisines that include French, Pan-Asian, Italian and Indian offerings.

Bentel Associates International, a Johannesburg-based architectural and design firm were commissioned to create a themed retail environment and a visual brand for this luxury niche mall and its exterior food court, the Kingfisher Plaza. The multidisciplinary company offers a wide range of architectural and design services and has been exceptionally active in India for the last five years. With over 50 projects in various stages of design or construction, Bentel Associates International is currently the most active international design practice in India.

The company's interior design division, headed by Bentel Associates International director Graham Smith, is well known locally and internationally for its development of many successful Mall Interiors. During a trip to South Africa some years ago, Vijay Mallya visited MonteCasino and was impressed by the ambience and the skill and expertise that went into the detailed Tuscan environment. Inspired by the design, Mallya decided to utilize a similar concept for UB City's retail component.

The design of the chic UB City retail space utilizes neo-classical elements within a contemporary idiom. "Our brief was to develop a themed environment within the available retail space. The building, which houses the UB Group's corporate offices in the upper levels, is a very modern and contemporary structure," says Nick Kyriacos, CEO Bentel Associates International. "We were tasked with conceptualising, branding and developing the 125 000 square feet (12 000m2) mall. A highly detailed themed Italian village was initially conceptualised but this was later modified to allow for maximum enhancement of the tenants' corporate identities."

Comprising 42 retail shops and nine food and beverage outlets, a lot of thought and strategic planning has gone into the external and interior design of this unique mall. Achieving that effect has taken meticulous planning and scientific designing, something few would realise once on the mall floor. "The atrium is the focal point," says Kyriacos. The manner in which the line of sight is handled is an essential part of the design, the attention of shoppers needs to be directed through the vertical view in order to attract them to higher levels."

The architects and interior designers had to consider a myriad of various intricate aspects and details including the creation of the desired mood and ambience, the structural elements, the incorporation of quality finishes and the extensive use of marble, the custom made interior and exterior furniture, signage, branding and each retailer's corporate identity.

Bentel Associates International excels at balancing the viabilities of a project and producing the most aesthetic, viable, functional and financially feasible solutions for their clients. Value engineering plays an important role and the expertise involved in mall design goes way beyond just deciding what the finishes will be. Mall design often reflects and informs the architecture of a building and is an important component in the overall design mix.

The company also excels in providing clients with a holistic design service. Smith and his team were involved at the early concept stage of UB City: The Collection and their creative ideas informed a lot of the architecture. "We initially looked at the interior in terms of the overall triple volume. The whole structure was examined in terms of the mood and atmosphere we were trying to create. Incorporating other elements of the holistic approach such as graphics and signage, we then developed a unified thread with all the elements informing each other as the process developed."

Smith says that the team carried out extensive research on the tenants and their branding and discovered a common element in the colour black. "We thus utilised black granite and glass as a unifying common denominator running through the shop facades. As much as it was themed, it was understated, which allowed the retailers, their merchandising and their corporate identities to stand out rather than the architecture."

"We were also tasked with developing a full graphics package - developing the Mall's logo and branding the centre. Again, utilizing the common black element, we adapted the graphics to suit this direction, the overall aim being to create, at a glance, an image of a mall that would be perceived as an exceptionally upmarket and sophisticated retail facility."

The neo-classical elements have been successfully interpreted in a modern idiom by creating a classic but timeless design. "When we toned down the original concept to better suit the high-end retailers, we kept the theme elements restricted to the ceilings, flooring and backgrounds. Restraining the theme and putting it into the context of a modern idiom enabled us to project the very contemporary shopfronts," says Smith.

The extensive use of lighting and lighting effects also played an important part in the design. The entire triple volume area is covered by a glass roof. "We had to take into account the natural daylight as well and the transition into evening when the overall lighting effects transcend into pure theatre," says Smith.

UB City: The Collection is providing upmarket customers with what they want and need in a mall. A superb and luxurious environment, precise yet creative and consistent design elements and a perfect retail mix. The Mall is a luxurious and exclusive environment in a superb location and with its timeless and unique design will be a lasting testament to the commercial design skills of Bentel Associates International.

"With our company's 50 year record of innovative and functional design achievements and expertise as well as the extensive experience we have garnered in India over the last five years we have developed a vast knowledge of all aspects of the Indian retail environment," says Kyriacos. "We know what will work in terms of mall design. We have a deep understanding of the whole network of elements and processes that go into the science and art of successful mall design and are able to consistently translate this into aesthetic, functional and successful designs."

© Lois Aitchison, FVS Marketing & PR, 2008

For more information:

Nic Kyriacos – Bentel Associates International

Tel: (011) 884 7111

Fax: (011) 884 7110