Can you start with some background on the project?
The Emporium Mall is a mixed-use development in Lahore, Pakistan. It provides a retail mall, leisure complex, transport hub and hotel with rooftop banqueting gardens on a part of the city’s former Expo site. Emporium has been designed as the first in a series of projects throughout Pakistan, where the architecture and landscape have been conceived as key ‘branding’ elements that helps to define a luxury experience.
Aedas, the lead architects, approached Plincke to provide landscape and urban design services from early concept stage to completion of technical design drawings. The project then transferred to a local design company for the implementation stage. Plincke and Aedas worked collaboratively on the concept over a 14-month period to achieve a fully integrated design solution.
How is creating a shopping mall different to other projects, what were the specific requirements or challenges?
The key challenge for the project was creating a safe but welcoming environment. The Emporium needs to be fully open to the public as a shopping mall, but also attracts large scale conferences and banqueting. The external works needed to be both a highly attractive statement of quality and aspiration but also a key ‘first line of defence’ to safeguard against terrorist threats, such as heavy vehicle ram raiding or suicide bombers. The complex attracts some 44,000 visitors a day, so individually trying to screen access at the front door is just not going to work.
Instead Plincke drew upon historic metaphors of ramparts and moats to both protect the building and more importantly channel and control visitor access via unobtrusive security scanning. The building has been set on a wide plinth that creates a raised garden above the street level to protect from ram-raiding in a wholly pedestrianised environment. At the same time, the plinth allows for air extraction from the car parking deck below the new facilities. Whilst a series of water gardens create moats that direct pedestrians over causeway links into the entrances.
What sort of land area does the project cover?
The site forms the north-east corner of the former Pakistan Expo site and covers some 12 acres with 2,197,000 sq ft of built development. The International Expo Centre, with its exhibition hall and the Finance and Trade Centre are adjacent the new development. Emporium forms the first stage in a major regeneration masterplan for the expo site.
Were there any specific problems caused by the climate in Lahore?
The climate of Lahore is extremely diverse throughout the year. The hot semi-arid climate with rainy, long and extremely hot summers, dry and warm winters, a monsoon season and dust storms. The temperature during the months of May, June and July are especially severe and can soar to 40–48 °C. From late June till August, the monsoon seasons starts, with heavy rainfall throughout the province.
The same measures adopted for the site’s security were also a part of moderating the local micro-climate. A profiled edge to the raised plinth helps to protect windblown sand and dust whilst the moats, which combine moving water, help to cool the temperature. A series of contemporary lattice structures were designed by Plincke to provide shade and use the strong sunlight to create striking shadow patterns. A large outdoor citrus grove was added to the hotel’s roof, where cooler winds are caught.
And were there any cultural design aspects you had to take into account?
Lahore is referred to as the cultural heart of Pakistan as it hosts most of the country’s major arts, cuisine, festivals, film and music making. It is also known as the City of Gardens, including a number built during the Mughal era some of which still survive. The Shalimar Gardens (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) were laid out during the reign of Shah Jahan (1592 – 1666) and were designed to mimic the Islamic paradise of the afterlife described in the Quran. The gardens follow the familiar charbagh layout of four squares, with three descending terraces and this strong geometric identity was adopted for the contemporary landscape design at Emporium. The design creates a transition from a more traditional culture, with a strong sense of place and identity but is distinctly modern and progressive.
What sort of planting did you use in the project?
We tried to use appropriate planting that responds to the local climatic conditions and cultural context. Planting can help define a hierarchy of key external spaces such as entrance and threshold spaces and provide a stimulating attractive environment for pedestrians. Indoor planting can help strengthen the character internal spaces responding to the building architecture and provide a calming backdrop within a busy retail environment.
Can you talk me through the design for the rooftop garden?
The roof garden courtyard is located in the centre of the food court on Level 2 which provides a calm and relaxing environment for visitors to use and act as a visual focal point. We also tried to create smaller pedestrian scale space for calm uses in combination with both high quality hard and soft materials with sensory qualities such sound, texture, colour and smell. As well as the use of low level planting and clear stemmed trees to aid natural surveillance.
What was the budget for the project if that can be shared?
There was a budget of US$240 million (£169.9m).
How has the project been received since its opening?
Since its full opening in late 2016, the Emporium has become a destination visitor experience, attracting some 44,000 visitors a day. The British High Commissioner used the venue to meet political, business and senior media figures to discuss the current situation in Punjab during his recent visit to Lahore to discuss security, the economy and the UK’s relationship with Pakistan. The project is an exemplar of how good design can help create a strong sense of place whilst addressing in a thoughtful way the contemporary challenges of the region.