I went to have a look at the new ION Orchard shopping mall on Tuesday, its first official day of being open. I’ve talked about it resembling the Bullring mall in Birmingham, UK before, from its sprawling promenade flanked by two-storey shopfronts to the curved sides of the building. The same architectural firm designed both, although I think they did a much better job with the Bullring. The ION’s curves are too slight, giving the whole building a strange form not unlike a dented pillow – I know for a fact they were hoping to elicit words like “organic” from onlookers. Not quite, in my opinion.
The interior layout of the four above-ground shopping levels also resembles that of the Bullring’s central arcade, which is a good thing. It’s easy to see where you’re going and where you’ve been because the shops don’t occupy fixed boxes of space, which gives them more identity, and better spatial recognition for shoppers. The roof design does a good job of letting in lots of natural light in the day, which, along with the use of predominantly white surfaces throughout and contrasting angular/curved elements like escalators and pillars, gives the whole affair a look of modernity that should last a decade, at least.
Basements 1 & 2 were a little darker, although that may change when all shops are open (currently about 70% are). The walkways are also narrower, which will probably cause some congestion problems. I was afraid, on the way down, that four similar basement levels were going to feel quite oppressive, but B3 & B4 smartly mixed things up with a different layout and more open space.
High points were the ThreeSixty Marketplace (link to another blog), with loads of imported food products that you’ve probably wanted but could never find locally before; a Korean gelato cafe that felt like it had been transplanted from some other country’s sidewalks; the return of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, which means good, cheap coffee and passable donuts for me; and a raft of new Japanese restaurants to try out. I’m downplaying it a little here. If you’d seen me there that day, it would be pretty clear that I love this place and am very excited to have it as a part of our landscape (physical facade notwithstanding) from now on.
I also want to mention the large Epicentre outlet (they are a third-party Apple retailer) directly across from a Nokia flagship store and a SingTel mobile shop. Epicentre makes a few mistakes now and then, but they largely play it safe and therefore well by following the design language of official Apple Stores around the world. That includes placing large, round tables with lots of flashing, animated iPods and iPhones near the front of the space, for passersby to play with. People are always standing around and fiddling with them.
When you walk into the Nokia store, you’re greeted by a small table with maybe four working phones (I went in to look at the N97 flagship model, and the one I picked up wasn’t functioning), and then a very long wall of all the phone models they currently offer. It would have been very impressive, had any of them been real and not a plastic dummy. Move over to the adjacent SingTel store and you’ll find the same thing in each of the dedicated brand zones. LG, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson… not a single REAL phone to be had. Getting customers into your store is half the work done, so why let it fall apart with a non-existent product experience? It’s one of the simplest things in retail and marketing, and you don’t appreciate how Apple does it right until you see others get it horribly wrong.
As much as I’d like to go back several more times now, I expect the ION Orchard to be a total mosh pit for the next few weeks. There’s probably going to be a massive ground effect that wrecks the whole of Orchard Road for anyone who needs to find parking too. So while everyone comes down to town this weekend for a glimpse at the new hotness, my plan is to go shopping in the heartlands. Maybe I’ll finally get a place in line for that other Uniqlo.