Feature image for the article 'Have we the Balls to Improve the Mall?'

Rundle Mall is promoted as the ‘heartbeat of Adelaide’ and ‘Adelaide’s premier shopping precinct’. It is celebrating its 33rd year this year and I think it’s high time for a review.

Our ‘heartbeat’ Mall closes at 5.30pm most weekdays and at 5pm on weekends. At night it becomes a black hole that separates the east and west of the city that very few people are game to walk through. During the day it is business as usual with a great range of shops and arcades, but the mall itself lacks vibrancy and style.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Mall for its shopping, I love the historic arcades and I love stopping to throw a few coins to support our buskers. But as an architect and a proud Adelaidean, I know there is room for improvement and I’m keen to get us working towards a new vision for our centre.

North Terrace has become our proud boulevard we show off to the world. If North Terrace is considered our front of house, in comparison, the Mall has become our cluttered spare room where we have let things pile up with little planning, vision or thought. I believe it is time to stop the clutter, start the clean-up and begin to rethink the layout so that it becomes our central precinct to be proud of.

If you are like me, you probably rarely go to the Mall to spend time watching people or the entertainment or sitting in the open air to eat your lunch. We all tend to rush through the Mall, fighting the crowds to get to the shops, the food court or the arcades. In other words, we go through it, not to it.

I would love to see time and energy spent on a plan for the Mall. To look at it as a blank canvas, remove all the clutter and strategically position our cafes and stalls to create a meandering, interesting walkable space. Include raised grassed areas where people can sit and eat their lunch and more seated areas and platforms for buskers to encourage people to come and stay to enjoy the space.

It is too much of a thoroughfare. It buzzes with pedestrian traffic and shoppers, but there is no buzz from people enjoying the space as a place. We need to shrink the wide openness of the Mall. It needs to feel like a European piazza where people can sit and soak up the atmosphere, eat lunch and meet people.

We need to weave a pattern of activity through the mall, creating points of interest. This will go a long way towards restoring its vibrancy.

When the Mall was created in 1976, Adelaide led the country to think outside the square. It was Australia’s first pedestrian mall – providing a real showpiece to promote our city. Other cities followed our lead and, over time, developed very innovative, exciting malls to visit.

Sure, there have been a number of Rundle Mall makeovers over many years in an effort to spruce it up. The lasting results are Bert Flugelman’s Spheres (the Mall Balls), four resident bronze pigs - Truffles, Oliver, Horatio and Augusta - some flower and fruit stalls, cafes and a canopy in the centre.

It needs more. Why not consider city bike-hire facilities, sculptures to showcase green technology such as water capture, after-hours cafes and wine bars and - dare I say it - one-way traffic through the Mall at night to link the East to West. It may be best to start with taxis or a city loop bus at night. There have also been suggestions that the tram could go down the Mall to link the East and West. It’s a great idea. Why not extend it further to city fringe areas in Kent Town?

This would start to breathe much-needed new life into the precinct, attracting people and providing the added safety benefit of passive surveillance. People who remember Rundle Street pre-1976 know of its past vibrancy. The footpaths were packed day and night and there was a real buzz.

Like in 1976 when Adelaide was a pioneer with its Mall, it could become a pioneer again with a green sustainable designed Mall. I would also like to see more undercover cross-over points throughout the Mall. These could be developed around improved outdoor dining areas. The Mall could also become a example of green incentives, capturing and reusing recycled water for fountains, solar panels for lights, and for landscaping areas.

Great ideas coupled with careful and considered planning and investment can make the Mall so much better. We need to start the debate and generate the ideas to bring about change and vision.

It comes down to the key question - do we have the balls to improve the mall?

David Cooke – Director, Hames Sharley.
David is accredited as a Green-Star Professional with the Green Building Council of Australia and is a Division Councillor for the Property Council of Australia, SA Division and Chapter Councillor for the Australian Institute of Architects, SA Chapter, Sustainable Development Committee. Hames Sharley is a leader in architecture, interiors, landscape and urban design.