Hop off Metro Line 11 at Anting Station and you will find yourself at a rather unusual stop – neither inside nor fully outside of a mixed-use development. This is the gateway to the Life Hub at Anting. Pioneered by the Chongbang group, the Life Hub is a development that consists of retail, office, housing and entertainment spaces. The Life Hub at Anting sits on 52,546 m2 of land, with 64,460m2 of built area allocated to commercial, 12,200 m2 allocated to office and 45,040 m2 allocated to residential. Beneath the site is 45,075 m2 of commercialparking and 11,730m2 of residential parking. The retail complex consists of a large atrium space with multiple levels of clothing stores, food and beverage (F&B) and entertainment centers. The intent was to create a place that seamlessly incorporates the live, work and play ethos; a place where one could reside without ever having any need to leave. Theoretically, a tenant could live in one of the housing towers, work at an on site office, do some personal shopping, dine at any one of the myriad restaurants available, watch a movie, fetch groceries, and return back home without ever leaving the site boundaries. This is the key element that puts the ‘Life’ in Life Hub – and it is not the Chongbang Group’s first venture into such a development. The 23 year old company has also completed a successful Life Hub in Daning, where our class had the privilege of spending a week. The two developments stand in stark contrast to each other. Daning effortlessly draws in customers through its diagonal connection to the main sidewalks while Anting seamlessly integrates with the Shanghai metro. Daning is also more successful at drawing in paying customers whereas Anting is sub par.
It is easy to speculate as to why one development is more successful than the other; perhaps Daning was an opportune byproduct of a tumultuous market panicked by SARS and consequently saturated with undervalued properties, thus making it a great investment. Perhaps Anting does not have as favorable a location as Daning. Perhaps the fundamental difference of design divides the two, as Daning has open street circulation and Anting has interior building circulation. However, such speculations do not really consider the most crucial factor that defines all of the Chongbang Group’s projects – place-making. It is place-making, not bad markets or locations or open versus closed circulation that drives the Chongbang Group’s projects and makes them successful. When the Life Hub at Daning was first conceived, its surrounding area was not considered a prime development location, nor did market conditions support the idea of such a development. The Chongbang Group ventured into the project armed with the belief that the natural sprawl of the city and the burgeoning transportation infrastructure would cause the city to catch up to their project. They were thinking ahead. Today, it’s clear to see that they were right, and thus they achieved their goal of place making in Daning. The same principle could apply to the Life Hub at Anting despite it not having the same contingency factors. Anting can still be a place-maker project, but to do so it must respond to the pressing issues facing Shanghai and its people today, provide solutions to the problems, and perhaps even capitalize on these issues as was the case with the Life Hub at Daning. From our various firm visits as well as our site visit to Anting itself, three issues arose repeatedly leading me to believe that they are the key components the Chongbang Group should seek to address; pollution, spatial segregation, and the homogenous tenant mix. Like they did with Daning, the Chongbang Group must one again think ahead in order for Anting to succeed.
A typical day in Shanghai offers no blue skies. The sky is often smeared with a dirty gray or grayish-brown color and choked by pollutants spewed out from factories. Pollution is one of the biggest challenges Shanghai residents face. This is the byproduct of China being a manufacturing hub for so many of the world’s products. Within the city, it is not uncommon to see people wearing masks trying to fight the barrage of smoggy air. I recall trying out a face mask for myself to see if it would in any way improve the quality of the air I was breathing, only to discover that it is an uncomfortable accessory that in my mind did little to filter the air and instead created a personal pocket of hot polluted air around my face. I promptly threw it away. However, many Shanghai residents live in these conditions every single day. In my opinion, this problem presents an opportunity.
As it stands, the Life Hub at Anting is designed in such a manner that allows the free flow of air through the space. The atrium is open on both sides, to allow for cross ventilation, and the ceiling of the atrium can open up to allow hot air to rise and be released back into the environment. This use of natural ventilation helps to cut down costs. In any other location, I would consider this an ingenious and strategic move. However, in the case of Anting, the argument for natural ventilation is sabotaged by the fact that they are filtering out the air in the mall by filtering in dirty air from the environment. Certainly costs may be lowered, but the quality of the environment inside simply becomes as bad as the quality of the environment outside. Furthermore, this strategy of natural ventilation cannot be appreciated in bad weather. It was a cold day outside when we visited the mall, and when we arrived at the atrium the air was just as cold there as it was outside due to the lack of walls, doors or any other barriers that would keep the warm air in. To resolve this problem, Chongbang should install glass walls and doors at the existing openings. This will help keep the air inside warm thereby making the space more comfortable and inviting during colder months, and during warmer months, the glass ceiling can still be opened to release hot air. But the Chongbang Group should go a step further and transform the mall complex into a space that provides a cleaner environment than its surroundings. This can be made possible by working with innovative companies such as Glumac, which focuses on sustainability and engineering. While visiting Glumac, we saw firsthand their air filtration system, which significantly improves the Air Quality Index (AQI) within the office by using ionization technology to filter out the particulate matter in the air. As a result, the environment within the office space is much, much healthier than the environment outside. According to Glumac, clean air is in high demand today. This is in no way a solution to the large scale problem of pollution – that is a city wide, if not nation wide issue that needs to be tackled at an equally appropriate scale by the government. However, this innovation when applied to the mall complex can help achieve the Chongbang Group’s primary goal of place making. In a city suffocating from pollution, the Chongbang Group can transform their complex into a haven where one can go for a breath of fresh air. Add to that some greenery both within and without the complex, and the mall can be marketed as a true oasis that is not only beautiful but also healthy, environmentally friendly and altogether pleasant. People would not only want to come, but they would also want to stay. It is clear from the implementation of self cleaning walls and photo-voltaic panels to the existing mall that the Chongbang Group values sustainable practices. This proposal would take it to the next level of sustainability, and would drive more people to the development.
Another problem we encountered while visiting the site is what I will refer to as spatial segregation. When we visited the mall, one thing we noticed was that the children and adults did not have many activities in which they could partake together, and children’s activities were often relegated to far flung and somewhat obscure locations. Downstairs, hidden within the parking complex, we found a classroom that was used as an indoor camping ground for children. It also happened to be a place where children could go and practice karate, which is what they were doing when we arrived. The children occupied the whole room while their parents stood and watched from the corner near the door since there was no specific seating area where they could wait. We encountered a similar situation when we went to the roof of the complex. There we found a ballet classroom filled with dancing children, and a group of parents sitting patiently outside watching and waiting. Both these situations were far from ideal due to the simple fact that the children’s activities were so far removed from the rest of the building and its amenities. It is certainly advantageous for the Chongbang Group to use an empty room within the parking structure for a children’s campsite or classroom. Financially speaking, it is a smart move that maximizes the use of space and capitalizes on rentable square footage. However, this strategy fails to consider an important point: children and parents come as a package, and parents have spending power. In both cases, the parents remained with their children, watching them from what were small and uncomfortable if not completely unplanned spaces. In doing so, not only is their energy technically wasted, but so is the opportunity for them to engage with the F&B or other shopping experiences, not to mention the lack of consideration they may feel from being stationed in such dark and distant areas. The Chongbang Group should rethink how they plan spaces that are family friendly. The spaces that cater to children’s activities should be located in an area that is within close proximity to cafe’s, restaurants, and other facilities adults can use – preferably places with a line of view directly to the children. In doing so, a parent can drop off their child and either wait for them at a nearby cafe, or make a stop to pick up some snacks and other items from the store without feeling truly separated from their child.
One way the Chongbang Group could tackle spatial segregation would be to develop more open park space. However, it is important that such spaces are not developed frivolously but rather with extensive planning and consideration as to their use and their integration with F&B; the two should be interwoven. A wonderful precedent of this concept being implemented is titled OxyGen park by Malka Architects. Having a park increases sociability and improves the aesthetics of the development. It is also apparent from our visit that the area could use some open green space for the surrounding community.
Earlier this semester, we read a book written by Jane Jacobs called the Death and Life of Great American cities. In it, she highlighted what she believed to be the make or break factors of great cities. One important point she made was that there needs to be eyes on the street to increase the use of streets for activities and for safety. This same principle can be applied to the park and the cafe’s and restaurants around it. Parents can watch their children play and make use of the park while taking advantage of the restaurants and cafes, and still rest assured of their safety. Jacobs also talked about the notion that parks and open spaces provide for safer and superior environments, essentially concluding that the ‘more open space’ paradigm adopted by architects and developers is vain. She stated that “People do not use city open space just because it is there and because city planners or designers wish they would’(Jacobs). Parks are not the reasons for vibrant cities. Cities that are successful cater to the social needs of individuals and parks often neglect these needs, resulting in the expensive development of wasted green spaces. The reasons people gather together are for social and economic activity. Therefore by integrating the park with the Cafes and Restaurants, we increase the likelihood that the spaces will be used, and improve the experience of the F&B at the same time. It can be a place where children can play, where seniors can enjoy a leisurely game of Xiangqi and where parents can enjoy a cup of coffee together, all at the same time in the same place.
Above and beyond this, the Chongbang Group should look to develop activities that are inclusive of the whole family. Although they remained together through proximity, the ballet and karate kids were still separated from their parents by virtue of their isolated activities. To counter this, I believe the that the Chongbang Group should look into developing an ice skating rink within the premises. There are multiple reasons why an ice rink would be a worthwhile investment for the Chongbang Group.
The first reason is that ice skating is becoming an increasingly popular activity given the rising interest in the winter sports that will be held in Beijing in 2022. One article from the New Yorker written last year stated that the audience for winter sports is growing, according to the China Ski Association. Though skiing or skating may be a relatively pricey sport or recreational activity, the same article states that ‘the consulting firm McKinsey projects that nearly two-thirds of China’s urban households will have enough disposable income to be considered upper middle class or richer by 2022, enabling them to take part in such activities – just in time for the Olympics’ (Beam, “Beijing’s Winter Olympics” ). Another article from Chinadaily.com written a couple of months ago also cited ice skating as increasingly popular; ski-ing and ice skating have become an attraction for tourists coming to China, and the ‘Chinese government plans to attract 300 million people to participate in winter sports ahead of the 2022 winter Olympics’ (“Shanghai: A Hot Spot for Winter Sports” ). This gives me reason to believe that an ice skating rink would be a prime investment for the Anting development, and one that fits its highest and best use. It would attract tourists, athletes and locals. This increase in visitors would in turn increase the foot traffic throughout the rest of the complex, especially the retail.
Furthermore, it helps to have a motivated government that hopes to increase tourism and the popularity of ice skating. Local government partnerships should be leveraged to provide favorable conditions when it comes to leasing more land if necessary for this project. We heard form Ernst & Young that the government plays an important role in influencing the market and O’Melveny & Myers’ Qiang Li emphasized that there are not enough investment opportunities for Chinese investors, while Colliers pointed out that local governments are in constant competition with each other. By actively supporting this project, the local government would be viewed as more competitive, and would create new investment opportunities. As a part stakeholder in the existing development, the government should be even more motivated. They should also look to improve the community surrounding the complex since an increase in tourism would mean an increase in the public perception of Anting. By improving the surrounding areas, the local government would benefit, the locals would benefit, the development would increase in value thus the Chongbang Group would benefit.
The final justification for an ice skating rink is that skating is an activity that does not discriminate by age. An ice rink provides a space where the children can have fun, the parents can have fun and even the elderly can have fun. It also creates and enhances a sense of community and togetherness. Children and adults can enjoy the experience of skating together, or watch shows performed on ice together. Even young adults, such as the college students attending the Tongli University a few miles away could make use of the space for entertainment, sports or events. Having such a space would increase the people catchment group beyond the current 25km. With easy access from the metro, the Ice Skating rink would be available to residents all over Shanghai. To complement the ice rink and to accommodate the expected surge of 300 million people to Shanghai, the Chongbang Group should also consider adding a hotel to the development.
Finally changing up the tenant mix is a fundamental strategy that would help drive up the sales within the mall. The afternoon of our visit, I was meandering from store to store looking for a bag that would compliment my business formal attire. It did not take long to come to the realization that all the stores within the mall are essentially carbon copies of each other. I found the same or similar bags in every store, with minor variations; a different colored buckle here, a different logo there. None of them were what I was looking for. In a place where so many of the products offered are so similar, it is no wonder that the sales have not realized their full potential. To combat this, the Chongbang Group should introduce a more diverse tenant mix, which includes both Chinese and Western brands. Doing so would help to cater to a greater demographic. Considering the increase in foot traffic that would come from incorporating an ice rink, an assorted tenant mix would be better equipped to serve the diverse people groups. Once established, each retailer can compete for customers through smart marketing and technological innovations such as geo-targeting push notifications that provide discounts to those near the store by sending coupons to their phones.
Each of the proposed solutions would obviously require a heavy investment. From our financial research, our group concluded that it would not be in the best interest of the company to demolish the project and start again. Given the large amounts already invested by multiple investors, this approach would not make financial sense, nor would it qualify as highest and best use. However, our financial analysis shows that by implementing the proposed changes, the Chongbang Group could expect a return on investment of around 31% within 10 years. This estimate was reached based on conservative assumptions of many unknowns. In order to achieve a goal of place-making, the Life Hub at Anting should reposition itself as an eco-friendly, family friendly and consumer friendly development, that offers a variety of retail, entertainment and F&B selections. Presently as part of their corporate identity, The Chongbang Group aims to make the first winner the consumer, the second the tenant, the third the government and the fourth Chongbang itself. By implementing the aforementioned strategies, the consumer is guaranteed to win through a healthy environment with conveniently located and diverse program, the tenant wins through an increase in foot traffic, higher sales and exposure through its location at a premier development, the government wins through a return on its investment as well as a prosperous community, tourism sector and positive image, and Chongbang wins financially and perceptually as the maestro that puts it all together. It is this thinking ahead that will make Anting, like Daning, a successful development.
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