Sunday, September 26, 2010

Designing an Indian Mall

The many new malls that are mushrooming around the country have almost identical architectural facades and layouts. This sameness is in stark constrast to the country itself. In the largest and most diverse gathering of people under a single nation-state in the world, one expects diversity, not uniformity. The challenge is to resurrect what is Indian from the history of shopping environments in this land, and to introduce the familiarity of that experience into the modern retail space.

Our understanding of shopping behaviour of customers in a mall environment will also depend on how Indians have shopped until now in a bazaar environment. How can we design an amenable mall that understands the concept of familiarity that the new Indian shop must be based on and also ensures profit for the Indian entrepreneur?

The STREET Concept for an Indian Mall

The concept design for a mall included here proposes a sheltered environment for a series of smaller mall blocks roofed over together. The new design recommends bringing in the vibrancy of an Indian street into a modern Indian shop that has the efficiency of a “Singapore mall” and yet offers creative freedom to the vendors in the way spaces and displays can alter themselves within the informal central spine that connects the more formal spaces.

This blogpost is a part of an article I wrote recently for an architectural journal. For the full article, refer to  'Indian Architect & Builder' Vol 23 (11), July 2010, Business Press Pvt.Ltd., Mumbai

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Canal Bazaar

In Alleppey, spices are sold on little wooden platforms on the street. This does make the urban selling spaces of Kerala different from those in andhra or tamilnadu or elsewhere in India. The price in the informal sector is always lower than that in the regular shops. In Kerala, spices are abundant and can be bought at a street corner for a small sum of money. 

As you walk along the canal, you see shops that sell all kinds of chips. There are large packets of banana chips that line their shelves, waiting to travel soon to Bangalore and Chennai. How do these shops advertise? The chips are fried in a large pan which is part inside the shop and part on the street. Its advertisement at its best. There are tapioca chips and jackfruit chips, all fried in coconut oil. 

There are canals within the town of Alleppey. Most of the shopping areas abut a vehicular road. There are of course small, wooden kiosks along the edge of the canal. Some of these are on stilts, where the road level is higher than the canal level. So, they are anchored into the canal and face the road, so that people can shop as they go by. Other than these wooden kiosks, the regular shops are built in the conventional way and housed in concrete structures. 

In the older parts of Alleppey, one finds shops housed in small, traditional tiled roof structures with the typical Kerala pitched roof. Many of these structures have wooden facades. You buy in a local shop, you live in a local way. There is less pretence in small town lifestyles than in other larger indian cities. You know the shop owner and he knows you. With every sale and every purchase, the bonds between people grow stronger. There are spices, there are bananas and there are ayurvedic medicine shops on the bazaar landscape. 

Related posts :
Spice vendors and their displays
The Tibetans at the Cliff bazaar

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Crafts Fair

It was a Sunday in July and there were many people shopping at this Crafts Fair in Bangalore. It was being called the ‘Crafts Bazaar’. This exhibition was organised by Poompuhar – the State Crafts Emporium for Tamil Nadu and was a ten-day event in the city. It had artisans from all over South India and also from the northern States such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and others displaying their crafts.

The Craft Fairs in India are usually exhibitions organised by the Government Crafts Emporia of the different States or the Handicrafts Development Corporations that take up the development, marketing and training for the artisans. If you are a supporter of Fair trade, these exhibitions are where you may want to shop for Indian crafts.

It being the Ashadamasam, a month where no wedding ceremonies can happen because it is not considered auspicious, the marriage halls or kalyana mandapams become easily available for other uses and it is the time when exhibitions – Crafts Bazaars and Book Bazaars happen all over the city. The Ashadamasam is said to be a month not considered appropriate for any social functions primarily because this was a crucial month in the Harvest cyle in the rice fields and men were expected to focus on their agricultural duties and nothing else.

I learnt that this Craft Fair is held in Bangalore twice a year. Poompuhar had rented the space and the arrangement with the artisans was that 20% of their sales proceedings would be given to Poompuhar. The craftsmen do not pay any rent for the days that the mela takes place here. This ensures that the risk factor for the craftsmen is minimal. He pays nothing if he has no sales. However, for any sale that happens, he gives the Development Corporation a percentage of his earnings.

It is also possible to buy these crafts at any time of the year at each of the individual showrooms which are now in almost every city in India. However, the showrooms are located in different parts of the city and a ‘Crafts Bazaar’ simply makes it possible to choose from a great variety from different states of India all in one place. It somehow reminds me of the concept of a ‘Food Court’ that seems to now occupy the top floor of every mall in Bangalore - a one-stop eatery where you find different stalls that sell Chinese Manchurian, a Subway sandwich, a Rajasthani thali or the Idli-Dosa – all under one roof.

Each state government showroom also has its own website and the crafts bazaars can now be reached from any part of the world. For the southern states of India, there is the Kerala Handicrafts Corporation with their showrooms called ‘Kairali’ over over the country (more info at: the ‘Poompuhar’ which is the Tamil Nadu Crafts Emporium (more info. at, the Andhra Pradesh Handicrafts Emporia are called ‘Lepakshi’ (more and the Karnataka Handicrafts are available at ‘Cauvery’ at (more

Related posts:  
Crafts in Bazaars
Tibetans at the Cliff