The largest shopping mall in South Africa offers shopping and entertainment options galore, and is a welcome boost for the local economy.
“The Mall of Africa is South Africa’s largest shopping mall ever built in a single phase with 130 000sqm’s of retail space available. The mall is home to over 300 shops, many of which are flagship stores. In addition to the vast array of both local and international brands, the mall also boasts uniquely identified court areas made for easy shopping navigation as well as exceptional access, location and visibility.” So says the official description.
Interest piqued, I decided to pay the mall a visit but only after the proverbial dust had settled after it opened towards the end of April in Midrand. According to reports, hundreds of thousands of bargain hunters and shoppers descended on the mall within days of its opening which, unsurprisingly, caused traffic and security issues.
My first impression of the mall was good. In addition to suitably slick, external architectural elements, provision has been made for walkways, benches and proper street lighting – amenities which are sadly often overlooked by most malls. A lot of effort has gone into the surrounding gardens and trees which will provide much needed shade once they are full-grown.
The mall can be accessed via a number of entrances which lead to two shopping levels. I was immediately impressed by the large, light, airy corridors lined with all manner of shops, the majority of which sport large glass facades.
Five main areas
According to the developers, the Mall of Africa’s design was inspired by Africa’s geographical features and landscapes. This is evidenced by various features throughout the mall such as the extensive use of natural wood elements as well as the division of the mall into five key areas named Forest Walk, Desert Court, Great Lakes, Chrystal Court and Oleum Court.
Forest Walk is characterised by high volumes, wooden ‘trees’ and a distinctive clear ceiling which displays different colours at night. ‘Lucky Bread’ an artisanal bread ‘bar’ of sorts occupies a central position in this area. It appeared to be doing a brisk trade in the many delicious looking bread and pastry based products displayed on its shelves.
Not far from the Forest Walk is the open-air ‘Town Square’ area which features several eateries including, amongst others, Casa Bella (I recommend the lamb and feta pizza), Rocomamas, Wasabi, Hinterland and Kream. Generous circular wooden seating areas and fountains have been incorporated into this area which provides a stunning vantage point overlooking the Johannesburg skyline as well as a magnificent sculpted park. At night, the park’s trees are lit up with different colours.
Desert Court is described as the “court of time” and “provides an opportunity to slow down amidst surrounds inspired by the wind-blown aesthetic of North Africa’s desert regions.”
The Great Lakes “combines relaxation and calm” and encourages visitors to appreciate Africa’s most treasured resource – water.
Chrystal Court and Oleum Court draw inspiration from Southern Africa’s incredible mineral and oil wealth which is reflected accordingly by the surrounding décor.
Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the mall’s internal design. It’s easy enough to navigate and is flooded by natural light, courtesy of the extensive use of clear, interlocking ceiling panels. Strategically positioned downlights illuminate covered areas and neutral floors and glass balustrades contribute to a sense of openness and space. Interesting focal points have also been created through the use of colossal decorative ceiling installations placed at various junctions.
Personally, I really liked the Forest Walk, the open air park and food hall which is more stylish than most areas of this nature. Instead of boring rows of tables, this area boasts circular spaces enclosed by delicate wooden woven frames shaped to resemble calabashes or huts.
The mall features all the ‘usual’ stores such as Checkers, Woolworths, Mr Price, Dischem, @home, Adidas, Big Blue, Boardmans, Browns, Truworths, Cape Union Mart, Edgars and many more besides. Not-so-usual and luxury stores include Democratic Republic, Versace, Dore, Armani, Tiger of Sweden and The Kooples amongst others. In other words, if you need to stock up on some basic groceries or are on the hunt for a special cocktail gown, chances are you will be able to find it at the mall.
My best and worst stores
I absolutely loved Zara Home which features stunning window displays as well as a wide array of beautifully presented homeware. Unfortunately, Starbucks left a lot to be desired. In addition to a ridiculously long queue, the in-store lighting is poor, the décor is not terribly interesting and there was very little ventilation at the time of my visit which made the store feel hot and stuffy. The coffee was pretty average too.
Overall the Mall of Africa makes for a good outing. In my humble opinion it’s well designed and offers just about everything shoppers could want. The fact that it has created thousands of jobs and looks set to catalyse further growth in the area is simply the cherry on top.