The Apple effect on Rundle Mall

When Apple opened its flagship store in Adelaide it chose a premium location in Rundle Mall’s most significant new development in over 30 years. Jensen PLUS Associate, David Barone, reflects on the planning challenges presented by incorporating South Australia’s only Apple store into the Rundle Place development, and the increasing role that international retailers are playing in shaping Rundle Mall.

Rundle Place is a $150m mixed-use building that includes four levels of retail and an office tower with a new headquarters for Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. Rundle Place presented planning and design challenges relating to the activation of street frontages and laneways, the design of canopies, the impact of building bulk and scale in Rundle Mall, and servicing difficulties due to limited access.

In addition, technology giant Apple was earmarked for premium frontage and the international branding guidelines and design philosophy applied to each of their retail outlets is not tailored to local planning controls. Such was their importance to the project that the building was re-engineered to avoid columns in their tenancy. The need to respect Adelaide’s streetscape character quirks wasn’t on the radar.

“Every landlord in Adelaide would have wanted Apple as a tenant. A brand like this speaks to the prestige of the development,” said David. “A key challenge for the Rundle Place development was to find a balance between accommodating the Apple design whilst maintaining the intrinsic character of Rundle Mall,” he said.

There is no question that trends in retail influence the types of tenants and the designs sought. The previously dominant department stores are shrinking in size and have often gone internal, with street frontages being taken by smaller speciality retailers and flagship global-brand stores such as Apple and H&M (recently announced anchor tenant for the Rundle Mall Plaza development).

“This isn’t a bad thing.” said David, “It adds diversity and interest along the Mall, although the intricate department store window displays of the past did add a particular atmosphere, especially at Christmas.”

The rise of global brands is unlikely to end soon. “Big-name brands are driving what they want and this often presents a conflict with planning regulations,” says David.

“The challenge for policy is to harness what’s important about Rundle Mall as a place, but also to be flexible to adapt to trends,” says David. One of the trends in retail is to concentrate on the experience, and this is one of the attractions of Rundle Mall where the character of the buildings adds value to any visit. Extending this experience by activating the laneways adjacent to the Rundle Place development was an important part of securing approval, despite creating leasing difficulties for the developer.

For David one of the challenges for Rundle Mall is to make it busier and vibrant after hours.  He notes that there is huge potential for businesses to make use of the under-utilised upper levels of many existing buildings to help drive this change. “We must continue to push for mixed uses above ground level in Rundle Mall, with leisure and entertainment uses a big opportunity” he said.

The Rundle Mall Plaza development that Jensen PLUS recently secured development approval for (pictured above) is under construction and will include an upstairs double-height dining experience that will be accessible beyond shop trading hours. “This space has the opportunity to change the public’s perception of a Rundle Mall food court in a very positive way and provide a real destination for dining in its own right,” says David. The presence of supermarkets with extended trading hours within Rundle Mall and a growing resident population in the CBD can also support the trend towards after-hours activity.

Rundle Place exceeded the maximum heights envisioned in the Development Plan at the time, but David is firm in his belief that quality of design trumps building height and supports both the changes made to the Development Plan in Adelaide and the introduction of the Design Review Process and referral to the Government Architect. Indeed, David notes that planning is about getting the best results when there are competing interests at play. “Ultimately we are always pushing for good design outcomes,” he said.

“I recommend the Design Review Process to our clients as it fosters cooperation and collaboration and yields better design results, not just for our client, but the community more broadly,” says David. “With the Rundle Place development we provided advice on the development opportunities for the site even before the land was purchased, and then collaborated with the team and stakeholders at every step along the way.”

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