The retail development that’s more than just another supermall in China

 —  Article by Natasha Stokes
Taikooli in Chengdu, China
Taikooli in Chengdu, China

“There isn’t much traditional architecture left in Chengdu city center, where many buildings are modern and high-rise. This open-plan, low-rise design brings back some of the traditional ways.”

For Shelly Xie, Managing Director of JLL Chengdu, the sprawling Taikoo Li complex is a unique meld of the modern and the traditional. “While the Chengdu lifestyle is slow, many big cities in China are crowded and modern life is busy,” she says.

Taikoo Li, an open-plan collection of boutiques, flagship stores and cafés set around a network of lanes and alleys, caters to the two extremes felt by many Chinese cities in the throes of rapid development – fast-paced city life and the slow living of traditional communities.

The village-style development covers 250,000 square meters, 100,000 of which is retail area with international luxury brands such as Hermes, Givenchy and Cartier. At one edge lies a 100-room hotel and a modern 47-storey office tower. Yet Taikoo Li is much more than yet another super-mall in another fast-growing province of China.

A new type of retail space

“Since it opened in 2014, Taikoo Li has influenced the shopping habits of the city,” Xie says.

Shops are limited to low-rise level and about a fifth of the space is reserved for bars, cafes and restaurants. The shopfronts vary from minimalist and contemporary to the traditional Sichuan-inspired architecture of pitched roofs, while in the courtyards and plazas, features like stone pagodas are enhanced by natural landscaping and warm lighting to create a welcoming community space.

Die-hard shoppers can follow “fast lanes” to browse hundreds of shops and cut from plaza to plaza while the “slow lanes” are next to the 1000-year-old Daci Temple and offer access to leisurely pursuits like a cup of coffee al fresco. There are also six restored heritage buildings that house permanent exhibits or enjoy revival as events spaces and galleries.

“The location is very special – everything is built around the Daci Temple,” Xie says. The temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Chengdu and continues to attract visitors and worshipers today.

Creating and utilizing space

While the low-rise design allows every retail outlet an opportunity to win shoppers through their window displays, it also creates a sense of space that is important for Taikoo Li to be more than a commercial development – it is a public space too.

“There are very large outdoor areas for performances, which is rare in Chengdu, especially in the city center,” says Xie. One of the free shows for visitors takes place in the center of Taikoo Li every night at 8pm, when a fountain comes to life, shooting jets of water timed to lights and music.

The combination of retail, public performances and outdoor space has revitalized an area which was once focused on tourism and low-end shopping and brought in locals and visitors looking for a more luxurious shopping experience.

“This is a very large-scale urban reutilization project,” Xie says. “The area used to comprise old apartments and buildings until the government decided to relocate them and redevelop the area into what it is today.”

Just two years after opening, its effect is already being felt both in Chengdu and further afield.

“The success of this project has brought more footfall to the nearby shops too, and as a result, more of them are shifting to selling more trendy products,” Xie says. “Older buildings close to Taikoo Li also starting to be renovated into low-rise retail complexes. It is inspiring similar projects not only in Chengdu, but across China.”

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