Saturday, 19 April 2014

Emporium Melbourne: Unboxing Video First Look Exclusive

Emporium Melbourne: it's a shopping centre. Like many other similar such outposts, it is a place where people with or without money congregate to pass the time by looking at shit they don't need while scrolling through an endless stream of inconsequential minutiae on their smartphones. What's that? A break in the visual stimuli of life? Swipe to unlock.

These centres'  corporate owners loftily claim them as the modern inheritor of the Habermasean public sphere where people can come, meet socialise and engage with the world. But they are almost all privately owned and impose severe restrictions on individual activities while reserving the right to data mine patrons because marketing. Time will tell how restrictive Emporium will be.

Local media has largely swallowed the Emporium Kool-Aid. Broadsheet, a local publication that has misplaced the Auto Levels command on Photoshop, has effused breathless enthusiasm for Emporium's "graceful walkways" and its "plush, experience-focussed shopping". Whatever that means.

Of opening day, they reported that "anxious queues" were lined up outside well beforehand. Funny, at 8am, all I saw was this:

While Broadsheet reported "anxious queues" at 9am, this is all there was at 8am. 
All this reporting felt rather odd for a publication whose notional raison d'être is local independent fashion and design that is probably most likely to suffer with the onslaught of Uniqlo and H&M. But as Broadsheet says, it isn't excited about "breathless and imprecise hyperbole", just what makes Melbourne great.

Naturally, News Limited gave the same glowing endorsement to the centre, as did the commercial news networks and poor old modern-day Fairfax. A rough count of opening patrons would've probably seen media outnumber consumers 2-to-1.

Despite its light architecture and drummed-up publicity, Emporium Melbourne is just the same as every other shopping centre ever. Except the ones in the United States which have roller coasters and waterslides. I want one of those.

Being the opening day, the wired goons (rent-a-cops with earpieces and ill-fitting suits that seem to be all the rage) would have been loathe to heavy people with cameras, so for the first time in shopping centre, I felt liberated to take a few snaps.

I was not approached by wired goons or thrown out, but I assume once all the enforced happiness dies down, they will be less amenable to camera-toting terrorists like myself taking photos of things that do not have any reason to be photographed because privacy, 9/11 and not allowed.

If the attitudes towards photography at other shopping centres in Colonial First State's portfolio are replicated at Emporium, I'd recommend my fellow photographers to get out and take some pics now while the goodwill is still there.

This shopping centre is very vertical. Unlike the concrete paddocks of Doncaster and Chadstone, there is a lot of height to Emporium. Some of the space is light and airy. Others, like the food court - sorry, bespoke laneway-inspired food truck café gourmet lounge - are strangely dark.

There were "concierge" staff everywhere, under 25s dressed like bellhops from a Wes Anderson film that had desaturated in Da Vinci Resolve.

A great number of stores stand empty with only chipboard partitions and oversized models looking off into middle-distance indicating any future presence. Opening day (I visited around 2:30pm) was rather quiet. Sure, heaps of people were lining up for gratis bespoke burritos, but many shop employees stood gazing through their glass retail prisons wondering if some consumer love might come their way.

People waltzed around, confused by the little things, like turning the wrong way from escalators and lifts. Familiarity was yet to breed contempt in them. Others, like me, went entirely the wrong way, got boxed in by construction areas, looked at their watches, turned around and continued walking like we were meant to do that. Suave.

Being a new space, it's quite easy to get lost in. It also feels quite claustrophobic in the sense that there is no easy exit to Elizabeth Street owing to that godawful Somerset Apartments building on the corner of Lonsdale and Elizabeth. But hopefully the new Strand Arcade redevelopment (don't forget Nant Whisky in there too!) will improve accessibility.

For all these shopping centres' claims to being the next "experience", there is very little to differentiate them from any number of other shopping centres around the city, the country or the world. Why do people visit shopping centres? Is it for the "experience"? Is it because it's an "essential shopping landmark"? Or perhaps it's because some shopping centres "quickly establish a leadership position thanks to [their] unique architecture, premium ambiance, retail mix and innovative shopper services"? No. It's because people sometimes want to buy shit. And they keep on coming back to do so.

If you don't get it yet, I'm not a great fan of shopping centres. Criticisms of consumerism aside, I dislike their ownership of the modern "public" space and their usually bland "me-too" designs. At least this one looks a little bit different, but let's not kid ourselves. It still just a shopping centre.

Emporium Melbourne is not an "experience", it is an overinflated piece of façadist architecture that brings little, except moar shops, escalators and over-zealous, CCTV-driven security guards to the CBD.

This is not an entirely bad thing if it means suburbanites are drawn into the city, where there's good food, good cafés and good culture, and away from their lifeless asphalt arenas they call "shopping centres", but I won't hold my breath.

Ultimately, the muted buzz will die down, perhaps even before the Baz Luhrman choreographed paycheck opening night affair in August. Then it will be like none of this ever happened until news of the next "redevelopment" appears, tearing down more buildings for more shops, apartments and synergies of complete premium experience.

Until then, if you're bored, remember you don't have to go shopping.

I give this shopping centre 170 out of 250 open shops.

Coming Soon
Layers of confusion

More life inside or outside the window?
I, Robot was not a good film, but its CG stars appear to make wonderful Uniqlo models

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