Nordic region’s biggest shopping mall sets an urban trend

A spate of new shopping centres in southern Finland create a new kind of design: augmenting malls with services to integrate them into city life.

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Artist rendering of Mall of Tripla exterior / Credit: YIT

The biggest shopping mall in the Nordic region opens this week in Helsinki, when Mall of Tripla welcomes shoppers on Thursday.

It’s part of a new breed of shopping centres expanding rapidly into urban areas, consigning the uninspiring asphalt parking lots of out-of-town malls to the past.

Tripla adds 250 new retail stores, restaurants and services, plus jobs for as many as 7000 people.

File picture of Ainoa shopping centre Tapiol, under construction October 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Another new mall opens next week when Tapiola’s Ainoa extension is unveiled, doubling the original 2013 centre from 50 to 100 stores and restaurants.

According to Aija Staffans, Senior Research Fellow at Aalto University‘s Spatial Planning and Transportation Engineering Group, the evolution of ‘destination’ malls in Finland goes  beyond just these two big new developments in the capital city region.

“Eventually the capital is not the only region with increasing number of shopping centers. This same development is also evident in other localities” she explains, noting that in the capital region alone the surface area of shopping centres is set to increase between 60% and 70% from 2017 to 2030.

“This is related to the fact that retail stores are no longer exclusive facilities in shopping centers. They are more often associated with a lot of other alternative activities such as public services and entertainment” she tells News Now Finland.

New breed shopping centers provide a variety of services

The Finnish trend of building more, and bigger, shopping malls goes against the grain of expert opinions, predicting a downturn in this type of commerce as online sales grow.

Even the Finnish Commerce Federation predicts that by 2030 Finland will have lost more than a fifth of its retail stores – and in the worst case up to 40%.

But Senior Researcher Aija Staffans thinks that in Finland shopping centres won’t die, they’ll evolve.

“Currently, other activities are sought in shopping centers, be it entertainment or leisure activities, or public services. In my view, shopping malls are preparing for this change in retail” she says

Artist rendering of Mall of Tripla interior / Credit: YIT

Staffans reckons the Mall of Tripla is a prime example of this new type of shopping mall where one location combines entertainment, a hotel business, offices and residential buildings as well as regular stores.

A trend in the capital region has also been to grow the municipal services and transport around existing shopping centre hubs – which is why there are bus stations, metro stations, Kela offices, libraries and public healthcare services at Ainoa, Iso Omena and Sello in Espoo, and at Itis in east Helsinki for example.

“Tripla is very centrally located in terms of traffic. When talking about so-called transit- oriented, development-based design, Tripla is a traditional concept for it” she adds.

The transport hub – including Pasila station – helps Tripla become attractive to visitors from quite a wide geographical area.

“Up to 900 trains, 600 buses, more than 300 trams are expected to stop at the station and
in addition more than 7000 people live in nearby making Pasila already a lively residential area” says Kati Kivimäki, Mall of Tripla’s Director.

“This is like the second heart of Helsinki, a new kind of city center where the old city centre is expanding.”

“It’s a complex of three blocks at Finland’s second busiest train station containing a shopping center, adventure park, hotel, office buildings and residential buildings. The ensemble is very different compared to conventional shopping centers” Kivimäki tells News Now Finland.

Aalto University researcher Aija Staffans is more cautious about the latest shopping trends in southern Finland, as they bring more closed structures to the city.

“In general, Finland has a history of promoting and favouring an open, public city, which does not happen within such closed areas. They might be open only at a certain time a day or there might be certain type of control governing the area” she says.

“There is a contradiction to what is being said in urban planning and what is happening in practice.”

File picture of Ainoa shopping centre phase II, Tapiola, October 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland