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  • Writer's pictureMarjolein Vlaming

Placemaking the mall: an interview with Francesco Pupillo, Mapic.

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Francesco Pupillo is MAPIC Markets Director (MAPIC - MAPIC Italy - LeisurUp - The Happetite) - Real Estate Division. He is an expert and thought leader in the retail industry, with almost two decades of experience. He has helped shape the MAPIC brand, launching regional events, and contributing to the creation of Mapic Food in 2018.

Francesco Pupillo © MAPIC

Can a shopping mall or a store become a destination? Until not too long ago, shopping malls, together with airports or train stations, were considered the most representative examples of ‘non-places’, spaces defined by their sheer function, non-relational, non-significant, barely distinguished from one another. They were seen as transitional areas that users would go through while moving from one significant place to another, their fungibility reflected even in their cookie-cutter design. This conception has been changing for a while, seeing a drastic re-thinking of retail places as lifestyle destinations worth visiting, rather than just passing through. Placemaking is playing an increasingly important role in the redefinition of retail spaces, with entertainment, arts, and interactive interventions being used more and more often to revitalize and activate spaces.

Since 1995, MAPIC is the leading International retail property event. The latest edition of Mapic took place in November and gathered 5.000 participants and 1.600 retail, leisure, food players from 75 countries. We take this opportunity to look back at a conversation Factorr had last year with Francesco Pupillo, MAPIC Markets Director (MAPIC - MAPIC Italy - LeisurUp - The Happetite) - Real Estate Division.

We asked Pupillo about his perspective on the role that arts, culture, and science can play in retail destinations, and his vision for the future of retail.

MAPIC 2022, Palais des Festivals Cannes © MAPIC

What do you think is the main added value of incorporating arts, culture, and science into retail destinations, and why?

Art, culture, and science allow transforming traditional retail sites into modern and vibrant destinations. They diversify the type of audiences visiting a place by providing a new value proposition and expanding its catchment area. People do not go anymore to a retail site just to shop, but to live nice moments to share, and to learn something new about the world. Major property developers and owners are embracing this approach, and it is already starting to generate extra footfall. More and more traditional retail outlets are benefiting from this change, including by seeing the creation of additional revenue. The new activities added to the traditional retail ones appeal to a wider audience group: art, culture, and science attract families to places, and increase the dwell time of each visit.

In your view, what should change in the industry to fully embrace this transformation? 

Two main changes should take place. The first one relates to the need to adapt existing traditional assets to welcome art, culture, and science. We cannot just consider art, culture, and science as ‘traditional’ retail tenants that you can plug in to fill vacant spaces or replace old-fashioned retail brands. In new developments, developers must shape assets in a more open and flexible way, so they provide a seamless visitor experience. Retail will be just one of the services the visitor will enjoy combined with several uses that focus on living, playing, or working.

The second important change is the need to define new business models to make these activities profitable and sustainable. Art, culture, and science are a wonderful traffic boost with a different cost structure and capex needs when compared to traditional retail activities. The relation with the landlord needs to be reshaped and cannot be based on traditional rental models anymore.

Photo credit: William Furniss © K11 Musea

Do you have any specific cases or examples in mind that illustrate this emerging trend to enrich locations? 

We are witnessing more examples that integrate art, culture, and science in retail sites. One of the first and most successful ones is the chain of malls K11 in China. This chain of malls has been able to democratize art by creating a habit for millennials to appreciate and understand all forms of beauty. K11 now has a total of 29 projects set to be completed in China by 2024. Besides, we have also seen several pop-up art exhibitions flourishing in recent years such as the British Museum, Van Gogh Museum, Natural History Museum Tour, or the Atelier des Lumières.

What is your vision for the future of leisure? What needs to happen to realize this vision?  There will be a greater integration of leisure activities in retail and urban sites to transform them into true “social places”. The boundaries between retail and leisure are blurring. Mixed-use is becoming the norm and a single area encloses spaces where people live, shop, play, see concerts, or go to the office. The pandemic has accelerated this transformation and now, more than ever, property developers are working on this new kind of lifestyle destination that has mixed-use at the core. Besides, city representatives are focusing on adding leisure activities to deliver social value in urban developments, since it strongly improves the quality of life of an urban area.

To achieve this vision, as I mentioned, we need to think in terms of more open and flexible spaces, and to develop more adequate business models to make these experiences sustainable in the long term. It is essential to move beyond classic lease terms and establish new relations between landlords and leisure tenants in which they share risk and investment.


If you are interested in further exploring the subject of placemaking, take a look at our flagship project Koelhuis Eindhoven and follow its transformation from an industrial heritage site into a hub for contemporary culture and new media art. Check our services to find out more about placemaking initiatives.


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