Come See The Emptiest Mall In The World

New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

by Kaid Benfield, via NRDC’s Switchboard

In this space, I have written before about dead shopping malls, past their prime and doomed by a business model stuck in the late 20th century.  Although I am no fan of the architectural form or the way malls became de facto, mass-manufactured, neo-public spaces (while being vastly inferior to true public spaces) in American suburbs, there can be something profoundly sad when they fail.

New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

The giant mall you see in the photos here, though, didn’t die.  It has never lived, having been nothing but empty since it opened seven years ago.  According to its Wikipedia entry, it has an astounding 2,350 available retail spaces, only 47 of which are occupied.

New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

New South China Mall (by: Jason Fung, creative commons license)

Meet the world’s largest shopping mall, the New South China Mall in Dongguan, China.  It is twice as big as the huge Mall of America outside Minneapolis.  Super-talented photographer Matthew Niederhauser describes the mall on his blog:

“A local billionaire built it, and they did not come. The South China Mall was the most ambitious and largest retail space ever conceived in China, if not the world, when it opened in 2005. Constructed smack in the middle of the Pearl River Delta between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, about 4 million people live within six miles of it, 9 million within twelve miles and 40 million within sixty miles. Nonetheless, six years later, the South China Mall only maintains a 1% occupancy rate at best.

“This unabatedly empty temple to consumerism remains unfinished on top floors and is only sporadically visited thanks to the attached amusement park, Amazing World. For the time being dust and dismembered mannequins reign over the 6.5 million square foot venture. Although China might be the fastest growing consumer market in the world, the South China Mall reveals the vulnerability of this burgeoning economic giant.”

New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

New South China Mall (by: Stephen Wolverton, creative commons license)

The mall has 7,100,000 square feet (163 acres) of leasable floor space and 9,600,000 square feet (220 acres) of total space.  Wikipedia reports that “the mall has seven zones modeled on international cities, nations and regions, including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice, Egypt, the Caribbean, and California.”  It has a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, another of the bell tower of St. Mark’s in Venice, and a 1.3-mile canal with gondolas.

New South China Mall (by: David290, public domain)

a map on a kiosk inside the mall (by: Stephen Wolverton, Wkiimedia Commons)

What the New South China Mall (the owners added “new” to the name two years after the opening) doesn’t have is people or business.

New South China Mall (by: Milowent, public domain)

New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

Visit the official site here, or the English translation here.  If you have time, this is a very good (poignant, even) short film about the mall, by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sam Green (you may have to sit through a 30-second ad at the beginning):

Watch Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall on PBS. See more from POV.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog’s home page.

19 Responses to Come See The Emptiest Mall In The World

  1. Gingerbaker says:

    perfect small business incubator. Or new university or high school. Municipal offices, library, convention center, etc

  2. prokaryotes says:

    So much room for activities!

  3. George D says:

    Interesting, but how does this relate to climate or climate policy? A few divergences are okay, but consistency has always been a wonderful feature of this blog.

  4. eric says:

    @ george D

    consumerism impedes climate progress. epic fail for consumerism = epic win for climate? though having already built the mall…

  5. Chris says:

    How is it consumerism if there aren’t any consumers?

  6. Robert In New Orleans says:

    Good location to shoot a dystopian doomsday flick after most of mankind has been wiped out.

  7. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    This mall has so many problems: Low income area, not on any sort of a transport hub, internal pedestrian flow problems, signage eternal and internal and so on. But I do not understand why it is so utterly dead.

  8. Theodore says:

    Why did it fail? Were mistakes made? If so, what were those mistakes?

  9. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    As robert said above, a great place to shoot a movie. Already been done, logans’s run, 1976. This was shot in a mall in texas.

  10. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    “The mall has 7,100,000 square feet (163 acres) of leasable floor space and 9,600,000 square feet (220 acres) of total space”

    That’s almost as much space as both towers of the late world trade center in nyc had.

  11. Robert Murphy says:

    “Already been done, Logans’s Run, 1976.”

    It was done much better here, though, in 1978:

    And the theme was more in keeping with the OP, too.

  12. Tom King says:

    The Great Wall and the Great Mall, bookends of Chinese culture?

  13. Pangolin says:

    Waste, waste, waste, waste, capitalism, waste, capitalism and waste. But I repeat myself.

    An essential feature of modern capitalism is a belief in perpetual growth separated from the realities of energy supplies, resources, actual needs and consumer wages. Obviously somebody spent a billion dollars in the belief that customers just appear if you build a mall. Kind of like a cargo cult or Dubai. But I repeat myself again.

  14. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    Now that’s a blast from the past! great analogy.

  15. Light says:

    “Wikipedia reports” -_-

  16. A Ambel says:

    China is a Communist country!

  17. Not to mention all of the energy that went into building the darned thing. Global Warming much?

  18. Dave says:

    waste, over production, destruction of farm land, poor planning for starters. I see this as very related to the theme of this blog

  19. Heikki Willstedt Mesa says:

    The problem might be that there is no public transportation to the mall or that the chinese don´t consume as much as the promoters thought, or that the chinese don´t use their cars to go to malls. Or a mixture of all these things