The Mall of... London?

Rebecca Suhrawardi Austin

Something has taken London by storm: a mall. Yes. Quaint little London, home to Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, now houses Europe's biggest shopping mall, and it's making Londoners batty. The Westfield London is the £1.6 billion (roughly $2.5 billion) brainchild of Australian developers, the Westfield Group. It's tough for this American girl to figure out what all the hoopla is about; malls are a dime-a-dozen in the States. While some have managed to house 5-star restaurants and roller coasters, a mall is still a mall. I ventured into the behemoth for myself, with what seemed to be the ENTIRE population of Britain, on a rainy Saturday afternoon a week after it opened.

The verdict: sorry Brits, it's just a mall. A big, shiny mall with lots of stores (265!), but still a place where too many people are mulling around, shopping at homogenized retailers like H&M, Zara, and Topshop. To be fair, its atrium is spectacularly designed, resembling a 1950s rendition of the future, full with asymmetrical glass and honeycomb ceilings and a tremendous, omnipresent video monitor to lord over the customers with various sponsor messages -- in HD, of course. The unsettling part, however, was the Village, the section where the high-end shops, like Prada and Dior lived. The tacky chandeliers and pink lighting looked more like a galleria on the Las Vegas strip than Bergdorf Goodman.

But I can get why the Brits might like it: no more running all over town now that all the shops are under one roof; no worries about parking since it has an otherwise unheard of parking facility; and no more trudging around in the rain from shop to shop.

But here's why they shouldn't like it: the crowds are asphyxiating; the lines at the restaurants were so long that you are bound to pass out from hunger before even getting a table; and because while the architecture is charming and quaint, IT'S LONDON, and nothing in the world can replace the experience of shopping on Old Bond Street. There is just no need a mega-giga-super-mall. Period.

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