Thursday, August 16, 2012

Malls & Cultural Consumerism in the Philippines: The Case of SM Mall of Asia

A Class Paper Submitted to Professor Chester B. Cabalza
Professor in Anthropology
University of the Philippines Diliman
Summer 2012


Alver Prince Remolar, Jemaima Anna Javier, Lynell Marie Sta Ines, Mharren Castro, Nikko Ner, Paolo Flores, Regina Sophia Gonzalez, Anthony Brian Cuello, Charlee Myre Mejia, Christina Alexia Castro, Ellaine Rose Tan, Harynd Joshua Pascasio, John Kevin Arcenas, Joselito Arcinas, Joseph Cyrus Santalisis, Mia Galindes, Michelle Robles, Raphael Hernandez, Benedict Martin Caliwara

Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.


The shopping mall has been an edifice of entertainment and leisure, offering a multitude of services and goods from movies to dining to retail. Particularly in the country, specifically in Metro Manila, where there’s almost a mall every fifteen minutes. How does one stand one in the multitude of malls?

Shoe Mart or more commonly known as SM has been answering this challenge. Their most apparent effort is the construction of the Mall of Asia, proudly dubbed as the country’s second largest mall and the fourth largest all over the world.

What does this magnanimity entail? Does its epic difference in size change the experience within the mall? What makes this mall different from the others? Or is it really just the same, only multiplied in volume?
This paper is a compilation of various multidisciplinary analytical views from different essays as written by the members of the class. It aims to evaluate the Mall of Asia not only as a consumer but as an intellectual applying the field of course.

SM Mall of Asia

The SM Mall of Asia Complex is a vast compound of different services and amenities. It all started in the early nineties, when Mr. Henry Sy, Sr., had envisioned building on of the largest malls in Asia. SM Prime and SM Investments Corporation joined to reclaim 100 hectares of land along the Manila Bay. He “envisioned the mall to be more than just a shopping complex. He wanted it to be a premier integrated leisure destination.”[1] In May 21 2006, his vision turned to life as the SM Mall of Asia opened to a welcoming public.
Structures included in this complex are the SM Mall of Asia, One Esplanade, Nido Fortified Science Discovery Center, SMX Convention Center, One E-Com Center, Mall of Asia Arena, and the Concert grounds.

Built on almost four hectares of floor area, the Mall of Asia boasts of 8000 parking slots, 780 shops, 300 dining establishments, and with a total retail floor area of 407, 101 square meters. It is no wonder that it is the second largest mall in the Philippines and the fourth largest in the world. Initially, it had been the largest in the country upon in construction, however due to recent redevelopment of SM City North Edsa in 2008, it has been pushed to second place.

The SM Mall of Asia mall grounds consist of four main buildings: the Main Mall, the Entertainment Mall, and the north and south carpark buildings. Dining and shopping can be found in the Main Mall, whilst the Entertainment Mall is a two-storey complex for well, entertainment. The South Parking building also houses the SM Department Store, while the North Parking building houses the SM Hypermarket. It has been noted that the mall attracts a daily average foot traffic of about 200, 000 people.

The mall boasts of several amenities not usually available to other malls, such as one of the world’s largest IMAX Theater, and the Philippines’ first Olympic-sized ice skating rink. Its transportation station is also exemplary as its design considered all types of public transportation vehicles and the quantity at any given time.


Method in Consumerist Madness: A Look at the Architectural Programming Behind the SM Mall of Asia Shopping Complex

Judging by its façade, the SM Mall of Asia Shopping Complex or “MoA” as it is most commonly known is a juggernaut compared to the malls in the Philippines today. It breaks away from the signature “shoe box” designs of SM malls and goes all out in terms of size and number of shops and restaurants it houses. The mall, after all, is the Philippines’ largest and the world’s third largest.
While going on a less boxy design approach in presenting its retail stores, MoA ups the ante on laying them all out to provide the newcomer with a cohesive idea of the space. On a macro level it attempts on orchestrating order by dividing the mall into four different sectors namely: the Main Mall, the North Wing, the South Wing, and the Entertainment Mall. The Main Mall is strategically located in the center of the complex. It is, in the researcher’s observation, a blown-up version of a typical SM mall sans the boxy layout and with more public spaces. It contains regular SM mainstays, almost institutions in an SM mall, National Bookstore, The French Baker, Ace Hardware, Watsons, and the SM Food Court. The Main Mall serves as the activity hub tying the whole complex together. Aside from a variety of retail shops and restaurants, the Main Mall also houses an ice skating rink and large multipurpose halls to accommodate typical mall events. It is where all foot traffic in the premises converges. The South Wing is mainly occupied by the SM Department Store with restaurants and service shops lining its perimeter. It is connected to the Main Mall through bridges and a sort of arcade walk at the first floor for providing users with a long stretch of restaurants to choose from. The North Wing is somewhat unique in its offering of office space for a call center company at its second floor and the SM Hypermart on the first floor. It serves as a sort of an IT hub for the mall with its clusters of technology related stores. Just the same with the South Wing, the North Wing is also connected to the Main Mall via bridges and the same type of arcade walk for the restaurants. Lastly, the Entertainment Mall stays true to its namesake by housing the cinemas and an enormous music hall for concert type events.
Judging by the mall’s store layout, it is not hard to lose your way around it. Although it divided itself into four parts, each part somehow is identical to the others. It is interesting to note that all four sectors house a mixture of retail and restaurant establishments. The North and South Wings are actually almost identical in its presentation and layout that it is easy to get disoriented and to mistake one for the other. Add to the problem of similarity the issue of a sprawling size and you have yourself a labyrinth full of people spending more time ambling along the paths than actually getting any shopping done. This is attested to by most interviewees who confessed of getting lost in the mall a number of times in their first few visits.
Another interesting thing with the store layouts is SM’s way of clustering together stores with similar offerings. To illustrate, a Penshoppe, Bench, Oxygen, and other types of clothing retail stores are clustered together in the Main Mall. Aside from this type of clustering, the mall also seems to follow a hierarchal pattern in placing stores. To illustrate again, one can find brands such as ZARA, Kenneth Cole Reaction, Marks & Spencer, Lacoste, etc. on the second floor and Penshoppe, Bench, Oxygen, etc. directly below it. It seems to convey a socially stratified way of organizing spaces with stores that cater to the A-B classes located above the stores catering to the C-D-E classes. The seating and general rest areas provided for the second floor with the most high end shops are typically fewer than those on the first floor. This suggests that the foot traffic in the lower floor is greater and thus warrants more rest areas than the one above. It also dissuades people on the second floor to linger and loiter around these high end shops.
In conclusion, it can be inferred that the one who did the layout design of MoA clearly endeavors for the user to be lost and to wander aimlessly around the mall in the hopes of exposing him/her to the most storefronts and therefore be a potential buyer. The clustering of stores may seem to be more chaotic than organized despite the attempts at grouping them in terms of the products and/or services they offer. The sheer size of the mall somehow defeats this purpose. To this end, the mall intends to be chaotic with the ulterior motive of getting the mall visitor to part with his/her cash. 

Wayfinding at the Mall of Asia

Constructed on reclaimed land in Manila Bay and occupying a grand total of 407,000 square meters, SM Mall of Asia (MOA) is popular for being the country’s second largest shopping mall, next to SM North EDSA. The whole complex (which, according to its website, is almost one kilometer in length, and has a perimeter of nearly two kilometers) consists of four main buildings – the Main Mall, the Entertainment Mall, the North parking and the South Parking, respectively – all of which are interconnected by open-air walkways. With its floor area of approximately four hectares, one can only imagine the amount of foot traffic MOA experiences everyday.

Wayfinding is defined by Kevin Lynch as “a consistent use and organization of definite sensory cues from the external environment.” This is crucial for large projects, since the way users perceive the establishment could be how they see it for a long period of time. First impression lasts, indeed; and some of the determining factors would be based on accessibility of the entrances/exits and the walkability of the entire place. MOA is pedestrian-friendly, for it was designed as such – with its paved roads surrounding the whole complex, its numerous walkways, and air-conditioned yet well-lighted main buildings. Entrances and exits are also placed at strategic places, with the preceding wide open spaces and signs clearly indicating their locations. However, the mall’s sheer size is significantly over the maximum walkable distance – a fact which its designers and administration appeared to have considered, because of the provision of seating areas and the offer of a tram shuttle service.

Orientation, however, is a different matter. Navigating through a mall of such size is a daunting task, because aside from its overly large building scale, MOA’s layout is carefully planned out so that almost every usable space is utilized for business and commercial purposes. Thus, it is to be expected that a significant portion of malling time would be spent solely on navigating and walking from one point to another. Some of the students from Sir Cabalza’s class (including myself) had a difficult time finding the meeting place, although it was not their first time inside the complex. The brightly colored store fronts do not seem to help much, what with their similar looking glass facades, and the fact that the colors repeat at regular intervals. Skylights and center islands (complete with foliage and sculptures) are provided where there are large spaces; however, since they are common features of the mall interiors, they also help little with the public’s orientation.

But the architect and the management attempted to compensate for the said problems by means of the following: (1) the use of signs with large bold fonts, which are located almost anywhere that is convenient to the human eye – suspended overhead, on large posts, etc.; (2) the strategic location of entrances and exits – they are placed at a walkable distance from the designated loading/unloading area, and along the walkways; (3) the provision of landmarks such as the ice skating rink and the music hall, which both serve as convenient meeting places and popular places to hang out; (4) the placement of huge mall directories detailing the names, store numbers and locations of all the shops at the entrances, with an assigned female mall employee to assist those who have questions regarding the mall layout; and (5) the presence of numerous mall employees – ranging from maintenance personnel to security guards.

To their credit, the aforementioned methods seem to work fairly well.

Language in Architecture: 'A Semiotic Analysis of Sm Mall of Asia'

We defined architecture as an art; and like all art, it communicates. How and what it communicates varies from every work of architecture and can be interpreted through the use of semiotics – the science of symbols. Thus, an architect must develop the skill of incorporating signs and symbols in his design, and he cannot achieve that unless he first understands well how to interpret these significations in other works of architecture. The intention of symbols is very significant for it greatly enhances the overall design of the building in such a way that it opposes monotony and typicality, and this is where art, creativity and symbolism come in. As designers, to design is to be creative, to incorporate value into our works, and most importantly to make the building a place. Jonathan Hale fascinatingly elaborates:

“I think we have become overly accustomed to the idea that if art is to have any value, it should have the quality of murder. You must kill the routine, kill the expectation. You must kill the normal.”

A good study of this includes a good example, and among others, that would be the city's center - the mall. Here, I looked at considerably one of the top malls here in the Philippines, the SM Mall of Asia, also known as MoA. Without a doubt, there are a lot of signs scattered all over the place, but all of these convey only a single meaning. The SM Mall of Asia, aside from the malls' passive meaning of the modern town plaza (in MoA's case - a place to gather, shop, and even go to church), it also takes pride in its grandiosity and hugeness. The name 'Mall of Asia' itself already tells you its desire to compete with other malls in Asia and in the whole world. Knowing the history of SM Supermalls and its owner Mr. Henry Sy – a business tycoon and one of the richest men in the Philippines, we can say that the erection of MoA served to be the mark or the turning point of malls in the country. Thus, the crystal-clear message was sent to all of us – MoA is now (if not the top) one of the top malls in the country, and it is reflected on how the mall was designed and built.

SM Supermalls so far are consistent with their undying motto, “We got it all for you.”, but this time, they really mean it. The design for MoA was meant to surpass the previously built SM Supermalls and even any other mall in the Philippines. Most SM Supermalls were designed all most the same way that it’s obvious many of them resemble other. They all have the central organization design which is applied to all floors so that it is stacked on one another. The layout is generally the same too, with the supermarket on the ground floor, the department store above it, the movie house on the topmost floor, and all the other shops lined in that straight corridor. And of course, how could we not forget every SM Supermall’s light-colored interiors, plain-looking exteriors and the humongous blue-and-white SM logo on its façade? Typically, this was the normal design of SM Supermalls until SM Mall of Asia came to life. It has fulfilled and far exceeded the expectations people, surpassed the commonalities of the series of SM Supermalls, and breaking apart the typical Filipino mall shopping.

Through experience within the building, I learned that the SM Mall of Asia, as they call it, is a ‘mall of firsts’, simply because it has a lot of features that came into Philippines for the first time. It is the first one to have the overlooking view of the Manila Bay, where people can walk, sit, eat, and ride the 20-seater tram or the ferry cruise while watching its famous sunset. It has the first Olympic-size ice skating rink and the first ever I-MAX 3D movie theatre. It has hundreds of shops and restaurants to choose from. With these, MoA has not just ‘got it all’ for us, it even has more than what we ask for. Furthermore, these perfectly complement the business intent of the mall as it provides people with such attractions more than just buying goods.

The mall was indeed well-placed. Located at the end of EDSA, beside the Manila Bay, and near the NAIA, both the city people and foreigners have an easy access to it. Acting more like a tourist spot than just a mall, not only does it keep the income coming but displays itself to the whole world.  What’s more, the architecture of MoA is rather an interesting one. Its modern architectural design is said to be modeled after a ship, signifying its affinity with the body of water beside it. The mall is divided into four main parts: the main mall at the front for shops and leisure, the entertainment mall for more shops, movie-going and events, and the north park and south park building for the SM Department Store and Hypermarket respectively. This deviates from the standard design of previously built SM Supermalls. The exterior did not need to be plain and dull anymore; as it does not have to keep the people inside since the mall is present in both inside and outside.  Additionally, there is the bay-walk, the esplanade, and the 5,000-capacity parking lot on its outside. At the entrance, there is the MoA’s gigantic globe-like figure, acting as the mall’s trademark and symbolizing its pride and competency in the mall industry around the world.    

The semiotic intent that was embedded in the mall is to tell people that MoA is not your typical mall, that there is such thing as grandiosity in an Asian country like the Philippines and that it can pass the international standards of urban mall industry. It is a complete success in providing people almost everything that a mall can offer, even providing what other previously malls did not. Thus, its message is to showcase itself to be a new mall that can top other malls in the country and compete with the world’s best. Through semiotics and the way it was architecturally designed makes us indeed understand that message very well.

The meanings found in architectural works are surprisingly important for man to live in harmony with his space. It is simply language communicated through a different medium, in this case, art and architecture. Through the science of semiotics, another way to understanding man and his behavior is provided. After all, cultures from different eras in (pre)history were mostly learned and understood through the work of man himself. How we interpret the environment around us and how we understand these meanings shapes our understanding of truth and of ourselves.


SM Mall of Asia, like the rest of the SMs in Metro Manila is an imposing structure that looks nothing like the rest of the buildings in its vicinity. The SM malls were usually named after the places where they were built. North EDSA, Bacoor, Quiapo, and the rest of the innumerable SM malls are often just air-conditioned boxes with retailers inside and the placeless quality of their aesthetic is forgivable because these affixes to the SM brand are just there to tell customers where that specific mall is. Now, naming anything to be of a place implies a sense of belonging to that place and in the case of SM Mall of Asia it has to be asked if the Mall of Asia, beyond the marketing speak, feels of this belonging to Asia. If there was no intent to make Mall of Asia iconic in a cultural perspective, it could have simply been named SM Pasay or SM Manila Bay to follow previous SM malls.

The first unique feature that one would likely notice is the rather different silhouette that the Mall of Asia cuts in the skyline. Regardless of the perforated aluminum embellishments that have been attached to SM Megamall or the tensile fabric tents and sky garden of SM North EDSA, the SM silhouette is generally a rectangle lying on its long side. This is not the case with Mall of Asia. Whether the approach is done by bus, jeep, or car, one would easily spot the slopes of the parapets and the three towering cylinders. It does not evoke any cultural associations and that is understandable because SMs are primarily commercial establishments and a distinct regional recall is not usually a high level concern for businesses such as this. Interestingly there is a large LED-lit steel globe named the Globamaze (Philippine Star, 2009) at the main rotunda in the front of the mall complex; perhaps the intent really is not to be regional but be international -- and the absence of a cultural image recall is in this case a good point for SM.

Moving closer towards and into the mall, the materials that make up the mall come into focus. In architecture, materials are important in placing a piece of architecture in a region. For example, the stonework in houses in Vigan would tell a visitor that one is in Vigan; the mother-of-pearl windows in Capiz would speak of being in Capiz; this is because of the association that materials and craftsmanship  have with the spirit of a place. The materials that make up the Mall of Asia interiors and exteriors are mostly concrete, steel, and cladding. These materials are inherently placeless because of their neutrality and industrial manufacture. Again, the inclination towards an international design is shown in these design choices.

Now, the international leanings are maintained through other design choices that are fairly necessary in a typical mall. There is a strong air-conditioning system which aids in the separation of the customers from the outside world. There are few windows save for the skylights which are not advisable in a tropical country because of the scorching sun and the heavy rain that may cause leaks -- the lack of windows being another mall design staple to remove the concerns of the outside world and focus the customers' attentions on the hundreds of retail outlets.

What is apparent in the design is that SM Mall of Asia is not really an architecture that is uniquely Asian, or even Filipino, but rather an SM that is distinct from the rest of the SMs. However, considering the design limitations in making a successful mall and the desire to create an international feel, it would be fair to say that SM Mall of Asia is unique enough to justify its grandiose name. Despite the idealist notion that places should speak of their locales, the reality is that SM is a business and its architectural design model has worked to forward its aims and has undeniably succeeded repeatedly.

On the Environmental Impacts of SM Mall of Asia

With all the fast-paced developments around us today, there exists a kind of social revolution that calls for a concrete response in saving ourselves from our own impacts to the environment. For architecture alone, such call is a pressing issue as 40% of all the environmental damage can be traced back to the booming construction industry. The concrete jungle of central business districts, and commercial complexes, shopping malls and the like stand as unfaltering evidences of both technological advancement and humanity’s increasing ecological footprint. For that, sustainability efforts in architecture, engineering, and planning arise and are being constantly pushed for to alleviate the dire condition of Mother Earth.

In this light, how can a carefully planned establishment as the Philippines’ largest and world’s third largest mall, the SM Mall of Asia has contributed to the built environment’s condition, implies an initiation of several perspectives towards ecologically responsive design.

Close to two million bags of cement used to build it and 44,000 gallons of paint consumed, it also has 1.9 million floor tiles installed in it – so described, the SM Mall of Asia has a lot more ecological impact than that related to its constructional composition. Its mechanical system is perceivably of centralized mechanical ventilation such that with its kilometric scale, environmental effects are just as much complicated.  Though the design have elements of walk-able landscapes encouraging courtyard passive cooling and natural lighting, the entire development sits on a coastal land area reclaimed whose preceding environments have been  altered drastically for capitalistic potentials. Huge developments similar to this case nowadays are expected to have sustainability initiatives. Some even apply for accreditation from LEED, BERDE, and similar distinctions that practice energy-efficiency methods even at the onset of construction.  For SM MoA, building construction follows conventional-contemporary framework that are not practically at par with the rising crusade.

However, the SM group or chain of malls takes pride of public-known awards like the PCCI Excellence in Economy and Ecology Award in 2009. This particular distinction credits their outstanding efforts in waste management, water conservation, and air quality efficiency among others.

But what are they there for if the truest essence of ecologically-responsive design is not directly felt? SM MoA may be well-maintained but just the fact that the facility operates posing a huge impact to the environment is a critical consideration for the future’s welfare. On a lower scale even, the strolling grounds have little or no trash cans to be used, so some wastes people accumulate welcome you besides the mall’s iconic globe.

It is not only about the future effect of the mall as a melting pot of Filipino culture in the environmental crusade, but the reflection of what people patronize amidst a pressing issue of their generation. It is not only about looking good, but feeling good, and knowing that what one enjoys, as a cultural commercial hub can be guilt free from the larger picture that is, the worsening state of Mother Earth.

Beyond All the Noise: Refining Sensibilities in Public Architecture

It is quite difficult pinpointing the purpose and potential of architecture beyond aesthetics to a majority. More often than not, an architecture student in the Philippines will encounter questions such as, “In what style (of architecture) do you do?” “What do you there, (just) draw?” and other questions go on. These are forgivable in relation to the context or circumstance from which they are asked from. Communicating sensibilities and the derived preferences to one’s surroundings cannot be particularly expected from most of a still-progressing country. A bountiful number are happy simply having a house and lot to live in. But what of those who have the power to manipulate the surroundings of a place, particularly the Metro? Did they perhaps consider the possibilities of the different roles architecture does play in our society?

This piece would like to answer such a question by placing a magnifying glass above the overwhelming grounds of SM Mall of Asia – zooming into, particularly, its concert grounds and the venue called “centerstage” in which international corporate functions may be held. Such would particularly be a curious case due to its scale, its market, and the fact that such places would be catering to the world-known interest characteristic to Filipinos: the art of performing or music in general. How would the venue which offers the largest capacity in terms of market for such events look like? How would the people of the creators of the karaoke determine its space?

SM Mall of Asia is owned by SM Prime Holdings. It is located at the very southern end of C-4 or Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue. Such a position in the city enables permeability as it is reachable by all types of transportation available in the metro – the MRT, buses, jeepneys, and vehicles. Its area is meant to cater to greater than the typical two kilometer radius planned cachment market for commercial areas, especially with its size and people carrier capacity taken into consideration. Its conception had been done with the vision of creating the largest mall in Asia; however, it now presently is known to be the second largest within the Philippines. Strangely, it has been dwarfed by the final product of SM North Edsa located in Quezon City. SM Prime Holdings boasts to “have it all for you” and indeed in a crazily hastened pace with the simultaneous planning and erection of a multitude of other projects. Due to its scale and footprint on a myriad of cities, its presence is a formidable and influential force. Its characteristic box-like image or façade may possibly become the visual definition of a mall for those unexposed to other forms of commercial areas of such a scale.

As a form of public architecture, it carries with it the potential to influence Filipino culture and thinking. Hellman words the relevance in architecture finding reason for it specifically as it is a form of art when he said, “architecture, being art, communicates… and like art, it can be disturbing, inspiring, alienating, transcending… depending on the goals, conscious or unconscious, of the people who instigate and design it.” Such does undermine a political perspective into its conceptualization; this was especially used by those in power or those who craved it. Adolf Hitler saw this possibly function of architecture as he claims it to be “stone documents… an expression of power of the nation.”

Every single physical element of architecture has a corresponding anthropomorphic meaning to those exposed to it. It would be easier for architects, as De Botton mentions in his work, Architecture of Happiness, to have a certain guide which gives forms to its corresponding meanings or intentions that it can render to those it serves. Alas, the diversity of the context from which the character and thinking of people are formed, is an indomitable force that cannot be reckoned with. Of course, there are other considerations in the interpretation and analysis of physical and visual elements which also goes against such an invention. Such leaves architects to rely on the lasting impression their structures may have on its people, that is, if they were to use architecture as a symbol of intention, an artwork that is capable of speaking, eliciting reaction and influence on people.

The experience of architecture and what potential it has in manifesting a certain ideal will rely on the elements which create an impression on a lay person. Here, a lay person shall be the term used for those who are not sensitive to architecture or the power of semiotics in its design. The venue known as CenterStage and the SM MOA concert grounds will be considered as these cater to interesting participants: audience capacity of 70,000 as the highest number recorded for the concert grounds, with 995 accomodation for CenterStage. It is a recommended location thus for international guests and artists. For those attending events in these areas, architecture does not seem particularly at a focus here wherein it can be used as a means of reinforcing identity or an idea. The elements of architecture taken into consideration here, are those which have left obvious impressions on guests such as the stage, the lighting display, the performance of its sound system, accessibility as well as the area in which the guest would be seated or standing by.

The experiences which I have gained in these areas had been in attendance of the David Cook, David Archuleta and the Black Eyed Peas concert held at the outdoor grounds and the Green Global Concepts, an international symposium hosted by Archinet and the University of Santo Tomas last 2011.

Concerts and pedagogical areas are venues in which inspiration, as well as a sharing of interest takes place. Indeed, both venues did serve its function in accommodating a plentitude. But if one were to think towards the details of the experience for the concert grounds, all would particularly agree how different and relevant seating matters when attending concerts. Its capacity of 70,000 strong hold located on the SMX side is too much, as it divides the spaces so far back linearly away from stage.

Despite the presence of two wide-screen, approximately 9 meter high and 12 meter wide screens on either side of the stage set-up, those end up seating on the silver set-up area can barely see a thing (with the following scale which follows large-amount  to lower-amount corresponding to the nearness to the stage: VIP A&B, Gold, Silver, Bronze). Grounds are located in areas with sidewalks, trees, and different levels of grounding making it very difficult for ease and safety of passage especially within a crowd. Having VIP passes do not ensure seating (on monobloc chairs), depending on the type of concert. Albeit, that the area is more level and safe, as it is on a grassy plain. No other shelter is provided in case of the absence of clear skies. According to announcements made for other concerts, if in case the weather is rainy, the entire venue will have to be transferred to the SMX Convention Center on its side.

Lights and sounds vary depending upon the concert, but access to the grounds are always located on the side closest to the SMX area for convenience of those travelling from the road and the mall. On the other side of the grounds does lie the bay area where there are two fountains and some landscaping that may be enjoyed if one decides to go earlier in the afternoon the area before attending the concerts which are usually scheduled in the evening. Though these are elements incomparable to the sculptural and sensual titanium façade of the Walt Disney Concert Hall or perhaps the light show evidently emanating from the LA Staple Center even from afar – all mentioned elements which have been recorded in passing memory are key factors in manipulating experience.  As public architecture, these possess a greater potential in encompassing ideas, reinforcing concepts and experiences. If one were to meet one’s idol in the music world, would it be wonderful to remember doing so tiptoe-ing and stepping on another foot while clinging onto the side of a fence? It is as well, commonplace that in concerts planned in Manila whether in this location or in the Araneta Coliseum, the guests can wait up to an hour or more before the awaited artist makes the grand entrance. Was this perhaps taken into consideration in its design?

Public architecture, particularly in the form of venues which cater to entertainment or of places which house the interests of the people, can speak so much. The blaring and visually liquid impression which Broadway at New York leaves the impression of the glitz, glamour and the reverberating statement “You have arrived”, likewise to how some may find profound sense of resilience, determination and perseverance in the creeping ivy in one’s backyard wall or on the facades of an ivy league school. These can also serve as political and economical solutions as likewise the past generation has observed the “Bilbao Effect” caused by the Bilbao Guggenheim created by Gehry for its city image. SM Mall of Asia’s size obviously draws attention, and boasts of its amenities. But are these worth being so proud of when it comes to its concert grounds and international conference area? These cannot possibly considered innovative or in any way leading towards discovering new experiences for these activities in contrary to the SM Prime Holdings vision.

What we see or are exposed to is not the end all of how things can be. Architecture serves as a visual record of culture. Despite the very dynamic forms in which our Filipino culture evolves into, the sensibility of a Filipino lay person and architect can sometimes be lacking. This as well speaks of one’s open-mindedness and imagination. SM Mall of Asia will be opening its SM Mall of Asia Arena wherein Lady Gaga will grace its halls for its first due performance this May 2012. Would it be a better version of what SM Prime Holdings as currently offered avid music-lovers and academicians? We shall find out.

Malls and the Culture of Malling in the Philippines

The typical meaning of a mall for people is a building that contains a complex of shops that represents merchandisers, with interconnecting pathways to enable the visitors to walk from one unit to another and a parking lot for the customers who will ride their cars to reach the mall. Different stores every floor, a lot of restaurants to choose from where the people may eat and a lot of stores to buy clothes from. Malls also include stores where you can buy school materials, furniture, electronics, foods and grooming products at the supermarket and many more which the stores near your place does not have.

407,000 square-meters. The Philippines’ largest and world’s third largest mall. This is the SM Mall of Asia or MOA as we Filipinos call it. From regular SM Super Malls to SM Mega Mall to SM Mall of Asia, it’s sort of ironic that a third world country like the Philippines holds one of the world’s largest malls and probably the most enthusiastic mallers in the world. We are a developing country yet we have more shopping centers than of those highly developed ones. Glorietta and Ayala Malls caters the upper class and SM caters the middle and lower classes. As Conde (2009) describes the Philippines being a “mall nation” he says, “Malls serve as cultural centers in a nation where many live on less than $2 a day.”             

Malls to the Filipinos are like museums to the Europeans. Filipinos are more fascinated rather addicted to “malling” rather than visiting museums and rediscovering their histories. Filipinos are able to isolate themselves from the opposite realities of society the mall presents. The mall became a social status and at present, in what mall you are shopping in, ranks your social status. Maybe that brings the so-called “malling experience”

Malls in the Philippines these days are no longer for shopping primarily. We asked the people why they were in moa that day and the answers we got were to: “Gala”, spend time with family, to “Pasyal-Pasyal” and “Palamig”, to eat, to bond with friends and date. It’s a place for leisure and entertainment. Or for some people, the tropical climate of our country with the heat magnified by the summer season leaves some of us with no choice to run to these malls. The mall simply provides them a venue to bond and be with each other. Having malls of this size also seem very practical to us. Just go to the mall and everything is walking distance and within our reach. In fact, the first thing most students think of when planning a gimmick is “Saang mall tayo?”

Malls have also been a tool in showcasing Filipino traditional cultures since when there are special occasions in some provincial malls like their festivals; the malls also participate in it by decorating themes that are related to the festivity of the locality where the mall is situated. For example, in SM Baguio, during Panagbenga, there are many decorations inside the mall showcasing major themes in the festival like flowers, strawberries, etc. “Kultura,” one of the boutiques in SM Mall of Asia and other SM malls also showcase some of the traditions of the Filipinos by selling t-shirts, mugs, decorations having some traditional picture or themes printed or engraved in it.

MOA has this different structure which, as we observe it, affects the behavior of people differently compared to the typical malls in the metro. For example, in between its buildings, Mall of Asia has these open spaces where people can chill out while having snack. In a typical mall, the places to rest were the food court, the restroom, or the vacant seats in the department store where shoe buyers would be seated. Maybe it has been anticipated that since the place is large, there must be a place where people could rest after a tiring day of walking. Convenience is brought to the people.

This mall is also a melting pot of people from different levels of society. It’s a place where the rich and not-so-rich share common ground. You may get lost in the huge space but you won’t feel out of place. For SM Mall of Asia, there are those international stores that offer international brands of clothing, jewelries and other luxury items that only those who are part of the high-class customers can afford. One example here are the coffee shops, Coffee shops became mainstream places to pass idle time for our generation and most people in my age bracket would have at least one coffee shop experience. The prices of coffee shop products are not for the general population and that serves as one of the criteria that reserved these food establishments only for those who have the money to spend. Another example, although it doesn’t just cater high class people but also those who are in the middle, In the ice cream parlor, which I judged to be western inspired, the customers were more often foreigners than Filipinos. It can be construed in this particular type of food establishment that it caters more to the westerners mainly because it is their brand and they have a particular taste for their food, how it is prepared and the general culture in which food is served and consumed inside that particular restaurant. The foreigners might have felt a certain affinity for the place, because even the interior design of the restaurant was rodeo/Wild Wild West themed. And also some Filipino cuisine restaurant where most of the time a large Filipino family, the extended one, so it may be composed of six to ten members per table, are the customers. It is very common in these occasions for the restaurants to adjust their tables to accommodate the large group.

But there are also local stores that cater to middle-class customers with reasonably priced items. Like fast food chains, in the fast food restaurant, the customers were of a wider range. The restaurant was full, especially at the particular time when we observed—lunchtime. Customers from different walks of life come and go in the fast food restaurant. There were families, groups, couples and those who are alone. There were Filipinos and foreigners. There were elderly people and youngsters.  Fast food restaurants are for general patronage. They were designed to cater to everybody, there’s always something that a fast food restaurant that would please a certain customer.

In some cases that we believe there is, people spend their time in non-sense window shopping, pretending to be of higher class rather than finding jobs. “Yumayaman lalo ang mga mayayaman at naghihirap ng tuluyan ang mga mahihirap ng dahil sa pangangarap.”

Always spending time in this type of environment may also foster feelings of discontent. Certainly an intent in the malls that advertise “mall walks” is that in browsing past the storefronts a desire will rouse to want something or more bluntly create a discontent for that which you already have. Moreover, it feeds our compulsion. As sociologist Maria Rowena SA Briones stated, “The mall slogan 'We’ve got it all for you',” which the SM mall chain uses, “gives the impression that when you go to a mall, everything is easy and fanciful. (Conde 2009)                

On a bigger scale, SM Mall of Asia revolves around some principles of these struggles for power through capitalism, competition, and neo-colonialism by the force of globalization.

It is like a small society that is structured as a building – the mall owner (Henry Sy) being the top of the hierarchical political structure of the mall society and the customers being the people and the different boutiques/shops being the departments of the mall bureaucracy. There are the policemen that focuses on the mall security, there are also places for baby-sitting, breastfeeding for mothers, sight-seeings, etc. It is like the concept of the Panopticon for almost all of the places in the mall have CCTV cameras that records and watches every actions of its customers.

The economic importance of malls is obvious. It is evident that SM Mall of Asia and other malls employ hundreds of Filipinos (its salesmen and salesladies, cargomen, janitors, etc). On the other hand, It is an apparent ideology that SM Mall of Asia or any of SM Corporations’ branches pursues Capitalism. The latest controversy that went viral on the news was the clearing down of 182 Baguio Pine trees. He eyed on 182 Pine Trees to be turned into a parking lot extending SM Baguio. The society demands for the proper discretionary measure which was to leave the Pine trees still deeply rooted. The market of SM Baguio encouraged innovation in the form of new products and better production process.

Giant food chains versus weakling food chains, branded apparels over locally made shirts, and Jeepneys over buses or even co-jeepneys for commuters. Competition is present on the four corners of the mall. This competition aims for greater pull of customers or purchasers using different marketization techniques. The Philippines practices a free market society wherein government intervention is limited only to some tax, waste, and other regulations based on Constitutional laws. As we (the class) roamed around the mall, stores or retail outlets are mostly franchises from abroad or caters to the mid-to-high class of the society. The concept of neo-colonialism and globalization enters the scene. Globalization affects our preferences and choices in life. Market of globalization has entered the arena because of the goal to promote healthy competition for the benefit of accumulating wealth. But industries that are weak namely our local products are being thrashed aside by the imported products which caused a rapid decline of our nation's industry.

With today’s dynamic changes brought about by these innovations it also somehow serves as a catalyst for the people to be driven to a strongly materialistic lifestyle.

Walking around the Mall of Asia one can’t help but think that every mall is indeed not just another establishment with fancy stores selling fancy stuff and all that but every mall is to be considered as the modern cathedrals of consumerism. In contrary to what people of the past do whenever problems arise or whenever depressing situations come up, people of our modern time tend to substitute churches with malls, prayers with shopping, and deities with aesthetic superficial images of perfection. In times of depression or solitude, people are urged to shop. In times of contentment and pleasure, they are urged to go celebrate and be the big consumers as they are. For many years this has been how people cope up with life, by shopping. Like the traditional notion of religion, everyone is free to choose anything he/she wanted and after achieving self-fulfillment, like a old TV set, discards it.

Because of consumerism, the idea of “holy” and “sacred” for consumers are the brands of items that they own. In Sigmund Freud’s book The Future of an Illusion, he considers religion as a defense mechanism for everyday life. It becomes a defense mechanism for the consumers to shop and shop so they will be able to avoid and forget their loneliness and life’s frustrations. In other’s defense, they consider shopping as something that it therapeutic or something that calms their moods and soothes their nerves but in some cases due to the intense desire of entirely abandoning the reality that is life some consumers get lost and turn into shopaholics.

Malls are structures of illusions. They provide people with uncertain present see, feel, hear and experience the grand and successful future. We see malls as structures of advancement and success. A great example of this idea of escapism is what consumers get in aesthetic cinema that depicts the picturesque world of the alternative.  It’s like an escape for the consumers from their hard lives to see these actors in their perfect world, with their perfect lines, and their perfect lives. In this case, Ludwig Feuerbach’s idea of how people perceive their gods to be their “perfect projection” is the same as to how the consumers or the movie goers feel about the actors in the movie. Consumerism is now the modern religion and the market as the God.

In conclusion, we have observed five factors present in the culture of malling, namely: leisure, escapism, social interaction, social status and of course capitalism. As stated above, one of the most sought after when going to a mall is the leisure, whatever pleasure or entertainment it gives to the person. Malls have become the “parks” of our generation. It has been a source of escape to some people who for a moment wanted to forget what has been happening in reality. Some people might call this distressing, treating yourself for a nice movie or other things you find distressing.

On social interaction, it is possible that “MOA” as a term is associated with convenience, experience, and family. This is how people defined MOA all over the years, and such consciousness has been echoed through social media or by word of mouth. When you hear the term MOA, you might associate different properties that would give you a definition of the term. The definition, however, is dynamic and is relative to our experience with the term.

Another thing, using Sikolohiyang Pilipino as a perspective, one of the core theories lies on the notion of kapwa as the central value inherent to all Filipino people. As defined, kapwa is the shared identity of self & other, the notion that a part of your identity relies on what is not you – that is, what others are. This is regarded as the core value of SP on the basis that it serves as a guide for Filipinos to base their social interactions and cognitive processes on.

First, it seems that social interaction between strangers arises when such an interaction could benefit one party. Taking one side’s point of view, there was benefit obtained from asking someone directions (one would know where to go next). For the other party, he/she would have something to gain from another person moving out of their way as he/she takes a picture (or rather, they would not have to take the picture again in the event that the passing party was caught in the picture as well).

Second, it seems that such interactions are very limited in time and duration. Actually talking to a stranger, on average, took only less than ten seconds to finish. An exception to this would be cases wherein the one person was asking for directions from another person, which usually took longer.

Malls have also become a status symbol, it maybe subtle because technically anyone could go there. But there are establishments that are specifically for the rich, especially when we pertain to prices of goods, whatever goods there are. Most of the time, one look at the tag price and your off the store, if you know you can’t afford it. This is true for almost everything like restaurants, apparel stores, etc. but the most obvious one of them all is the skating rink. Most of the people, skating in the ice were obviously rich kids and some adults, and not to mention the price of that commodified experience.

Of course these are all visible observations what could really be seen, and what they want us to see. As social science student, we also see what they don’t want us to see, that behind these perfect and fascinating structures, capitalism prevails. The market principles of SM Corporation reflect their focus on profit-maximization and self-interest. Because of the capitalist behavior of those of managing SM, and their greed for a larger income, protests and boycotts are done by people; militant groups have criticized them for their unfair labor practices, encouraging excessive consumerism, catering mostly to the affluent, harming the poor by enticing them with things they can’t afford.

Nonetheless, there is nothing inherently wrong with malling. We all need to buy some stuff from time to time but what is wrong with what is happening to our society today is that we buy much more than what we need. We let consumerism take over us. Let us not forget that we are not the only people in this world and not all of us, enjoy the things that we enjoy, even on the basic things such as food. It is bad for us, for the environment, for the next generation, for everyone and for everything. It makes the world go around money and material things and that is never the point of existence. 

SM MOA and its Effect on SME's and other Surrounding Businesses in the Surrounding

SM Mall of Asia (MoA) has been around for 6 or so years. Dubbed as the largest shopping establishment in the Philippines, Asia even, and third in the world when it was completed, it has become a site for almost any kind of activity: shopping, dining, family and individual fun and entertainment. Housing over at least 1000 shops and sites and continually changing, ranging from everything anyone needs, SM MoA proudly boasts that they truly “Got it all for you.” But with everything here, what about existing establishments in the area?

MoA stands at the southern tip of EDSA and parallel to both Roxas Boulevard and Taft Avenue. These are the sites of some once major sites in the Philippines: Cubao, Quiapo, Baclaran, The National Museum, PICC, CCP, the World Trade Center, and Phil Trade Center, to say a few. These landmarks house few of the Philippines’ greatest and historic artifacts and some of the cheapest bargains inside the metro. Sadly, the local market for these sites have drastically decreased since the gates of the MoA complex opened. We now often hear schools arranging field trips to MoA and the kids just loving the idea. Has the mall replaced our national treasures?

To cite a few, the National Museum and Museong Pambata are now rarely seen in itineraries of students. MoA’s Nido Fortified Science Discovery Center and of course other modern day science museums are slowly replacing the home of our national heritages, Spolarium and the Manunggul Jar among other national heritages. The history of our nation is now slowly being forgotten and replaced my modern science in which only few of our own Filipino inventors are recognized.

MoA’s IMAX Theater and its other cinemas, like in other malls in our country, have almost already killed the small movie theatres in the manila area. The mall’s Hypermarket also have seen the downfall of some wet markets and some smalltime supermarkets in the metro though this has not yet been fully seen in Baclaran and Quiapo, Manila’s discount capitals. Good for them, though with the rise of sales and discount stores inside the mall, selling originals not knockoffs, some people now tend to go to these stores rather than risk being pick-pocketed or snatched.

Other areas that have been affected are the World Trade and Phil Trade Centers, and PICC. With the rise of MoA’s SMX, the three have seen less and less conventions and trade shows. Also the nearby Star City is currently slowly losing some of its customers since MoA added some carnival rides, one of which is now the Philippines largest ferris wheel surpassing Enchanted Kingdom’s, and other sport and outdoor activities by the bay. MoA offers both leisure plus site seeing in one minus the risk since they boast that their rides are new.

MoA, in its 6 more or less years, has also seen a lot of events and concerts, local and foreign artists alike. Because of this, CCP and Cubao’s Smart Araneta Coliseum (Big Dome) have seen fewer concerts and events. Now with the upcoming opening of The Arena even sporting events may also be affected bringing the possible downfall of the Big Dome, Cuneta Astrodome and other Sports complexes.

Yes, SM Mall of Asia does have it all for us, but at what cost? Is the aircon and free wi-fi connection they give nowadays much important than our own history and national treasures? The future of the establishments around MoA is certainly unsure. Let’s just hope that it will never come the time that we will call Manila, SM City, Philippines since they already got everything a city needs.

The SM Mall of Asia as the Center of Cultural and Shopping Spree

Shopping is just one of the options from a variety of services that Philippine malls can offer. To many Filipinos, the mall is not only a public space for commercial purposes such as food courts, restaurants, cinemas, entertainment venue, sports and fitness but in addition it became a venue for different cultural activities.

Here in the SM Mall of Asia, the music hall is one of the places where in you can indulge sightseeing on the seaside and a large Ferris wheel, typically a unique experience of enjoyment while listening to the musical concerts. It was located at the Level 1 entertainment section facing the Manila bay. But unfortunately there was no scheduled concert on my visit last Saturday.

Several different Asian-culture restaurants may be found on the entertainment hall's second level. I have sampled the Thai cuisine at Jatujak restaurant. I especially liked their version of "yom yum" which is made with thick coconut milk.

If you're looking for Filipino ethnic products, ranging from musical instruments to clothing, textiles, accessories - "Kultura Filipino" offers a variety of indigenous products of our country.

While whiling my time away, I walked around the main mall of MOA looking at the different clothes, shoes, and things of the sort. I then noticed the newly opened Japanese branded store, "Uniqlo". The printed t-shirt shows the image of the Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Philippine popaular culture.

The mall in the Philippines exercises an important influence on the development of our culture by offering different local products, while at the same time introducing the imported products of our neighboring countries from Asia and other parts of the globe ranging from food to clothes. Thus, the malls have become our parks and squares customized to showcase our new economic purchasing power box commercially our cultural custom and traditions. 


· Appleyard, Brian. “Shopping around for salvation” Obtained from:
·   Conde, C. (2009) Mall nation. Global Post. Retrieved May 19, 2012 from                   ,1
·         Feuerbach, Ludwig. “The Essence of Christianity.” 1841.
·         Freud, Sigmund. “The Future of an Illusion.” 1927.
·        Weber, S. (2011) The tyranny of the discontent. SM Mall of Asia Website. Retrieved May 18, 2012 from
·         Hale, Jonathan. The Old Way of Seeing. New York: Houghtin Mifflin Company, 1994.

Photos from:
·         Nikko Ner