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Commercial Spaces

Canal City: The Anatomy of a Japanese Mega Mall

Major Attractions at Canal City

Major Attractions At Canal City

Canal City Hakata in the Japanese City of Fukuoka is not the largest shopping center in world but it is one of the most memorable.  When walking through the central corridor of Canal City, it is like walking through a land form. While there is a waterway running through the central corridor it is the shape of the walls as they undulate in and out like a canyon that have the greatest impact on the pedestrian experience. One thing I found ironic about the complex is that while it’s named Canal City the project has very little interaction with the canal it actually borders.

The development is one of the largest private developments in the history of Japan with a total cost of $1.4 billion. S

The development was built partially as a response to the city’s situation in the late 1980s when Fukuoka was trying to deal with a massive influx of people, the shopping district was floundering, and reports say that the city as a whole was suffering from a lack of community. Canal City has turned out to be a great success in terms of both commercial traffic and its effect on the surrounding area.  Records indicate that in its first year more than 16 million people visited the complex and sales exceeded $500 million.S The development has also spurred regeneration in the adjoining historic shopping arcade due to increased foot traffic.

Canal City is a mixed use development with a primarily commercial focus  and a number of cultural and entertainment functions as well.  The project was designed by Jerde and covers 9 acres with a total building area of 240,000 square meters.  There’s a 400 room luxury hotel,  and a 420 room business hotel.  There is a 13 screen  movie theater complex, a business center, gallery, the Fukuoka City Theater, and a number of large commercial stores tucked  into the complex. S


3D shot taken from google earth


What struck me most about Canal City during my visit, was that while the development has a number of big stores they do not monopolize the experience.  When walking through your standard North American shopping mall in the major stores are used as anchors at either end of the main shopping street and thus they tend to define the mall being both its beginning and end. This is done on purpose as a way to increase traffic between the anchors so that people will pass and by extension patronise the smaller stores located between along the mall’s main routes.  In the case of canal city most of the anchor stores are tucked away in a single Mega Store building at one end of the complex and are removed from the sight lines of the main street. Instead the complex is framed by things like that Fukuoka City theater, the water way running through the middle, the outdoor theater, and the two hotels. What generates foot traffic in Canal City is the architecture itself, the building is so interesting that you are compelled to experience all of it. In my case I happily spent about two hours walking around, not buying anything, (well I did stop at Wendy’s but I hadn’t had a real burger living in Korea for the previous six months) just experiencing.

The development brings its massive size down to a human scale through the creation of neighbourhoods, or unique districts within the project.  The waterway with its winding path through the middle of the development, and the curving walls of the structures that border the waterway create visual interest.  In some ways it appears that Jerde took a couple lessons from Alan Jacobs’ book ‘Great Streets,’ the central corridor has pleasant proportions that fit within the Japanese context, with upper story setbacks that allow sunlight to permeate, and open public square areas like ‘the sun stage’ that allow for places to linger and watch either your fellow pedestrians or the performances offered.

Canal City offers an example of how large mall complexes can be incorporated into a dense urban fabric and bring about positive results. Plus it offers a view of how much better a mall can look without acres of parking surrounding it. To experience Canal City for yourself find a Place to stay in Fukuoka.



6 Responses to “Canal City: The Anatomy of a Japanese Mega Mall”

  1. Requesting shopping mall and project brouchure

    Posted by Hiralal Khobragade | 26/05/2009, 6:42 am
  2. Sorry Hiralal we don’t have any materials on the mall but you can check out the washington hotel website at http://www.fukuoka-wh.com/ or the wiki page for further information.

    Posted by mrbarham | 27/05/2009, 8:44 pm
  3. I was there back in 1997 – very cool. I could scarcely believe it 3 years later when a Japanese developer contacted my firm (in Canada) to design them a “Western-style” mall. Surely this is SO much better a prototype than anything that we have.

    Posted by Robert | 23/03/2010, 1:57 pm
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