TRINOMA AND THE FILIPINO CULTURAL IDENTITY
an Architectural Critique by Andrea N. Pinawin
Trinoma has become one of the popular and most successful malls in Quezon City. It ranked 5th in WikiPilipinas’ Top 10 Malls in the Philippines and helped Ayala Malls get the top recognition under categories Design & Development and Marketing from the International Council of Shopping Centers last 2008 at the ICSC Asia Expo in Macau by winning a silver award for “offering a refreshing and rewarding shopping experience in northern Metro Manila” and for “outstanding design qualities and creativity in development” (globalnation.inquirer.net). Trinoma, no doubt, has captured the interest and gained the support of many customers. Indeed, Trinoma’s architecture captured the Filipino Cultural Identity.
According to Garnham (1985), the major components of identity include (1) Physical Features and Appearance, (2) Observable Activities and Functions, and (3) Meanings and Symbols. In order to substantiate the presence of cultural identity in the renowned mall, it shall be critiqued according to the three mentioned components. These aspects of the Trinoma mall shall be analyzed with due respect to the Filipinos and their perception of “malls”.
II. The Mall
A. Physical Features and Appearance
Triangle North of Manila, popularly known as Trinoma is a 3.5-billion shopping mall of the Ayalla Malls designed by Callison, the group of architects who designed Greenbelt, another Ayala Land Inc. project. This 13-hectare structure is located at the corner of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, North Avenue, and Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City. The building stands on what used to be the People’s Park, a project by former Mayor Brigido R. Simon, Jr. Trinoma has a total of six levels, four major and two minor ones, with a vast array of boutiques, restaurants, fast food chains, two main department stores, namely Landmark and Crossings, and a lot of flagship stores. It is accessible to different types of public transport such as the MRT and FX. It also provides enough parking spaces -namely the North Ave Parking Building with 4 floors, the Mindanao Ave Parking Building with 8 floors, and other parking spaces in open areas around the mall – for around 3,500 vehicles.
The exterior of Trinoma is like a concrete jungle; the aesthetics of its exterior is urban and contemporary yet the landscaping incorporated in the design gives a forest feel. Its façade displays a large wall with many glass windows and the lush garden covered with a trees and a lot of green. Many people consider the mall as an “Urban Oasis”. It has seven different water forms, including the so-called reverse waterfall which shoots upward ending with a pool at the Trinoma Park, an open space linked to the 3rd level. This park further enhanced the jungle feel with a variety of pools, ponds, and plants, along with different restaurants.
The interior of the mall is just as relaxing as the exterior. And still, it had the “Urban Oasis” idea. According to Cabana (2008), “Walking inside is like wandering in an urban jungle. The shops are arranged in curved paths rendering a sensuous eel, yet lacking consequently any direction.” Indeed, the arrangement of the paths may be considered confusing. Since the organization of the spaces is radial, the pathways stretch out from the center, which is the spacious activity center, to different entrances. Such pathways hardly connect to each other. However, this problem was addressed by the designers by providing large spaces and high ceilings. “Double loaded corridors enhance the grace of interminable window displays, but with the fear of getting lost; the fact that you can look to the distance through the in-between openings offers a sigh of relief,” wrote Cabana. The lighting, the columns with details, and plant materials in the interior add to the drama and comfort inside the building.
B. Observable Activities and Functions
The whole “jungle-like” element of the building is not just for the aesthetics but also provides function. There were plenty of areas around the building which were open and uncovered with roofs. The tall trees help provide shade to such open spaces, given that maximum shade is one solution to the tropical or hot humid climate, like that of the Philippines (Rapoport, 1969).
The mall provides not just for the great desire for shopping among Filipinos. The atrium or the activity center is located at the heart of the mall. It serves as a venue for concerts, fairs, and exhibits, providing a common ground for all the people to socialize. Also, for a better shopping experience, the designers divided the mall into “zones”. Such zones include the Teen, Sports, IT, Home, Wellness, and Kids Zones, all with different respective interior designs.
C. Meanings or Symbols
The concept of the mall is “story of a journey”. “It is a journey inspired by the daily adventures of every person walking through TriNoma’s doors. Its architectural design is a fusion of established and modern concepts, making it an exciting destination any day of the week,” says Javier Hernandez, general manager, as reported by Inquirer. This concept is achieved by connecting the interior of the building to its exterior. Unlike most shopping malls, its main entrances aren’t guarded with security checks so that the spaces flow and there is less emphasis on exterior and interior barriers (Cabana, 2008).
This journey may lead to different places around the building. However, based on personal observations, the final destination of this journey may be the atrium or the activity center. The story may actually be about persons coming from different entrances, all ending up at a common ground.
One noticeable characteristic of Trinoma is that it reaches out to a variety of customers from different social classes. Although the mall is said to be divided into zones, upon a couple of site visits and observations, one could say that the mall is also divided according to the social classes. Areas near the entrances to the parking buildings are fancier in design compared to the areas near the MRT station and public transport. For example, the Mindanao Lobby is lined with relatively expensive coffee shops. Its columns, wall decorations, and lighting are far more sophisticated than the area leading to the MRT station.
Areas lined with designer boutiques are less populated compared to the Landmark and the area leading to the exit to the FX terminal. If one enters from a car park, he or she would be welcomed by fancy ceiling lights and spacious pathways. On the other hand, someone entering from the MRT station may experience a more cluttered surrounding.
This division according to class is actually an advantage as it gives it a wider range of customers. The ones from the higher class don’t feel dismayed, and people from the middle or lower class don’t feel intimidated to enter. “The mall caters to both the high-end shoppers (SSI and other top brands are well represented) and the mass market, especially those riding the Mass Railway Transit Line-3 since TriNoma is the last stop,” wrote Burgos (2007).
III. Filipinos and Malls
Filipinos love malls. Greenlees (2008) wrote to The New York Times that ironically, even though the Philippines is one of the lowest ranked countries in the world on the United Nations human development index, it has four of the world’s eleven biggest shopping malls. In his article, he quoted from Teresita Sy who runs a company with investments in baking, real estate, and tourism: “Filipinos have a passion for shopping… We don’t have a lot of purchasing power, but we love to shop.” This only shows that shopping has become part of the identity of the Filipinos.
IV. Presence of Cultural Identity
Culural identity, from the word itself, is the characteristic of a particular group’s culture which gives it its identity or makes it unique from the rest. Cultural identity, as defined by Collier & Thomas(1988), is “a historically transmitted system of symbols and meanings, and norms”.
The love for shopping has become part of the Filipino culture throughout the ages. It truly separates the Filipinos from other nationalities because their appreciation for malls is of a different level, compared to other countries’. In fact, foreigners are surprised how successful malls are in the Philippines despite the known widespread poverty in the country. Filipinos just love malls. Even Malanes (2012) wrote to Inquirer that Filipinos prefer going to malls than visiting museums”.
Trinoma satisfies this love for shopping because its architecture expresses a strong identity. First, its physical aspects as a building address the needs of the Filipinos with respect to climate. The landscapes give the tropical feel. It is also located at the heart of Metro Manila, making it accessible to a large number of people. Second, even the functions of the interior give the “feel” of a jungle, connecting to the tropical exterior. It doesn’t necessary look as such but it feels as such. Lastly, its meaning and symbols depict a story; that of the whole community consisting of individuals from different classes meeting at one common ground. This shows that the Filipino society consists of people with different statuses. However, despite the differences of position in the social ladder, these people unite in a ground represented by the activity center. The mall reaches out to the masses and captures the Filipino spirit they have no matter which class they belong to. There, they unknowingly attain the equality and harmony with each other.
Trinoma is, indeed a successful shopping mall in Quezon City. it has received awards and titles, and was able to capture the interest of a variety of people because of its physical features, functions, and meanings connected to the perception of Filipinos to malls. Trinoma, indeed, is an architecture that expresses cultural identity.
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