Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barton Creek Square Observations

The following observations were made on September 14, 2008 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. between the KL02 and KL01 floor spaces on the lower level of Barton Creek Square mall.

People mostly walk on the right side and lone women are the fastest walkers. Young men are often found in groups of two.

An estimated 5% of people carry bottled water and/or eat while walking, and about 60% were overweight, but none morbidly so.

Within half an hour, at least 4 people passed by the same spot headed in the same direction as they were half an hour before.

Many families have strollers but there is only one elevator, near the food court.

Benches occasionally have synthetic cushions that are easily removable by undoing the velcro straps that tie it to the bench. They are made for adults — toddlers stand or sit on the ground. Benches were used for a teenage couple to make out on, but most seemed to use it as a platform to eat, drink and sit on. On the second floor, where there are relatively few benches, people lean over the railings and watch the shoppers below.

The second floor is carpeted with a short, hardy turf. Two young girls made do without the abundant first floor benches and sat down on the turf, huddled against a railing while eating a boxed pastry with white plastic forks.

According to one mall employee, the triangular lights mounted on the second floor's edge are turned on when the sun has set, around 7-8 p.m. depending on the time of year. Every so often there is an electrical socket mounted next to them that would be invisible to anyone within arms' reach of it.

The volume of space enclosed and the lack of sound dampening surfaces creates a constant din made up of indecipherable conversations, store speakers emitting music, the crinkling of bags and the squeaking of shoes.

The predominant mall color, the color of the ceilings and tallest walls, is white. Columns, bare wall patches on the bottom floor and tiles are comprised of a variety of grays, browns and other neutral colors. As a result, no bare structural features are visible.

The tile-covered lower floors have varying patterns, colors and sizes but are uniformly free of dust or stains. Live plants are dispersed throughout the mall, but they are concentrated near sitting areas, anchoring benches in the medians or obscuring the bottoms of stairwells. The plants also house a variety of insects, including flies, cockroaches, and crickets.

Square skylights are the best indicator of the time of day. They are arranged in no discernible pattern. Even in the middle of the day, recessed lights five feet from the ceiling cast light back up at the skylights but the light is almost entirely drowned out by the sunlight streaming in.

The mall encloses a volume of space greater than is necessary for its essential functions. For example, one bathroom requires a 100 foot trek down a path through a narrow hallway to reach the male/female rooms and poor ventilation creates a foul odor that permeates the entire path. Perhaps as a respite from this journey, framed faux-antique prints of Roman vases and columns line the path and directly outside the doors that lead to the male and female restrooms is a lounge with three black leather chairs and a metal lamp on a side table.

Every store has a unique façade and lighting system — as in the mall space, no structural elements are left bare and everything is covered in plaster, stone, metal, wood or glass. Approximately 80% of the storefront walls facing the main walking areas are either glass or open. Several stores incorporated wooden or metal fixed shutters as a part of their facade. Most storefront logos are mounted at least 10 feet above ground level. Most storefront sign letters are embossed or raised off their mounts to give them the appearance of or actual three-dimensionality. Single right or left footed shoes are displayed outside of shoe stores on short racks. One store, The Gift Solution, displays its wares in glass, metal-hinged boxes stacked against its windows.

Roughly half of all stores displayed printed advertisements of attractive young individuals anywhere from 1.5 to 4 times larger than life. When the subject is a woman, the face is always showing, but not always when the subject is a man.

Anyone who wishes may watch other people pay $12 to get a 15 minute massage by an obese middle-aged man of asian descent who does most of his communicating with gestural hand movements.

Almost all the kiosks are identical, suggesting they are owned and rented out by the mall. About 8 feet off the ground and connected with metal poles to each kiosk is a cantilevered plane of glass ringed by lights embedded in wood. The lights make the usually shiny metal wares sparkle and gleam to passers-by. There are few chairs for the workers, who, one worker told me, may work a six hour shift without sitting. Often they will sit on the counters themselves. An empty kiosk with drawers made out of plywood and covered in a faux wood veneer contained: the key to the drawers and cabinets, two business cards, one for a hypnotist and another for a hair stylist, a brass disk two inches in diameter, bits of string, two metal bracket clamps and a piece of plastic. Its glass shelves are removable.

A curious white girl from a Godiva chocolate stand/kiosk approached me and sat down next to me on a bench. She said she hated having to cover the kiosk with a tarp every night and suspects the majority of patrons come to the mall to see movies, because directions to the theater is the most common question she is asked. She mentioned a co-worker's suggestion that Godiva save money by installing a more energy efficient refrigerator, but apparently they refused. Before I left she gave me a small gold bag filled with a variety of chocolates, one of them shaped like a clam with a large, soft chocolate pearl inside.

At another kiosk, a young Israeli woman held a tray of colorful translucent strips of soap from Israel and offered them to passers-by. A small screen played a short film depicting a satellite zoom in on the Red Sea area and interviews with the soap's creator. I told the woman they looked tasty and she said many people, mostly children, had tried to eat them. When a young blond girl came to sample one I suggested she eat it, but she smiled knowingly and took it without a word. I smelled each one and selected one with a cucumber scent, which she daintily wrapped in a napkin for me to take home.

Yet another kiosk was a platform for the display of approximately 100 similarly styled sunglasses that varied mainly in color. The man selling them was not wearing a pair.

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