This Immersive Winter Wonderland Is Light Years Beyond Your Typical Holiday Mall Display

Dynamic 'Wishing Forest' stresses inclusivity and giving

Where can you find an immersive alternative to hyper-commercialized holiday attractions? At the mall, of course!

Well, at two malls, actually—the SoNo Collection in Norwalk, Conn., and the Natick Mall outside Boston—where Brookfield Properties has teamed up with creative agency Two Things and experiential shop Red Paper Heart to create "Wishing Forests" for the festive season. 

As you'll see in the clip below, these artfully designed, interactive sculpture gardens boast impressive scale, with 7,000 square feet divided into different "groves" of high-tech trees and bells that combine elements of fantasy, play and community connection. 

The Wishing Forest | Holiday Interactive Experience 2019

"Brookfield came to us with a challenge," Lizzy Sonenfeld, principal and creative director at Two Things, tell Muse. "Holiday experiences at retail, and specifically in malls, are dated and primarily driven by decor and Santa photography. They asked us what could we create that would drive engagement and buzz in an inclusive way." 

After months of research, the team decided to "to treat this experience as public space, and create an interactive experience for the customer, driven by the desire to engage and connect people with their families and communities, rather than pushing photos on Santa's lap," Sonenfeld says. 

Creating "a non-denominational experience was something Brookfield and Two Things aligned on early in the process," she says. "The feeling of a forest naturally evokes an image of winter, but also the theme of play. We intentionally leaned away from a stark, white, cold space, and towards something playful and joyful and full of life that's both modern and familiar."

Click to enlarge the following photos of the installation: 

Forest elements include:

—A Wishing Tree that lets visitors place wishes inside pinecone ornaments and send them zipping through a huge LED chandelier and lighting display. Folks get to keep their ornaments along with downloadable photos of the experience. (There's precedent here, as "Wish Trees"—real trees with wishes wrapped around their branches—have been a thing for years.)

—The Holiday Bells Grove, with a 24-foot central bell (among others) and 1.6 million LED filaments. Movement unlocks a symphony of light and sound that grows increasingly layered and complex as more folks join in.

—The Whispering Wishes Grove, where you tell your hopes and dreams to sound-capture trees, which generate tones and rhythms. 
—The Giving Grove, which lets users donate to local charities (such as Second Chance Animal Services and the Ashland High School Make-A-Wish Club) via coin-operated music boxes, gumball machines and other attractions.

—The Memory Grove, with a giant gift-box motif and, for traditionalists, Santa Claus. 

"We wanted to make sure what we did would appeal to kids, teenagers and adults, families and young single professionals—which means it has to be pretty easy to turn on or make work, but also be intriguing for everyone," Sonenfeld says. "We designed for multiple senses—sight, sound, touch. Engaging multiple senses increases the emotional and brand impact of an experience, but also creates a more inclusive experience." 

In some ways, the Wishing Forest resembles Chick-fil-A's holiday "Time Shop" pop-up, which encourages visitors to slow down and enjoy various activities with family and friends. The forest also follows the trend of artsy conceptual marketing embraced by many brands of late, including Legacy Union, Epson, Bombay Sapphire, Havaianas and Lincoln, among others.

Brookfield, of course, has a wish of its own: to drive traffic to its 170-plus mall properties nationwide in an age of pervasive digital commerce. Mall shopping declined almost 8 percent last year across all demographics, per Deloitte. Increasingly, malls are evolving to survive, recasting themselves as "lifestyle hubs" with fitness studios, trendy eateries, microbreweries, performance spaces and special events. The Wishing Forest represents a yuletide variation on that theme. 

"The Wishing Forest is all about shifting the consumer holiday experience and demonstrating that brick-and-mortar shopping is alive and well," says Brookfield chief marketer Michelle Snyder.

So, irony grows amid those LED-powered trees, as their broader purpose is to lure folks to a place where they can, in fact, partake of a commercialized holiday season. Still and all, the forest puts a grand spin on traditional themes and adds some extra value.

Brookfield and Two Things plan to study the results from this dual-location launch and scale up the experience across other properties in the future.

"The primary goal of this project is to enhance the relationship between the mall and its customers," Sonenfeld says. "At the end of the day, we'll care the most about which groves gave people the most joy."

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