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The Fall and Rise of the British Mall

Part 1 Dissertation 2000
Nick Jewell
Oxford Brookes University Oxford | UK
Of all modern building types, the shopping mall is the one that is most prone to sensationalist statement. Yet despite all that has been written about malls, it would seem that architectural theory has had little success in penetrating below the surface of the phenomenon. As such, the mall has remained in a state of non-evolution over the course of its 50-year lifespan. This is a curious situation, and quite unlike other typologies that we take for granted in modern society, most of which have developed over centuries of trial and error. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to provide architecture with some critical tools and specific proposals to help to break the stasis in shopping mall design. What is proposed here is that the mall needs to be subjected to a rigourous process of experimentation and critical practice.

Implicit within the current manifestation of the shopping mall is the potential to realise a more complex social organism. Sadly, this potential is suppressed at the moment by a bludgeoning regime of programmatic violence that seeks to maintain the controlled values seen as key to the success of the mall. This study, by recourse to an analysis of British precedents such as the Trafford Centre and Bluewater, questions the validity of these values and the mechanisms of consumption which underlie them. The aim is to unravel the myths of the shopping mall in order to achieve a more accurate and productive understanding of the actual existential conditions. In conclusion, four design proposals are offered as a means to think ourselves beyond some of the problems found in British mall design at the moment.

Nick Jewell

Nick Jewell's substantial essay is the most rounded piece that I have yet read about shopping malls. It is not a subject that is usually handled well by architectural writers; the alternative tendencies are to sneer at the mall, or to praise it hysterically, or in most cases to ignore it completely.

And yet the importance of the shopping mall within contemporary consumer culture is enormous. What Nick does so expertly in his essay is to take a series of theoretical angles - drawn from psychology, space syntax, gender studies, etc - and then use them in a systematic fashion to dismantle the prejudices and ideological contructs that are embodied in the mall as a building type.

By focussing on British malls that Nick has visited and researched, such as Meadowhall, the Trafford Centre and Bluewater, the essay brings together a range of empirical data and equally fascinating insights into the design layout and visual iconography of shopping malls. It is a truly excellent piece in its totality, eminently publishable, and the final section which sets out some design alternatives to the mall is original and stimulating. For example, the idea of building a completely new underground line in London, to be called the Retail Line and paid for by the big stores which comprise its stations, is something that a smart developer really ought to look into.

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