Shopping malls get a lot of flack for the way they look and feel. Cynics cite malls as little more than “tributes to consumerism,” and even the most diehard shoppers occasionally find themselves drained coming home from the stores.
But, while they receive a lot of criticism, are malls a “failure?” I don’t think so. (And even I avoid them at all costs.)
Because whether we love them or love to hate them, malls exist for a reason: they serve a high-priority need, that being our desire to buy.
Not only that, but they do it precisely in the way that we need. (They have to – and this must be true – otherwise we would not go. And, as we know, we do.)
So, while we may quibble and criticize, the reality is: the mall has earned its stripes. And it developed like it did only because we wanted it to.
And while this development is often blamed on “greed,” it is not primarily the greed of developers, architects or politicians, as some want to think.
It was also our own.
Our consumerism grew ever-insatiable. The mall exploded in direct proportion.
The evolution of the mall as we know it began with the nation’s first: Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota. It was originally two stories with 800,000 sq. ft. of retail space.
It still stands today, now expanded to a modest 1,300,000 sq. ft.
In contrast, check out “Berjaya Times Square” in Malaysia, finished in 2003. With 7,500,000 sq ft of space, it is currently one of the largest malls in the world.
How far we have come.
We did not simply go along with these designs, though. And we were not truly entirely passive. On the contrary, we perpetuated the mall; we pushed for it and it was our demand that drove these developments. We always have the ability to make decisions, and we, collectively, made the mall what it is, for ourselves.
In a documentary on the American shopping mall, one critic asked, with regard to the typical shopper: “do they want to be consumers or citizens?!”
And to him I must say: “well… frankly, when it comes to the mall, we want to be consumers! So… let them eat cake!”
We want what we want. And in the case of the mall, it means a consumer destination and little else.
A mall is not architecturally “good” because it does not have to be.
It is the same reason that Twilight films are not really that great. They don’t need to be, because the fans don’t really care – they would see them either way.
Historically, the mall does not serve an “aesthetic” need because it serves a “consumerism” one. It is a direct reflection of our values and priorities – nothing more and nothing less.
Malls are changing “for the better,” over time. Most developments in the last five years or so have returned to an open-air concept. (In turn, interestingly enough, the largest mall in the world has been vacant since it opened it 2005.) But this only happens in response to our values. We have to clamor for these things.
When we are ready for something else, then something else – like the open-air concepts of recent years, like The Streets of Southglenn, in Colorado – will become the new norm.
For more on the mall, check this out