Bringing It Back Home: the Urbanization of the British Shopping Mall as the West goes East
RIBA Research Trust Awards 2010
The objective of my research is the formation of a critical position by which the repositioning of the British shopping mall from a suburban to an urban situation can be understood.
Now widely discredited as the ‘slayer’ of the high street, the suburban shopping mall has been cast aside as western development ideals shift toward a new so-called ‘urban renaissance.’ Accordingly, many architects have focused their interest on Far Eastern models of urban complexity, drawn from the unprecedented urban expansion taking place in countries such as China, Singapore and Japan, as a means of delivering large-scale urban renewal. It is there that the shopping mall has become a cornerstone of a new urbanity. Moreover it represents a typological leap that is self-consciously different to its Western brethren, not least because it defines many aspects of what the modern Asian city now is.
Using Westfield in White City, the Westfield development at the 2012 Olympic site, the Liverpool 1 shopping centre and the redeveloped Bull Ring in Birmingham as UK case studies, I will draw attention to how the typology is evolving as a culturally hybrid proposition borne of insights drawn from its Eastern counterparts. Can this blurring of cultural lines unravel the layers of existential meaning embodied within the modern British mall to provide a different kind of language with which designers may engage with this problematic building type? Can the mall truly deliver city spaces that provide social equality for all, will it merely serve to entrench and deepen existing socio-cultural divides, or is the answer altogether more nuanced and complex? It is these timely questions which must be addressed as the ‘second coming’ of the shopping mall, re-branded under the banner of ‘urban regeneration,’ increasingly defines what happens in the centre of British cities today.
Nicholas Jewell is an Associate at Ben Adams Architects where he works on a number of design and research projects. He is a graduate of Oxford Brookes University, where he was awarded a RIBA Presidents Medals Dissertation Prize for his study on the suburban British shopping mall (2000) and has subsequently published a number of articles in academic and mainstream journals. He is currently a PhD candidate at Westminster University.
The Fall and Rise of the British Mall (p. 317 – 378, The Journal of Architecture, Volume 6, Winter 2001; Taylor and Francis; London, 2001)
Nicholas Jewell can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org