Let’s Go to the (Dead) Mall

Adam Rybak (AI-generated vapourwave mall art)

Last week I taught a seminar and workshop at the University of Glasgow’s Summer School: Urban Arcadia: Mythologies of the Mall. We explored how malls represent liminal spaces of urbanism and suburbia, public and private, the civic and surveillance. We reflected on the decline of malls in recent years, on the deadmalls archive project, on malls as institutions, infrastructures and emblematic locales of capitalism. I once wrote a phenomenology of my local mall, a shopping centre in Ayr, the site of teenage loitering, toil and trouble. I asked the students to write manifestos or plans towards new malls: public sites built into or out of a failing mall building. The more I write mall, the more I fall into it. The idea of plenitude. One student said malls are so prevalent in post-apocalyptic fiction because that’s where the resources are pooled. It’s only natural that when capital eats itself we go back to its crumbling temples to eat. Malls are for raiding, free-running, skating, squatting, paying disrespect to statuesque disgrace of billionaires, wishing in fountains, abolishing, raving, growing plants in greenhouses. Malls with solar panels, malls with turbines, malls with open canteens, malls where you take what you like. I want malls to metabolise the brilliance of dreaming the billioning of a generous elsewhere that yes could be ours, not like in adverts but actually in our hands, sticky with bricks and mortar and molten pennies the fountains spat back as lithium rainbows in the battery acid of plurality, nothing pristine, our shattering. It’s so infinitely worthless, warm and deplorable. The lyric I is a mallwalker. All of them. Open doors.

I’ve written about malls before in fiction and poetry. See ‘Mallwalkers’ and Rainbow Arcadia.  

Suggested exercise: 

Mall Regeneration

You have been tasked with reviving a so-called dead mall in your local town or city. The budget is limitless! In pairs, come up with a manifesto for how you would rebuild the mall or put it to new uses. You might want to share the different contexts of how retail works in your local area and think about a ‘solution’ that works for both of you. What values do you find important in urban architecture? How should public space be used in the twenty-first century and beyond? Is this mall just for human people or other creatures? What would the mall need to serve, withstand or endure?

You can write this as a list or mini essay.