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An alternative to the typical shopping mall

Not all places where shopping is or may be done, necessarily have to be of the reductive, spatially homogeneous, dehumanising type, exemplified by the standard shopping mall. An example of a shopping space design that is heterogeneously structured, into which ”other” spaces ”flow”, or with which it intersects, is furnished by Erik Grobler, a final-year architecture student at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Port Elizabeth, South Africa) in 2007.

The design should be seen against the backdrop of Grobler’s admission (2007: 3) that, historically, cities became bigger in a ”fragmented and disconnected” way, to the point where the outskirts of the city and its centre (which increasingly played a smaller role in the lives of people on the city’s edges) could no longer relate meaningfully in spatial terms. Hence, according to him, the need for the construction of ”shopping centres” in suburban areas. ”The shopping centre, as a private development”, he says (2007: 3), ”has thus become the civic space of society. It is not only a place to shop but to be”. Grobler quotes Van Eeden and Du Preez, to the effect that evidence suggests shopping malls, today, to be ” … the major public spaces where … people interact, form their identities and make sense of the world”.

Indeed! And as my earlier analysis of the space of shopping malls suggests, these identities are fatally shaped in axiological terms by an ideology (or discourse) that is responsible for reducing the variegated (use-) values of things, as well as the corresponding heterogeneous life-space in which they exist, to one pervasive (non-) value-system, namely that of exchange-value, better known as capitalism. The result is, as I have argued, that things and people are experienced as resources — optimally as branded objects and (in-)”human” resources.

Small wonder, therefore, that Grobler admits (2007: 3) ” … most shopping centres” to be ” … driven by commerce with little regard for their function as a centre of public life”. He then quotes Thomas Hine approvingly, where the latter points out that there is ” … no reason … why a shopping centre can’t both be a pleasant place to linger and an efficient place to shop” — something noticeable, perhaps, in a younger generation’s qualitatively different appropriation of these spaces originarily structured by capitalist values.

Given the direction in which Grobler’s argument (and more importantly, his design of a ”shopping centre”) then develops, however, it is clear that he has made an attempt to conceive of a different kind of ”shopping centre”, one which would, precisely, overcome the invidious alienating effects of what I have termed ”shopping malls”. Hine’s statement is actually used by him as a justification for the alternative that he (Grobler) proposes. As it turns out, the ”shopping centre” designed by Grobler is a refreshingly inventive modulation (in a simultaneously ”new” and ”old” fashion) of space into place, which is, qualitatively, a far cry from the customary ”shopping mall”, with its ”enclosed”, homogeneous consumer space.

He states as his intention (2007: 66) ” … some degree of intervention in the urban fabric to achieve an integrated node and the merging of public and private space”. The latter distinction bears on his design, which envisages civic buildings (a library and a town hall) and the shopping centre to be juxtaposed in one integrated, nodal space, and to be integrated, in turn, with the surrounding suburban context. Grobler also points out (2007: 66) that it is ” … important to have a mutual relationship [between public and private space] that minimises boundaries”, and intimates that the relation he aims to establish for ”commerce” (note the ambiguity) between private and public space is modelled on ” … the traditional street diagram”.

From the above it should already be apparent that the design proposed by Grobler eschews some of the most alienating aspects of the typical shopping mall. Unlike the latter architectural monstrosity spawned by capitalism, it does not set up a quasi-carceral boundary between outside and inside — a boundary in the guise of the shopping mall ”entrance” and enclosing corridors, which limits (if not prohibits) interaction between ”private” (in the sense of ”private, capitalist enterprise”) and public space, thus relegating the interior as exhaustively as possible to the spatial status of exchange value, with its concomitant reductive, alienating properties. (As ”Sophia” has reminded me, however, this space is not impervious to its social re-encoding by a new generation, less susceptible to the seduction of ”exchange value”.)

Instead there is free interaction between the public buildings and those accommodating the variously sized shops. Such interaction is promoted by a ”green” pedestrian walkway that takes pedestrians into the ”heart” of the ”node” comprising these heterogeneous, yet connected buildings. This ”green” walkway is envisaged by Grobler as being ”lined with trees”, so that the ”green area around the centre” imparts to it a ”park-like quality”. Unlike the typical shopping mall discussed earlier, the projected shopping centre cum public space does not have any ” … internal corridors but shops fronting on communal external space that connects to [sic] the surrounding area”, so that one would enter both public and ”private” (commercial) buildings ”from the same communal space”. Grobler also foresees the buildings in question to be no taller than three storeys, so that a ”human relation” between ground and top floor may be maintained.

This design by Grobler, while being nothing ”spectacular”, offers the promise of a variegated, heterogeneous space that would resist the reductive, homogeneous, monodimensional space of the standard shopping mall. Unlike the latter, it would allow the people who enter it from the surrounding residential area to experience the space in question as being qualitatively varied, and as a result their shopping activities are unlikely to occur in a space where they experience themselves as being exhaustively constituted as zombie-like ”consumers”.

Not only are public or civic spaces here juxtaposed with commercial spaces, but there is a free flow of spatial interaction between these two kinds of spaces and residential space surrounding the node as designed, in this way further ameliorating the invidious effects of reducing heterogeneous, ”human” space to the impersonality of a space bearing the imprint of ”exchange value”.

In such a heterogeneous space, what Silverman calls the ”particularity of the look” could flourish, instead of falling prey to the standard, and standardising look of consumption. With architects like Grobler around (and I’m convinced that there are many), who are able to envisage a shopping space integrated with other kinds of spaces — softening the harsh impact of reductive consumer space, and in the process recuperating urban space for the human beings who live there — there seems to be hope for life beyond rampant, mindless, un-dead consumer capitalism.

For a fuller treatment of this theme, see my paper, Architecture as consumer space. South African Journal of Art History, Vol. 23 (1) 2008, pp 93-106. See also Grobler, CF 2007. An investigation into the form of the suburban shopping centre as contemporary civic space, leading to the design of a shopping centre in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth. Unpublished Master of Architecture treatise, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


  1. Enough Said Enough Said 16 March 2013

    1) “The result is, as I have argued, that things and people are experienced as resources – optimally as branded objects and (in-)‘human’ resources. ”
    – Very important.

    2) “softening the harsh impact of reductive consumer space, and in the process recuperating urban space for the human beings who live there – there seems to be hope for life beyond rampant, mindless, un-dead consumer capitalism.”

    There is an architectural solution to more than shopping malls but every aspect of home and city design, but unfortunately humankind are two generations away from embracing such solutions.

    See next post.

  2. Enough Said Enough Said 16 March 2013

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  3. bernpm bernpm 16 March 2013

    Having had the pleasure of living in a small village in the Northern Cape for a few years we had some business to do in Cape Town with an overnight stay.

    We were told that the Canal Walk is a must!! On the way back (450km) we have decided we really can do without this kind of experience in the future.

    It reminded me -shortly after arrival in SA in 1981- of the hype about the Sandton Shopping center.

    Rather visit the monthly Bushman market in my local village.

  4. Sophia Sophia 17 March 2013

    Bert, your remarks above remind me of a piece you wrote back in 1990 entitled, ‘Beyond Music Minus Memory’, in which you pick up Kundera’s train of thought in ‘Laughter and Forgetting’ & make a similar point regarding ‘pop-muzak’ that you do here on the totalitarian homogeneity of mall-space. The infusion of variety & contrast in architectural terms has its parallel in the surprise, awakening & memory-evoking quality of certain forms of music. By way of an example in musical terms; you may have had the profound pleasure of hearing Benjamin Britten’s sublime ‘War Requiem’. The impact of interlacing poetry, operatic modes & orchestral themes masterfully evokes the chilling tragedy & futility of war. Similarly, in architectural terms. you may have had the pleasure of walking the High-Line in Lower Manhattan. A disused railway track has been converted by New Yorkers into a public walkway that now links districts previously divided, but also provides apartment dwellers with an opportunity to participate in a public-private gardening scheme. As Grobler seems to suggest, if private owners of ‘retail’ zoned land were required to implement mixed, integrated urban development in the design & build of malls, the dead-space of the shopping centre could integrate theatre/film, fitness/sport, education, shopping, transport & recreation. These spaces are likely to be both more attractive & better utilised – creating the possibility of a more sustainable, humanised public…

  5. Willem Jacobs Willem Jacobs 17 March 2013

    I’m surprised that you’re writing an article about shopping centres and capitalism without mentioning Victor Gruen who is the inventor of a the shopping mall and also an outspoken socialist . He created spaces that allowed a humane environment for the public to go about with their daily is this environment that has given malls the advantage over the high streets especially in harsher climates.internet shopping is already having a huge impact on the retail environment and this is once again providing challenges for retailers and their designers . R the shopping environment is now more and more virtual and this altering the meaning of the physical space.

  6. J J 17 March 2013

    Yes there is definitely much more opportunity for malls to be more than just that!
    Also malls should be places of commerce for all people, not mainly the middle class, there should be places for small market holders, easy public transport access, widely accessible public spaces. Not everyone can afford to be a lavish consumer, if society is to be more integrated, then the spaces in which the public share need to also be more integrated! There needs to be much more innovation in bringing such spaces into being!

  7. Gary Koekemoer Gary Koekemoer 17 March 2013

    @ Sophia I have had the pleasure of walking the high line and concur, it is an amazing way of opening up the city and introducing green space back into the community. It gives hope that we can think out of the box and actually implement.
    @ Bernpm I hear you, my favorite shopping experience is the markets of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, they are not the cleanest places, are often at the mercy of the elements, but they allow for a personal interaction I have not experienced in many other places. Because the sale is a negotiated transaction, a dance of sorts, in which the handing over of money plays a very small part (almost an anti-climax), the item purchased (fish, curios, fresh produce, guinea fowl, furniture, steel works, antiques) always had meaning, because there was a story attached. Both parties walk away happily grumbling about how the deal was actually a good one.
    Malls are disorientating from the start, you cannot see out, so you lose your bearings, music is played supposedly to make it more pleasant, but really it suppresses secondary hearing, your path is pre-determined for you and then the kaleidoscope of colors and flashing lights, and the thronging mass of similarly disorientated completes the process of losing yourself within. The CIA and others seem to use similar tactics to prep participants in their “assertive interrogation” tactics.
    My stories of the mall are very different to my stories of the markets…

  8. bernpm bernpm 17 March 2013

    @Gary Koekemoer: Thanks for your comment.
    These little lines of shops with all kinds of articles of little value but practical house “things”, fresh food some in variable states of freshness in our summer climate (35-39C), friendly meetings with anybody who smiles at you, bit of teasing included. A car with souped up sound installation playing gospel at full blast. Luckily it happens in open air.

    The Canal Walk?? the most confusing mall concept. No signage to speak off, hardly even to “exit” Let alone -exits being numbered on the outside- signs by number on the inside. Some shop staff also do not know. We parked at entry 5 and ended up our “dwaal” at exit 7. Doing a simple and logic 7-6-5 count was not the answer. Question: same floor? one up? one down?
    Luckily my GPS helped me out of the confusing road signage around this complex of modern buildings and on our way …..R27 North, lunch in Velddrift, buying koekies and fruit in brandy from Oma in Mamaison, an 80+ year old still running a bakery with recommended products.
    Cape Town has done it for me and is to be avoided as much as I can,

  9. Walter Walter 17 March 2013

    One does not need to wax philosophical about shopping malls. Big cities like Berlin before the war had public, privat, commercial and governmental places, waterways, parks and forests integrated into a place of communal well-being. Shopping malls these days are places to dip into and out again as quickly as possible. Some are more joyful than others. To try and make them into places of well-being is idle architectural philosophy without vision. Improve them, accept them or abandon them. Waxing lyrical about making them habitable misses the point.
    Forget about shopping malls, they are unworthy of philosophical treatises. To reclaim lost space though, as Sophia points out with the High-Line in Lower Manhattan – that is the future of architectural thought. The city of Cape Town is going that way, slowly but steadily reclaiming lost ground.

  10. GC GC 17 March 2013

    “Not all places where shopping is or may be done, necessarily have to be of the reductive, spatially homogeneous, dehumanising type”

    The term integrated usage is not new and is also used now in rural town, housing and local economic development planning, as well as the social demands of the people. Your IDP general national failure.
    Referring to redesigning malls – the lack of green “space” was a failure (greed) of “spacial design” from my perspective in the first instance and an effort is now being made to correct it.- I think the designers may have a tough time convincing the investors about “greening” – it will have to be legislated. Your reference to the economic value of spacial status within the mall explains why.
    Equally – It makes a lot of sense to meet the demand for a low income community to have an integrated community hall included in the planning to house not only the hall but the local police, SASSA, SASSA payment office, ATM’s, clinic, library, job training, victim protection and recovery and have it connected to a park and playground or just a place to sit and wait your turn while not having to spend money..
    In both instances the common reason for failure is the lack of money or access to enough money to make the desired planning perfect or capitalistically viable.
    Now – put a politician into this mix of need for greening and finding the finance. Will he vote to green the rural town or will he find reason to vote not to legislate to green the…

  11. Bert Bert 18 March 2013

    Willem – Thank you for that; I did not know it. I would guess that he probably could not foresee how the shopping mall could be re-coded by consumer capitalism! It is not difficult to see such an idea, in its original form, as promising an architecture of community. If I am right, how wrong he was.

    Sophia – I have not been back to New York since the creation of the High-Line; thank you for drawing my attention to it, and for the rest of your insightful remarks, too.

    Maria – thank you for beating me to it. I’m sure that Keith would approve…

    To all other commentators who made constructive or illuminating remarks, thank you.

  12. Sophia Sophia 18 March 2013

    @ Gary K, completely agree with your take on Tanzanian markets. There’s nothing like a haggle to truly experience the fluid differential in value estimation between buyer and seller.

    It speaks volumes that the prices of things in Western supermarkets are ‘fixed’ and we consumers purchase in a docile manner, assuming that this apple is the same as that apple. Whereas those African and Asian markets where the traditions of trade and barter still linger, this apple is most certainly not equivalent to that apple. The buyer engages in an evaluation of the thing in terms of what it means to her personally. The seller too appeals to what it means to him, the toil of getting it to market, the inflationary pressures, and his ever-expanding and insatiable family. All these things and more are at play in valuing the object. The final price is more of an agreement, sometimes begrudgingly, sometimes fair, but never efficient and never fixed.

    It always reminds me of the maxim that, what’s most efficient, tends not to be humanly optimal.

  13. Bert Bert 19 March 2013

    Gary and Sophia – wonderful exchange! And Sophia, it reminds me of the complicity between mechanisms that reduce people to ‘docility’, and capitalism, which Foucault also points out in Discipline and Punish. Small wonder that Snyder associates capitalism with the un-dead, or zombies. The talk presented on the video that Keith Hart sent me the link for, and Maria posted above, indicates that the winds of change to a more truly human way of living are blowing in the US, too.

  14. Alon Serper Alon Serper 19 March 2013

    Malls are today’s cathedrals. Like cathedrals, they are big, take your breath away and are designed for you to feel small, lonely, isolated, ontologically insecure and insignificant. They are designed for visitors to feel that there are unknown and mysterious forces that are much bigger and stronger than you and to which resistance is futile. They are designed to distance, remove and alienate the visitors from their places of comfort, control, ontological security and confidence and their comfortable and mundane life. They require planning and travelling especially to. The ads, loud speakers calls are like the clergy, come buy things you do not need or want; come believe in something big, all powerful, big and mysterious. And feel better, safer, in control and ontologically secure. Come and we’ll resolve your fear of death. To be in control – buy or believe in God – you need to fear and feel powerless, insignificant and insecure. Then, you could be sold anything for the illusion of control, self-assurance and ontological security.

  15. Walt Walt 20 March 2013

    @ Alon Serper. A sensitive and most shareable observation in my opinion. The more elaborate and consumer friendly these cathedrals become the more veiled their essentially corruptive powers of persuasion. With suburban sprawl and subsequent loss of inner city life the spirit of communal belonging has disappeared. Shopping malls extra muros, no matter how well designed, are adding to this alienation. Imagine for a moment malls integrated into cities with theatres, restaurants, apartments and lofts above and rapid transport stations underground, abuzz into the early hours of the morning! Horrid? Maybe, but at least full of life. Our cities have to be rediscovered.

  16. ris ris 22 March 2013

    It seems that the general consensus towards the “shopping mall” typology is that it is a negative, anti-social, ‘consumerism-propagating’ place; not only in this blog, I might add. And although I would largely agree with this, it can be argued that some shopping centers are very pleasant places to be. I am less concerned about the fact that some of these shopping centers are of the “…reductive, spatially homogeneous, dehumanising type” as I am about the fact that all of them are so disconnected from the existing urban/sub-urban fabric.

    To say shopping mall complexes are designed on a premise that reads: “Integrating commercial/retail activities within residential areas is wrong” would be folly. I am sure no architect would consciously condone the severing of connections which have been with us since the earliest cities. I would suggest however, that the problem lies in the acceptance of the making of these places in the first place. This mode of space making (that of the enclave, isolated shopping mall) has become an accepted norm and that is where a mind shift is needed.

    Indeed, it seems, Erik Grobelaar’s treatise looked at this very issue: a need to integrate the activities of the shopping mall with the urban fabric for the improvement of both. I believe the shortcomings of shopping malls discussed in Bert’s piece should not even be issues in a place of shopping conceived of as an integral, integrated element of the built fabric.

  17. Hyacinthe Tonga Hyacinthe Tonga 23 March 2013

    The paper definitely elaborates on an alternative to the typical Shopping Mall.

    A space or set of spaces as civic place of society (shops and people to be) therefor major public spaces where “human” interaction takes place; (merging private and public spaces); addition of a “Park-like quality”; pleasant place to linger and yes… “an efficient place to shop”??

    This Shopping Centre was compare to our Shopping Mall… identified the Mall as “Monstrosity spawned by Capitalism”.

    Further on, it was stated that the Shopping Centre would suggest … “better shopping activities”?? Away from “Zombie-like consumers”… New look / approach of Consumption??

    And the paper was concluded saying that: “there seems to be hope for life beyond rampart; mindless, un-dead consumer capitalism”

    Now, I personally see the suggested Shopping Mall as a prototype of what it should de; space wise, as well as the experience it generates “Human space”; nothing more, nothing less.

    Why?… Architects do not resolve social issues and that has been proved countless time, (all the different thesis and projects); but Architects resolve sense of space, places… cohesion, better “human” spaces. This is exactly what the Shopping Centre thesis did.

  18. Hyacinthe Tonga Hyacinthe Tonga 23 March 2013

    The efficiency behind a shopping Mall/ Centre would then be seen as aesthetic, function, building performance; not as resolving or changing the “Consumer Capitalism”.

    Let’s take a step back; Consumer= Needs…

    Meaning that they will go to a mall “as consumer” to get something. If someone doesn’t do that anymore he/she will not be a consumer anymore; will fall under a different category, where I hope that’s what suggested the conclusion especially due to the fact that the act of buying something cannot be changed by the design of the space; but can be experience d differently.

    So, we will always have “windows shopper” at the end, as well as alienated buyers since the need is still present no matter what the design of the place/space might suggest. The way the consumption is design need to be changed (the system) not the building in which it takes place.

  19. Justin Braithwaite Justin Braithwaite 24 March 2013

    The issues being reffered to in this piece of writing are not only pertinent to commercially orientated structures. The lack of integration of different functions in cities today is a severe problem that affects people in ways that laymen do not fully understand.

    Technology has simultaneously become the biggest blessing and curse to humankind. The invention of the auto-mobile, more specifically, has had one of the most undesirable effects on modern cities thus far. They have allowed for the loose growth of dispersed, polycentric cities. Cities with several commercial, business and industrial centres all connected by alienating traffic connectors.

    There is a need for integrated interventions that draw inhabitants of cities back to the traditional centres.

    Once this is achieved, singular, mono-functioning buildings (such as the shopping mall) will cease to exist. All buildings will be multi-use and the integration of activities will create exemplary places in which people will dwell.

  20. Timothy Smith Timothy Smith 24 March 2013

    It has been eluded in this article that shopping centres or malls need a rethinking in their architectural response to the human behaviour of the consumer. This is something that most architects concern themselves with if the opportunity of such a project came within their grasp.

    The malls placement in the urban fabric should also be further interrogated. It is a mistake that keeps being repeated by placing economic generators further and further out of city bounds in search of affordable land with which to build the latest shopping experience.

    Although Erik Grobler’s intentions are, in my opinion, one of noble architectural means. Who is to say that shopping malls may become a thing of the past. By this stage, in terms of technological advancement, one may not even need to leave the comfort of one’s home to purchase everything that is required of one’s needs. In several mouseclicks; groceries, books and clothing could be on their way to you without even the intention of visiting a mall.

    It’s this fact that, in my opinion, I don’t think shopping centres will ever materialise into green “park-like” spaces that invoke the shoppers to stroll around and experience the space by being outside and enjoying the climate, the shopping experience and human interaction, even though personally I feel that that is the right response.

  21. Khemi Khemi 24 March 2013

    As stated in the article, shopping malls treat both products and people as resources for capitalism, meaning their state of being human ‘beings’ has been ignored. A shopping mall is a functional space that addresses the needs of the consumer but lacks the humane aspect. Can the addition of a humane aspect in commercial activity affect consumerism?

    I believe the present day shopping mall is successful as far as consumerism is concerned. Improving on the humane aspect would just exhilarate the consuming experience. Looking at traditional commercial streets, they had hierarchy, variety in use and were well integrated in the urban fabric which encouraged human interaction and activity. They could accommodate both people with and without buying power. No one could feel alienated in such a space. If the quality of traditional streets could be adopted, shopping malls would become successful as both consumer and social/humane spaces they ought to be.

    The other problem with shopping malls is their universal nature. A shopping mall in South Africa is almost similar to one in, say, Spain yet these two places have different ‘trade cultures’ which needs to be interpreted in design of modern market places – shopping malls. A traditional market place satisfies both the consumer and social aspect as people specific to certain culture will resonate well with the set up whereas the shopping mall only addresses the universal consuming activity and only if you have enough buying power…

  22. M van Niekerk M van Niekerk 24 March 2013

    When I read the title: “An alternative to the typical shopping mall” I thought about my experience in places such as Melrose Arch in Johannesburg and Irene Mall, just outside Pretoria.

    Irene mall is an open air shopping centre with a village type arrange (small streets and squares supported by commercial and social activities), but nevertheless it is still a shopping centre in the sense that there is a sea of parking bays in front of the centre and you enter the complex through a series of formal entrances. The mini public squares on the inside are very popular and active throughout the day, with children playing in the water features and families enjoying the variety of restaurants forming the edges of these squares.

    Melrose arch in Johannesburg is of much larger scale and comprises of mixed- use activities. Office blocks, hotels, residential (top floors) and a large shopping prescient make up this public space. New Urbanism has been used as design approach which promotes walkable neighbourhoods and mixed-use activity, unfortunately the different types of activities housed in Melrose Arch are of a high/expensive level and thus this space focuses only on a specific income class.

    I think Erik Grobler’s thesis project sets a standard that should be aimed towards by big architectural firms and urban planners that have the power to shape our cities and more particularly urban public space and the shopping experience that happens within.

  23. Q. Murdoch Q. Murdoch 25 March 2013

    A unique insight into what might constitute as the alternative towards a typical shopping mall. But the current conditions render unique, and potentially, massive issues towards integration and connectivity in the already existing complex structures that make up the city as a whole. None the less, I fully agree there needs to be some sense of ‘civicness’ and interaction without the overarching universality of a singular shopping mall feeding the masses. There must be some perception change towards the built enclave of the singular shopping mall whilst integrating the activities into a hierarchical sub urban setting. This would indeed bring power back to the individual and create quite a exhilarating shopping experience that would be justified by its variety in use and increased level of interaction. The opposite of ‘rampant, mindless, un-dead consumer capitalism.’

  24. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 25 March 2013

    It’s becoming rather common for lots of words to say very little.

    @M van Niekerk:
    Thank you for your examples, which serve to bolster my view that different shopping malls have different layouts and that there’s virtually no relationship between any kind of underlying valuing system and the effective architecture.

    Also note that most malls are zoned by municipalities who are not driven by commercial interests in the capitalist sense. Someone who takes a bribe and moves dotted lines on a map has added no value whatsoever and belongs to the same class of parasites that Smith and Marx warned against, with a similar kind of reasoning. It comes as no surprise, since Marx, when stripped of his lofty revolutionary chic, is a classical economics plagiarist bar none (even coined the term).

    There are some very good reasons why shopping malls and commercial centres in general are removed from residential areas. This nostalgia for more incorporation feels like saying something for the sake of saying something, with virtually no critical or practical thought behind it.

    Have you ever purchased something online? How does this activity indicate the underlying ideology that determines the architecture of the Internet?

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  26. Taryn Taryn 26 March 2013

    I like the comment about malls becoming the civic spaces of society, in this we can see how the hierarchy and legibility of our cities have changed as well. We have moved away from the traditional planning and placement of Churches or Town halls being the legible markers within the system with a linear or grid arrangement that works from it, setting up an integrated system with a central core. These systems set up a form of hierarchy that fell into a religious or civic realm, this has now been transformed by modernization, the separation of function and enclave positions, within these bubble, as mentioned in the article, there has been the creation of new cores of hierarchy, ones that have a commercial orientation and add to the capitalist society of today.

  27. chuma chuma 26 March 2013

    Architecture evolves with the needs of its users and people. Time after time we look back and interrogate building typologies and question wether they meet our standards and needs and wether they fit in our way of living. This shows that architecture is flexible and architecture exists because of people.

    A shopping mall seen as a civic space? Im not sure about that. Today a shopping mall may be seen as a social place but in fact it does not allow that social interaction.

    What Erik Grobbler is proposing is the future of shopping malls because as things evolve, human beings needs evolve with and his proposal tackles these issues.

  28. Sheldon Jennings Sheldon Jennings 26 March 2013

    Despite the urban repercussions, there is undoubtedly some success to shopping mall developments or they would not be such active places. Providing a safe environment that is operational regardless of the climatic conditions or the hour of day, is conducive to convenience. When people physically shop around for goods they have the advantage of checking the quality of items before paying for them; an option that one doesn’t have when purchasing items online. Shopping malls suit the current fast pace of life and fulfill many needs of the users (such as a sense of safety while making monetary transactions).

    The shopping mall is successful in facilitating the bartering of objects for their monetary value and it has already been suggested that the architectural language of a shopping mall promotes the indulgence of the human senses in materialism. As an architectural language, shopping malls represent the current social capitalistic virtues of society at large. The next question , therefore, is whether or not the social framework on which shopping centers are modeled, is itself moral and or humane.

    All sale of land makes space a commodity that is typically sold to the highest bidder. This is the epitome of the current social ideology of ‘cash is king’. Social behavior is not orchestrated by the exchange-value organisation of architectural space but rather, the exchange-value organisation of architectural space is a result of current social materialistic ideologies of…

  29. Crystal Crystal 27 March 2013

    Shopping centers depend on access and what better way of placing them near major traffic arteries. However the consumers or shoppers does not benefit from the traffic. They need quiet, comfort and convenience and access to pedestrian paths and as it seem to me, Erik Grobler’s design did achieved that by incorporating or positioning his shopping center in a residential area integrating the mall with the suburban conditions.

    Today shopping centers are being built on the ‘outside’ boundaries of suburbs, for example Fountains Mall is Jeffreys bay, for reasons puzzling me. This location is more convenient for cars rather the the pedestrian. Therefor promoting vehicular usage instead of walking (which was the primary way of movement and getting around in the city – especially Jeffreys bay). Another reason for its location could be to connect the fabric of surrounding towns, and could be contributing to urban sprawl. Commercial activities, shops and businesses should not be excluded from residential areas, and this idea should be promoted in all architect and urban design firms.

    I did enjoy Grobler’s ‘green streets and creating accessible green ”lined with trees”, so that the ”green area around the centre” imparts to it a ”park-like quality”. Thus for me creating a comfortable stress free environment as appose to the harsh corridors we find our-self in. I can relate to Grobler’s work and can definitely learn from his design.

  30. JP Redona JP Redona 27 March 2013

    After reading this article it is clear that Grobler had a great understanding to a universal issue pertaining to the mundane indoor shopping malls. His response to creating a “park-like” environment that connects the public and private spaces, which one can easily relate back to Marx’s theory of alienation, where it is by our being to be one with nature.
    In part it seems as though his (Grobler) approach was to create a more humane space where consumerism can occur in a natural setting, where even the scale of the buildings being three storeys high, can easily be related to. As Bert mentioned “…inventive modulation (in a simultaneously ”new” and ”old” fashion) of space into place…” it is clear that Grobler looked at the modern and traditional shopping centres.
    The modernist attempt of creating a convenient shopping centre has failed, not only is it aimed at being a consumer brand-magnet, but it also lacks the social aspect. Although there are food courts, they are merely false spaces where human interactions can occur, due to the consumerism attached to the food you eat.
    Whilst, the traditional shopping centres are based along a street, pedestrians are given priority creating a more “friendly” space.
    The fusion between the two styles of creating a shopping centre for this day and age is greatly supported by Grobler’s theory of creating a humane shopping centre.

  31. Dyl Monsma Dyl Monsma 27 March 2013

    Due to Modernist planning and urban sprawl, we find disconnected communities where the need has arisen for the development of new CBD’s and shopping malls that are not located in the traditional city centre. For example, Port Elizabeth’s CBD has relocated from Govan Mbeki to Greenacres. People ultimately want to live, work and play in their local community or area. However, in some cases, people are moving away from the usage of shopping malls and are returning to smaller community centres. If we look at the increase of Farmers Markets and their popularity, it becomes evident that consumers crave more that a mindless shopping experience. Personal interaction and bartering become large draw cards and definite quality produce as oppose to mass-produced “junk”. The return of negotiated trade and bargaining removes the set product value placed upon items by large corporations, allowing for smaller quality purchases that are needed. Whilst large shopping malls provide convenience and competitive pricing, alternatives seem to be gaining esteem as consumers need more than bland cement blocks within which to purchase goods.

  32. Matthew Wright Matthew Wright 27 March 2013

    To comment in the debate regarding the relevance of shopping malls:
    One can easily theorize about ‘ideal solutions’ that integrate shopping malls into the city to ‘solve’ the problem of urban sprawl. I do agree that this will create a more humane environment, but the creation of the shopping center itself came out of a demand from people that moved away from the city. Therefore rendering the migration of the shopping mall into inner city meaningless, as another will just ‘spring up’.
    If one was to for a moment observe many designs currently taking place, it is noticeable that many of these designs can be described to be mixed-use in nature. Grobler’s proposal is an example of this, where the building is both a shopping mall and a ‘park’, catering for commercial and leisure activities.
    Designing buildings that are mixed-use in nature also become spatially economic and can then possibly start to emerge as a central node for decentralized residential areas.

  33. Chesney Boshoff Chesney Boshoff 27 March 2013

    The notion of and attempt to an alternative shopping mall is noble and much needed. Grobler’s arguments that these malls have become the city centers of the suburbs is correct and offers a refreshing alternative perspective to the conception of these spaces.

    The manner in which typical malls alienate humans and fails to respond to pedestrian scale can also be understood as another manifestation of capitalist consumer behavioral patterns. The lack of integration to other spaces can simply be explained by the rampant urban sprawl and the need for consumer convenience that is disconnected from other civic functions.

    Grobler’s argument in his design addresses this issue by taking cues from traditional cities where congested space lead to consumer spaces forming in the city centers. The relation to human scale and movement creates a space that is definitely promotes a higher degree human interaction.

    The most crucial point to his argument I find is that the he “envisages civic buildings (a library and a town hall) and the shopping center to be juxtaposed in one integrated, nodal space, and to be integrated, in turn, with the surrounding suburban context”. Without integrating other civic functions into these nodal enclaves would result in the mere mimicry of physical and spatial qualities of tradition city cent res and in turn again make for introverted spaces that alienate it’s users from the greater urban space

  34. Erik Barnard Erik Barnard 27 March 2013

    Shopping malls are a direct result of overaccumulation where the reinvestment of capita no longer produces return, thus a special fix is introduced. Based on the same capitalist ‘exchange value’ principal.

    Example being used here would be the new Bay West Mall, Hunters Retreat in Port Elizabeth. Reading the brochure for the development it includes a retail mall, office parks, residential nodes, and private schools with associated sporting facilities, hotels, hospital complex, motor city, light industrial precinct and a lifestyle centre. It goes on to establish the estimated price, time and 80 000 sqm regional mall.

    Its a consumerist product, giving importance too value rather than ethics and aesthetics. No mention of civic space of society or the necessity of establishing an urban corridor is mentioned. Reading the brochure I get an idea of boundaries with no intervention in the urban fabric rather just an addition of another suburb. Setting up another distant node. Rather than connecting the existing infrastructure already in place based on the return of commerce.

    Compare this to the idea of Grobler, reading a brochure focused on the green pedestrian walkways that leads you into the heart of the nodes. The sides lined with trees giving a park-like quality where the civic space interacts with the commercial spaces. Residential areas completing the mixed use value. I too believe architects like this are around; it’s just necessary to consider the ‘product’ rather…

  35. Bashara Van Den Heever Bashara Van Den Heever 27 March 2013

    Erik Groblers take on shopping centres really got me excited on the new possibilities that this can create in the urban landsacape. The role of these shopping centres do need to change with the change of our cities. This is truly looking into the concerns of the people who use it and solving it simply. It creates a well-integrated lifestyle for the residents who can experience live, work, unbend and shop. This will create a better standard of living for the residents using these facilities and better used public urban spaces that would keep them from becoming stagnant. I think residential, commercial and civic infrastructure will function better when integrated and feeding off each other than isolated on its own. The exasperation when one needs to take a busy main road to get to these shopping centres is tiring.
    Big shopping centres have many conveniences to them such as having everything you need in many similar varieties in such close proximity saving you time. I don’t think people will stop traveling to these big shopping centres but will definitely travel here less. The change needs to start somewhere and starting with even just one these integrated communities with create a catalyst that will soon start changing the way urban designers and town planners looking at the way forward in improving our cities.

  36. J. Pretorius J. Pretorius 27 March 2013

    If there is one thing I hate more than a fly buzzing around my face while I am eating, it is my ankles being nibbled by some lady with a baby’s trolley outside Checkers.

    On a more serious note . . . The last time I visited Johannesburg I had the pleasure of experiencing Cedar Square. It has a typical linear mall layout with commercial activities arranged along a “passage”. The difference between Cedar Square and a conventional mall is that this “passage” has been widened and planted, partially, and the roof is that of an ephemeral nature. Two minor modifications that makes the worlds difference. One is aware that you are not outside, obviously, but the additional width of the passage, ample natural light and the planters does confuse the mind somewhat. There is enough space to take a leisurely stroll next to one another, gone be the days of “single file”, anti social, meandering through the masses.

    Many people are of the opinion that the age of the shopping mall will die out completely and become a historic reminder of the days before online shopping. Its was and still is a safe convenient way to drive to ONE destination, get anything from a scarf to a toilet roll, coffee with a friend to having your car washed all under one roof and then go home. Yes, it is convenient to sit in front of your computer ordering you weekly groceries, but I feel that would even worsen our already anti social behaviour.

    Becoming extinct? Definitely not. Evolve into something…

  37. Simon de Vries Simon de Vries 27 March 2013

    it is refreshing to imagine that one might use a space which facilitates shopping, without baring the label of ‘shopper’ or ‘window shopper’. Using and experiencing a space for the quality of human interaction it offers rather than the consumer it attempts to summon in you.

    The scenario as Grobler suggests, is integration into an urban fabric with an existing framework of public and private buildings, and formal & informal activities. Wether this model has been successfully achieved in modern South African urban space (opposed to traditional South African urban space), is debatable.
    As a result of the suburban spatial construct, South African shopping mall has not managed to escape the modern enclave condition. It is true however, that the qualitative aspects have been addressed. Roofs have been removed, trees planted, surfaces ‘cobble-stoned’ and ‘Italian street cafes’ imitated. You might now genuinely buy a jersey because of a cold breeze, rather than being seduced by a manikin through a shopfront. But that is as far as it goes.

    The problem remains undoubtedly, the South African post-apartheid disconnectedness of our urban landscape. Where might one find a suitable and contented set of activities to support a scheme as was proposed by Grobler?(That is outside of the traditional center)

    The “alternative to the shopping mall”, will only be arrived at through a careful re-scripting of a particular urban condition to produce the correct catalysts for such…

  38. tracy haupt tracy haupt 28 March 2013

    After reading this article, it conveys that there is a strong need for buildings to restructure their architectural response to human behaviour, in this case, the behaviour of a consumer at a shopping centre. By now we know that shopping malls treat both products and people as resources for capitalism, but forget to satisfy the humane needs of the consumers. With Erik Grobler’s thesis of the shopping centre within the suburban context and the introduction of a pedestrian green space, which consumers move through or gather and socially interact with one another. This immediately brings a simple new relief and experience to the once inhumane shopping spaces we are used to. Changing ones experience positively. A design like that of Erik Groblar’s thesis is a benchmark for designers, as it begins to oppose the stereo-typical shopping mall typology, that it is a negative, anti-social, ‘consumerism-propagating’ place.

    Architecture needs to change as the needs of its users change over time. We can see how over time, where people used to go to the high streets and civic spaces to trade and gather where both consumers and the social aspects were fulfilled, they now go to shopping malls. Thus the notion of a shopping mall becoming a civic space of society is highly relevant – for now, and show that places of hierarchy will change over time, according to the user’s needs…

  39. tracy haupt tracy haupt 28 March 2013

    …. Shopping malls could become the new landmarks that we associate with (instead of the old town hall or library buildings) and one can begin to orientate oneself accordingly, in a city. The direction of future malls being built may come to a halt due to the up and coming trend of online shopping, where the visual space will be of far more importance, while the once needed physical space of shopping malls will become neglected. And a new building typology will need to emerge in the role of a new civic space of society.

  40. Theunis C. Goosen Theunis C. Goosen 7 April 2013

    In 2004, Kunstler hit the nail on the head, when he mentions the dual role the public realm plays in our society, in a speech he gives about the desperate need to throw out the Modernist ideals of yesteryear that western cities employed in the attempt to realize civic/public space.

    The dual role, as he elaborates, is:

    “…One, it is the dwelling place of our civilization and civic life, and two; it is the physical manifestation of the common good. When you degrade the public realm, you automatically degrade the quality of life and the character of the enactments of the public and communal life that take place there.”

    Enter the place-less, timeless (not in a good way) prostitution of space, that is the Shopping mall. Designed reductive, homogeneously, and dehumanizes the ‘citizen’ into a ‘consumer’…

    Ah! There lies the problem, no?

    A error of classification?

    A by-product of capitalism?

    All the blame for these buildings, their neglect of social responsibilities towards their inhabitants, surely can’t just go to those that built them? But rather, also to us, the general public, who so happily adopted the title of consumer. For a consumer is far different to a citizen. Consumers do not have obligations, responsibilities and duties to their fellow human beings. They are merely “zombies”. Perhaps, once we, as citizens, toss out this label of ‘consumer’, and realize our place and our needs as urban dwellers, architects of this typology might begin to…

  41. Mcoseleli Jafta Mcoseleli Jafta 7 April 2013

    This is someone who’s noted a human behavioural pattern in our shopping malls, then an architectural problem and has come up with a remedy for this through an architectural discourse.
    Just like in the previous article; he takes note of how literal and negligent architects are when it comes to designing our shopping malls. Unlike the previous architects, he sees the Shopping Malls as a common ground in our fragmented city/cities. The shopping mall is where all the different individuals (demographics) of our citizens meet; shopping malls are possibly the new civic centres and there’s a need for architecture to embrace this. Thereof he introduces amenities that are usually in the civic centres into the Shopping mall (libraries, town halls. etc.) creating a sense of place, bridging a fine line between architecture and the The happier your consumers are, the more time they spend in your mall and thereof the more money they spend in your Mall.
    To me, this clearly an alternative to the typical shopping mall, as it promotes a qualitative architectural value which acknowledges psychological needs of the ‘consumer’ as opposed to an architecture which compromises this for capitalism.

  42. Stephanie Briers Stephanie Briers 9 April 2013

    When visiting Pretoria, which is in my opinion one of the major slaves to the ‘shopping mall as a gathering place’ notion, one realises that there are just too many malls. In the ideal world one would pretend that these unsuccessful malls simply do not exist and propose a mall that would function perfectly, with more than enough people visiting it and keeping it alive. In reality, it is not economically viable for there to be so many malls in a city, this being evident in the closing of the Kings Court Mall in Port Elizabeth after only a few years of its opening, as well as all the half-empty malls in Pretoria. A great question (and perhaps a good thesis) would be how to fix the existing malls which are direct products of our consumerist culture representing the exchange value of products in their spatiality as Bert mentions in his paper “The shopping mall as consumer architecture”. These would otherwise be abandoned white elephants as everyone flocks to the new and improved malls.
    As an increasingly sustainable-conscious society architects need to focus on how to make the existing work instead of proposing newer; better models, leaving the old in the dust, empty and sad- a representation of what not to do.

  43. michiel van wyk michiel van wyk 14 April 2013

    In more recent times there has been this concurrent and escalating movement of awareness and concern for and by the pedestrian users within the city.
    Maybe part of a global green campaign or a revival of the 60s free spirited movement. Whatever the reason is, I think that this awareness promotes what Grobler is assuming here. The excitement that this free thinking idea can bring is refreshing at in the most part.
    We as the potential forerunners in spatial design have here an opportunity to act on behalf of the consumer and protect the right of those that not only want to trade per say, but for those who want to experience and exist in a comfortable and interactive public zone.

  44. Alistair Mac Bean Alistair Mac Bean 16 April 2013

    Just as I can see the flaws and inhumane nature of our “conventional” shopping malls, I also believe that we, as designers, need to accept the fact that we don’t live in a perfect world. I see value in many of the above comments, but believe that these are somewhat romantic ideas. Malls serve and function and develop in particular ways hand in hand with the development and needs of society. In one of the above comments it was stated that the enclosed nature of the mall provides a stabilized and controlled climatic environment and I feel this is true and essential as it provides us with reliability. And as much as I would love to see our malls “spiced up”, I have been to a number of malls that have literally just become amusement parks. Balance ethics and rationality…..

  45. Theodor de Goede Theodor de Goede 16 April 2013

    I am not entering the whole ethics debate around the shopping mall as an architectural type and the negative effects it has on our urban structures, I am merely giving a personal opinion on it and on Grobler’s statement, “it is not just a place to shop, but to be”.
    In my mind there is no way to ‘be’ in constant changing environments. Trends are under constant change and within a shopping centre the window of shops shape the space. The windows are the advertisement of these changing trends to which emphasis is put, and therefore, changing space. Some may find this exciting, for me it is just bewildering. Imagine having a person in your life with a different personality every time you meet them, there is no way to ‘be’ with this person that you can’t relate to.
    For this reason I enjoy a shopping centre as a container of all these changing trends, a container that I can very easy ignore, and very convenient for the shopper, having ‘all’ together. Traduma Mall I feel is a great shopping centre; it is underground and miserable, making a person to just get in there and find whatever you need, and get out. From Traduma mall you can easily access market square, where one can much rather ‘be’, being in contact with the passage of day and experience permanence in architecture. I do feel sorry for the people working in Traduma mall, the shopping dungeon.
    If shops can be what it used to be, where you have the baker on the corner, the fish guy on that corner, the tailor down…

  46. Theodor de Goede Theodor de Goede 16 April 2013

    the alley, yes I would love to have it on my way to the bus top. It might be very nostalgic, but in this scenario one has multi sensory connotation with the architecture that has certain permanence to it, it is not just visual bewildering of changing shop fronts that is in competition with one another pertaining to specials.

  47. Pieter Muller Pieter Muller 14 May 2013

    the designer today should not help to produce more – he has to help produce fewer and better things. there is a beauty, an aesthetic and philosophy of the less — philippe starck

    This little excerpt i feel relates alot to the architectural notion of a shopping mall. Shopping malls at the moment is a consumerist hub and it decentralizes a city. This can be seen as a good and a bad notion, but there is implication to ones city with the creation of multiple malls, a sporadic city with its popular scouring to the closest mall. The gathering of such a large concentration of people, with such an intense activity can be harnessed and turned into an urban core, architects can rethink how the shopping mall is approached changing its role to a multiplicity of activity’s not just a consumerist hub but a civic centre a monumental core to the city where cultures can meet and interact.

    Rather than having multiple malls of different variety scattered across the city, strategically placed shopping malls that not only represent consumerist notion but a civic and a variety of other topology are merged to form an complex cores to the city, creating and sustaining a liveliness of the city.

  48. Zamubuntu Sipuka(206014929) Zamubuntu Sipuka(206014929) 30 October 2013

    The article firstly explores the notion that the current condition of our city growth does not correspond with the traditional set up and positioning of our malls as a central point pivoting to all related markets. This has resulted to the shopping centre becoming a ‘private development’ placed sporadically along the city’s edge. Secondly it is suggested that shopping malls/centres should be rethinked and interrogated as an architectural model that responds to the human behavior of the consumers.
    The increase in population has resulted in organic & unplanned development of our city’s urban structure. This urban sprawl and modernist planning disconnects the communities. These resulting enclaved communities beg to survive on they’re own as a unit separate from the city centre. A shopping mall or a place that combines the foremost needs of its inhabitants becomes the resulting ‘city centre’ within the community. I agree with Grobler’s suggestion of an alternative solution to the traditional shopping experience. These spaces(malls) are inevitable and convenient, attracting a significant amount of consumerism, but lack a humaneness to them. A different take towards a well integrated model will definatley change the experience of shopping as we know it.

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