Friday, December 10, 2021

A Fascinating Performance of Architectural Insufficency

Thanks to Jason Kottke for pointing me to Lili Loofbourow's essay on Slate called Everything Must Go: Why we'll never stop mourning the American mall.

I've written before about my personal love-hate relationship with malls, and their decline. One of my particular dislikes is the way they usurp the role of public spaces, creating private places that ape the public realm on a day to day basis but when push comes to shove — as it did in fall and early winter 2014 and many times since — it's clear who they belong to.

Loofbourow's essay looks at closed malls around the country that have been repurposed, and ruminates on what their role was before that time, as part of late capitalism. What grabbed me in Kottke's write-up were the excerpts, which highlight both Loofbourow's writing and ideas. You won't be surprised to hear that hedge funds are villains in the collapse of malls (thank you, Mitt Romney and others financial raiders!).

On the repurposing of mall buildings, she writes:

These efforts are noble and good. They are also — and can’t help but be — anti-makeovers. Malls were made to be malls. This means every effort to repurpose a mall becomes a fascinating performance of architectural insufficiency, of a bespoke thing being wrenched into a different, and more practical, and less entertaining, function. It’s not that you can’t have schools in malls — or libraries, or social services. It’s that malls, being temples to consumerism, were tailor-made to be exactly what they were. Trying to square-peg another operation amid the former makeup counters beside onetime dressing rooms makes the result seem impoverished, weird, jangled. The erosion of detail is essential, but it makes the space grim.

Americans get nervous when symbols change. If the American grocery store was, among other things, deployed as an active rebuke of Soviet scarcity in the Cold War, the American department store was a serene display of endless availability. There were more kinds of makeup than anyone could possibly want, and they all had loyalists. Can we adapt to a new idea of the mall, the way old maritime warehouses turned into loft-living for gentrifiers? Should we?

Freeways... free parking... There are other symbols that will need to change in our world of climate change. 

And so much for Americans to get nervous about.

No comments: