Survival of the fittest, the evolution of the commercial landscape in North America from streetcar suburb to mall of America and beyond

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Spearey, Peter T.
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This study explores the evolution of the suburban shopping centre in North America. The objective is to identify the factors responsible for the shaping of its constituent spaces, either for relaxation, gathering or shopping, and determine what, if any, value this might provide in the consideration of future shopping centre landscapes. In its infancy, the shopping centre provided outdoor, landscaped spaces for the relaxation and comfort of shoppers. Increasingly, these spaces became internalized, offering ever increasing potential for spatial and functional development. This period, from the 1950s to the 1980's, was characterized by rapid standardization and simplification of the shopping centre 'formula'. However, experimentation did continue and the process of standardization has left some interesting anomalies behind. Throughout this period the shopping centre displayed a remarkable ability to reflect, assimilate and commodify larger social and architectural contexts. In the 1980s, the shopping centre demonstrated its ability to reinvent itself, in response to changing economic fortunes. Regardless of greater changes in the concept of the shopping centre, there has been evidence throughout its evolution of a consistent approach to the planning, design and articulation of individual spaces. The consistencies evident in the evolution of the shopping centre allows for an accurate prediction of its future, while its flexibility encourages a redefinition and reconceptualization of this future. To this end, the study concludes by positing several directions for the future shopping centre, as a means to direct further research and experimentation.