A reinvestigation of the modern shopping center : (The search for public space)
Emer, Stephen M.
Master of Architecture
This thesis uses the ancient model of the marketplace to re-investigate the potential for providing public space within the context of the decentralized urban landscapes of post-war America. It is proposed, herein, that the study of the modem shopping center, a product of twentieth century suburbanization, represents a potential reevaluation of the role of such a typology with regard to public life. Throughout history, the marketplace has been a catalyst for communal activity. As the marketplace evolved, it reflected the changing pattern of urban development and shifting attitudes towards community and recreation. In light of the recent trend of privatization that has become emblematic of American urbanism, it is clear that public interaction occurs less frequently, and in fewer places, than ever before. The modem shopping center, however, is one of the few prevalent catalysts of public activity in the suburban realm. Many shopping centers have, indeed, managed to foster a sense of community, in spite of the fact that within such confines, public life is actually controlled by private enterprise. As a result, the implicit rules of decorum that are established* ultimately serve to hinder the quality of public activity that may occur. Because of this deficiency inherent in the shopping center, it may be suggested that true public life in suburban America may yet be found in the outdoor realm of the public park. In terms of facilitating communal activity and recreation, the public park has often been compared to the traditional European square. By establishing nodes of open space carved out of dense urban fabric, squares and plazas represent exceptional places of social stability and civic pride. Similarly, the American park, as well as the shopping center both provide focal points of public order and interaction within an otherwise chaotic context. The Olmstedian tradition of the park as a representation of nature, was seen as a way of contrasting the filth and density of the industrial city with a pastoral landscape intended for public recreation. A suburban equivalent to the Olmstedian landscape is the neighborhood park, which preserves fragments of public recreational space amidst the continuous fabric of private dwellings. Like the neighborhood park, the shopping center supports a sense of public life, albeit, privately controlled, and also provides refuge from the suburban context of single-family residences and high speed thoroughfares. Such a parallel between the park and the shopping center suggests the potential for combining aspects of both in order to elevate the communal essence of public space in suburbia. In so doing, the relationship of building to landscape becomes an issue of primary concern. This is an issue that has been often overlooked within the model of the regional suburban shopping center. In many cases, the need for adequate parking tended to eclipse the potential for preserving or enhancing the natural landscape. In order to reevaluate the.role of the shopping center with regard to public life, this thesis proposes a more intimate relationship between building and landscape, by simultaneously acknowledging the external contextual conditions of the highway and the retail establishment, and the potential for providing well defined outdoor space, devoted to recreation, fitness and public interaction.