Rem Koolhaas’ luminescent essay Junkspace decries the mall as the slagheap of America. Gleaming and gaudy, the ill-conceived child of consumerism and commercial architecture, malls across America serve as museums of all the things wrong with American society. Koolhaas points out the problems associated with fast-fashion, the invisibility of the working class, obesity, and the impermanence of everything we buy and see, but most of all laments the destruction of careful, rational planning. He desires stability, environments designed to last, and designed not to harm.
But is it possible to recoup the mall?
The mall is, if anything, amazing. A display of the inescapable powers of advertising, the mall simulates, emotes and breathes desire. Floor to ceiling vinyl print immerses the mall-goer in a complete experience, at one moment tropical and in the next futuristic. This smashing together, this erasure of distinction attacks any attempt to create a whole, a system of rationality or a project designed to last. Advertising subsumes modern architecture, any complete system and eats it up as simply another trend.
Koolhaas illuminates the dark underbelly of the kind of advanced capitalism living in the mall. The overturn of consumer trends and identity enslaves us to fast fashion, low quality goods and mounds of trash. A productive question to ask the information desk next time you go to the mall is: What would be larger, this mall or the pile of trash excreted by the mall? The mall is by no means sustainable. It will one day eat itself.
The mall still has something to say, however. Of course, the mall itself is too busy eating up the latest trends, be they neon shoelaces or halter-crops or leather athletic wear, to actually say anything. But Koolhaas’ observation that the joint is no longer carefully considered, that rather “clamp, stick, fold, dump, glue, shoot, double, fuse” are new means of construction– this resonates throughout American society. What is fashion but a constant recycling? Ideas are not new, they simply mutate over time. Academics pride themselves on theories that reference the entirety of history. Something truly new is both impossible and dangerous.
The clamp, the glue, the fuse are actions in a post-modern landscape. Return to careful thought, rational outlining, masterplanning is unthinkable. The evidence of that is destruction. Levittown, a “hamlet” conceived of and build by a company owned by the Levitt brothers, is widely understood as the first suburb, a kind of model for the sprawl that now covers America. The Levitt brothers pitched the town as a perfect living situation, split between the town and country, close to the city, fulfilling all needs. Easily reproduced, the model erupted, expanded parasitically across America and resulted in slurbs that reinforced the hegemony of the car, destroyed vibrant neighborhood community and produced vast ecological destruction. The totality, supposed to be perfectly conceived by the architectural genius, never lives up to its goals, creating a dangerous ideological monster.
Accepting the mode of the mall (not the mall itself, which is a monster like the suburbs) prevents perfection. The slippage in fuse, the inherent mixing, recognizes imperfection. Newness comes out of bastardization. Seriously accepting the pastiche results in a re-invigorated experience. The pastiche pushes back, uncovering its flaws and displaying it’s ugly stitching. If modernity inspired a belief in utopia, the mall puts back in reality.
To further express what I wrote above, I created a PDF using the mode of the mall (fuse, join and paste): Junkspace Representation
Egon conway is about 6′ 2″ and works for The Columbia Review.