doha mall 1

A replica of Venice’s canals inside the Villaggio Mall in Doha. © Lars Plougmann.

Shopping malls are surreal. Time stops in them and you are simultaneously somewhere and nowhere. The sumptuous consumer paradises have no history—they just exist. They force you to adapt to a new geography—one of a prescribed route through nameless air-conditioned streets. They are places of leisure—where you can enter early doors and leave after dark having had your every need catered for in the same building.

Once you’re in you can’t escape. Elevators and air-conditioning enable an architectural space where distinct places blend into one—the cultural centre, theme park, cinema, restaurant, nightclub, supermarket, fashion boutique and sometimes even art gallery, casino, transport hub, hotel, mini-golf course, aquarium, ski resort and beach.[1] Yet despite being a blur of all of these places, the mall is still curiously a non-place. Like airports, supermarkets or the dentist’s office, we do not form a meaningful bond with them architecturally like we might with an opulent country house or Gothic cathedral. Non-places are there to be passed through, we’re not meant to form a bond—they are ‘lived through in the present’.

doha mall 2

A simulation of dawn inside the Villaggio Mall’s replica of Venice’s canals. © Erik Torner.

Rem Koolhaas calls these junk spaces. In his playful 2001 essay Junkspace, he riffs on the tendency towards such totalising spaces, connecting them with the rationalisation of Modernity. The piece is cleverly constructed with tantalising prose and luscious inviting imagery and offers no absolutes, mirroring precisely the junk spaces he describes. It is to be drifted through—just like the shopping mall, so aside the highlighters and reference works and enjoy.

Superstrings of graphics, transplanted emblems of franchise and sparkling infrastructures of light, LED’s, and video describe an authorless world beyond anyone’s claim, always unique, utterly unpredictable, yet intensely familiar. Junkspace is hot (or suddenly artic); fluorescent walls, folded like melting stained glass, generate additional heat to raise the temperature of Junkspace to levels where you could cultivate orchids. Pretending histories left and right, its contents are dynamic yet stable, recycled or multiplied as in cloning: forms search for function like hermit crabs for a vacant shell…

Full text available here.

[1] These all exist inside at least one shopping mall around the world—in most cases in several.

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