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Recycling Strip Malls: Reinvisioning Public Space

I've always thought there was nothing sadder than a strip mall. In the Southeastern United States where I grew up, the steadily encroaching tide of flat generic architecture has washed over pristine forests...and in many cases, washed back with the changing population, leaving abandoned retail husks in its wake. These empty shopping centers are so poignant because they are the eerie reminders of how quickly fashions change: a particular neighborhood or chain is hot one day and a relic the next. They are also the fossils of optimism, of families who gambled on a franchise and lost. Consumption as it is currently practiced in America still has a seemingly endless supply of this ready yet fickle optimism: the next strip mall is anointed with a new name and maybe a few streamers; shoppers rove the aisles admiring the gleam and taking advantage of the sales, no one thinking about the clock ticking on the shiny newness.

When a strip mall becomes still it can usually only look forward to a developer razing it to the ground to start again. The MacroSea design team looks at an abandoned strip mall's ashes but sees the phoenix. The group, which has worked on commercial, retail, infrastructure, education, and residential projects in the US and abroad, has a slideshow depicting redesigns of empty retail structures. The difference between the before and after images almost takes your breath away. Ugly gray surfaces are festooned with greenery. A relaxed outdoor cafe invites you to lounge in a parking lot, sunflowers looking on. Public space, instead of something to be endured, becomes a nurturing arena.

Too often, our culture has made a sharp divide between the beautiful and the everyday. One of the reasons I love recycled art is that it makes us see bottle caps as bright baubles. Is the key to see nothing as trash, no space without potential? The Macro/Sea folks are even transforming the spaces dedicated to trash into something livable with their dumpsters-into-pools project. It makes me so happy that someone is taking pity on these poor capsized hulks on our suburban landscapes.

Tags: Aesthetic, Architecture, Art, Design, Green space, Leisure, Repurpose, Shopping

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