About this project:

This project is an extension of current PhD research into the changing design, use and experience of twentieth-century British shopping centres. The writing and material shared here will be informed by my PhD project as it takes shape, but will also draw on current events. My research comes at a time when retail environments, such as high streets and shopping centres, are falling into disrepair or disappearing from British town centres entirely. The steady decline of physical retail spaces is not a recent phenomenon; the shift of consumer habits, towards online shopping for example, has already been the subject of discussion in business and retail circles for the past twenty years. The pandemic has certainly exacerbated this process, creating a greater need to critically engage with these spaces before they possibly vanish from the built environment.

My research focuses on a number of shopping centres built over the course of the 1970s, and investigates how these spaces were originally envisioned and how they have been (re)adapted over time alongside changing economic, political and cultural shifts. Though many shopping centres were built in Britain before and after the 1970s, my intention here is to focus on a period of intense construction, changing political mood, and shifting ideas about the urban transformation (“modernisation”) of British centres in the second half of the twentieth century. In order to create a broad overview of these shifts, my project will uncover the locales that existed on the sites of these shopping centres before construction, and the changing design of these spaces in the years since.

The evolution in design and use of spaces of consumption, such as arcades and department stores, has been the focus of considerable scholarly attention but shopping centres remain largely overlooked. Though recent historical accounts are beginning to redress this imbalance, this project coalesceces art historical texts with key theory (Benjamin, Lefebvre) and interdisciplinary scholarship to contribute a snapshot of Britain's shopping centres now, at the moment of their uncertain future.

More information on Midlands4Cities, and my project at Warwick