Shopping Malls


Liz Waytkus


Docomomo US staff


Advocacy, Annual Theme, Shopping Malls
Image details

As the population shift stretched out into the suburbs, it transformed the idea of commerce. Shopping malls became a staple of American society after the Second World War, providing convenient access to domestic needs while offering social and cultural components. Early malls were small, open-air groupings of commercial enterprises with a small parking lot out front.  But the idea rapidly expanded with the creation of the fully enclosed malls in Edina, Minnesota: Southdale Center (1956), and in Southfield, Michigan: Northland Center (open air mall opened in 1954 and enclosed in 1975), among many others. This new take on suburban commercial structures began the trend for these sprawling structures that became ubiquitous within our built fabric and only continued to morph and change over the course of the 20th century.

Today, shopping malls are at a critical point of flux.

Younger generations are choosing cities over suburbs, consumers purchase goods online in the comfort of their homes, and the COVID-19 pandemic challenges our health and comfort of being around large groups of people. As part of this pivot away from these massive structures, it is critical that we begin to analyze what is left, what is historic and what we should save, who malls were built for, and their role in promoting both segregation and assimilation in American society.

For our thematic year on shopping malls, Docomomo US will partner with leading scholars, our twenty regional chapters, and other organizations to create a conversation around the depth and breadth of this typology, Docomomo US will incorporate this research throughout our 2022 programming including:

  • A partnership with Alexandra Lange, whose new book, Meet Me by the Fountain, will be released later this year
  • Development of a crowdsourced resource documenting the state of malls across the country
  • National Symposium to take place in Philadelphia in June
  • Mission for Modernism webinar series
  • Tour Day in October
  • Themed newsletter in the Summer
  • Scholarly articles to be published on our publicly accessible website
  • Creation of a unique hashtag, #Mallitecture for the theme as a way for individuals to share their stories and photos of local malls

To get you started, check out this presentation by Alexandra Lange on how shopping shaped postwar America for Indiana Modern, an affinity group of Indiana Landmarks and a Docomomo US Friend Organization.