These boxy retail behemoth were once considered essential to a complete postwar suburb. Today, 11 percent of strip malls in North America are considered totally derelict. Their fundamental design is a huge part of the problem. Situated on busy roads, they were meant to suck up the business of commuters traveling to and from work. Nowadays, however, fewer people are driving because of higher gas prices, more traffic and an increasing reliance on walking and public transportation.
Vacancies across the nation have risen as big-box retailers and department stores announced closures and the construction of new product simultaneously slowed. The tenant mix in strip centers is a healthy mix of internet-resistant retailers and service-oriented tenants. Owners and managers of strip malls anchored by grocery stores are complementing their tenant mix with discount retailers, quick-service restaurant concepts, family entertainment options and smartphone shops. Strip malls are also benefiting from the decentralizing of medical campuses. With little new strip mall construction in progress, immediate demand from tenants has revitalized strip malls, especially those that were built 20 to 50 years ago.
A study of L.A. strip malls validates a long-ignored building type
If there was ever an official tribunal to determine what Architecture is and what it is not, the strip mall building type might be placed in the latter category without hesitation. Even their origins struggle to align with any familiar canons of architecture history: when the oil crisis caused several gas stations to close throughout Los Angeles , their small corner parcels became ideal sites for the inexpensively-constructed building type, which attracted small business owners due to their relatively cheap rental costs. A new self-published book by the Los Angeles-based design firm Use All Five and edited by Shaina Goel intends to elevate the strip-mall into a building type as worthy of study as any other, complete with a historical overview, fine-art photography, and genuine speculations concerning its future against the prevalence of online shopping. Not the obvious way, which is to tear down Paris and begin again, as Le Corbusier suggested in the s.
The most interesting part of any city is generally its downtown, with historic buildings and narrow streets. But drive a couple miles—or in small towns, several blocks—in any direction, and the terrain quickly devolves. Major roadways turn into strip malls fronted with parking lots and endless stretches of chain retail. These strip-mall arterials exist nationwide, robbing cities of their appeal. But that is a big fat myth—they have been forced into existence by government regulations.