All Hail the Strip Mall

Cal Poly Pomona
Winter & spring 2015

Published in Burrasca Issue #3: Glitch

The strip mall is a strategic urban instrument and an underrated architectural device. It is a no-place (Does that make it a utopia?¹), as it is peripheral to architectural investments, while it is generic and ubiquitous on an urban level. We have become so accustomed to street corner parking lots and 7-Elevens that we know that we will see a similar development a few blocks down, or perhaps even across the street. Consequently, the strip mall's ordinariness allows itself to melt into the background of the urban fabric, resulting in its common treatment as mere “junkspace”.² However, its programmatic essentials do not go unnoticed, due to human behavior and needs within this capitalistic society.

Unlike its brother, the regional center, the strip mall is programmatically successful and resilient. The classic mall has a quick death rate due to economic downfalls and the increasing popularity of online shopping, whereas the strip mall continues to strive. Rather than offering products, it provides a variety of idiosyncratic services that people merely cannot order on the Internet or that may not exist anywhere else outside the strip mall. More importantly, it grants an experience that demands one's engagement, allowing an individual to be present physically and mentally.

Parking plays a vital role as a characteristic signifier, but also as a transitional agent from the street to the building. However, the abruptness of the strip mall's unsightly parking lots, which are always located in the front of the building, serves this purpose clumsily. This project distributes the parking in two locations: one tucked within the crook of the building and one on the second story. This allows for customers to access the surrounding retailers easily and understates its typically glaring presence. However, it does not attempt to undermine parking. The parking stripe motif is reintroduced into the roof's graphic as undulating strips that act as a shell for the distinctive programs within the space.

This project is a reinterpretation of the strip mall's architectural form, and it strives to draw attention to the building as a celebration and praise for the strip mall through superficial means of graphic expression.

An indexical figure ground study of existing Los Angeles strip malls, in which black represents the building and white represents parking

Parking ultimately defines a strip mall and distinguishes it from a regional center (the classic mall).

These sets of diagrams take a look at shuffling three parts of the strip mall: retail, pedestrian circulation, and parking. Typically, the parking lot acts as a primary buffer between the street and the stores, while the sidewalk acts as a secondary cushion. Rearranging these three components of a strip mall provides an opportunity to understand its programmatic function and propose a new layout, in hopes of discovering a more successful flow of spaces.

Diagrams of multi-level and retail spaces

An early design utilizing ramping and a second story parking lot to service upper level retail

Cross section (left) and longitudinal section (right) of the final design

Exploded axonometric of the various components (from top to bottom): roof shell,
second level parking and retail, structural system, overall project, groundwork

South and north oblique elevations

East and west oblique elevations,

In order to create the patterns on the project's surfaces, I corrupted the data of several photographs (left) I have taken over the years. Each of the resulting patterns (right) correspond to a specific component within the project: One texture correlates to walls, one for the ground, one for parking, one for stairs, one for pedestrian ramps, etc. Despite each element's distinct surface pattern, the overall project appears homogeneous, due to its identity as a strip mall. This project plays with the program’s democracy, in terms of its spaces and appearance, and the building melts into itself and the patterns that consume it, rather than the rest of its urban context.

1. Utopia is based off the Greek roots "ou", meaning "not, and "topos", meaning "place."
2. Koolhaas, Rem. "Junkspace." Harvard's Design School Guide to Shopping (2000): 408-21.