Refurbishing America’s Shopping Mall

The Arcade © PBN/Brian McDonald via PBN

One thing about a recession is that it accelerates the demise of dying trends and struggling establishments. In this case, it is America’s beloved shopping malls, which have been slowly in decline since their peak popularity in 1990. Now, in the wake of the 2008 economic catastrophe, American cities are riddled with these abandoned shopping meccas, from the mall to big box stores and shopping strips, whose oversize parking lots are equally as useless as the spaces themselves. The question is, how can we effectively repurpose these spaces?

A perfect example after the break…

The Westminster Arcade via Wikipedia

Ideas have been swarming the internet for years, suggesting anything from indoor gardens to health clinics. However, one of the most popular solutions is to repopulate these spaces with an appropriate mix of apartments and retail space. The latest shopping center expected to undergo this type of transformation is the famous Arcade Providence in Providence, . Built in 1829 by architects James Bucklin and Russell Warren, this Greek Revival structure is listed as a National Historic Landmark for being the nation’s first enclosed shopping mall. It initially locked its doors in 2008 for a major interior renovation and has since remained closed.

Model of the Arcade’s micro-units. Courtesy of Evan Granoff/Arcade Providence

During this time, owner Evan Granoff hired Michael Abbott of Northeast Collaborative Architects LLC to facilitate in a redesign that aimed to “position the building for a better economic future.” The mixed-use plan, which commenced in January 2012 and is scheduled for completion this Spring, will transform the second and third floors into 48 micro-loft apartments that range from 225 to 450 square feet, while integrating approximately 14 businesses, including three or four restaurants, into its first floor. 

Similar to final proposals of New York’s adAPT micro-apartment competition, the affordable apartments are equipped efficient, flexible space that can transform to fulfill your every need. Highlights include built-in beds, a full bath, and proper storage, while the only downfall seems to be the lack of a stove.

Rendering of Micro Apartments. Courtesy of Evan Granoff/Arcade Providence

This $8 million renovation is just one example of how America can refurbish their abandoned shopping malls. For more examples, check out the projects featured at New York’s Museum of the City’s exhibition Making Room, which will remain on view until September 15 (more information here).

Is there a local project taking over a disused shopping mall or big box store in your area? If so, tell us about it in the comment section below.

References: The Atlantic Cities (12),  Providence Business News

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Refurbishing America’s Shopping Mall" 21 Feb 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • Lorenz Krisai

    While it is understandable why architects are trying to find ways to reuse former shopping malls, I dont see why anyone would want to LIVE in a shopping mall. This is at best a possibility for small office units, but nobody – no matter how cheap it may be – wants to live in a mall. Historic landmark or not.

    • Greg P

      Just because you don’t want to live in a mall doesn’t mean nobody would want to. Not to mention the fact that if the mall were repurposed, the experience would be completely different from what a mall is like now, so how can you say you wouldn’t like it if you don’t even know what it would be like?

    • Jihan Lew

      i would live there!

    • Rob F

      It has never been a mall. It was, is, and always be “The Arcade”. They are converting former office and factory buildings into apartments and or condos. This is nothing new if you are from here.

  • Madeline R

    This could definitely work, although it would be interesting to think about how this mixed use proposal would translate in a more sprawled, car-centric city where, unfortunately, this problem of vacant shopping malls seems to have the most severe impact.

  • Speed

    ” … in the wake of the 2008 economic catastrophe, American cities are riddled with these abandoned shopping meccas … ”

    Do you have an authoritative source for this statement? Every enclosed shopping mall I am aware of is either in operation or has been torn down and replaced with more productive buildings.

    There are plenty of strip centers that have reached the end of their productive lives, their prosperous retail tenants having been replaced by dollar stores, tanning salons, nail salons, seasonal tax filers and empty windows. These cannot be refurbished because they are physically used up.

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  • Richard Peck

    Basic concept seems excellent for senior housing. Appropriately supportive stores located with the apartments would eliminate transportation as an issue

  • Mario

    It’s also a realestate crisis isn’t it? Better make it into a supervised shelter for the homeless victems of the crisis..

  • Cecilie Nilsen