Another Way to Use Recent Shuttered Shopping Malls

Image via The Wall Street Journal

A brief introduction of American’s shopping malls:

Last article, we talked about how commute matters to our works and lives. And how a suburban shopping mall could be an alternative solution to our Live/Work life.

Before starting my idea, I need to explain a bit on the background of American’s shopping centers.

In the 1950s, there were societal changes that ushered the boom in suburban shopping malls.

  1. After World War II, income inequality fell rapidly. Income gained at the top 10% population possess 35% of America’s total income (1). More affluent residents could afford cars and move to suburban areas. This kind of lifestyle also resulted in ample parking around the malls.
  2. Starting the interstate highway program that encouraged the beginning of suburban shopping malls.
  3. Mall developers gave low-rent terms to large, local department stores to anchor their malls and rented to smaller stores at higher rents.

Below is the result of the typical shopping center layout. The prototype of typical shopping centers is 3 or 4 anchor stores at the ends with linear shops in the middle to connect retail activities in between the anchors. Shopping centers grew larger and larger, with regional malls housing more than four anchor department stores and numerous specialty stores. An example of this is the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, which has six anchor stores with more than 520 stores in between.

Image by author

Study scenario

I would like to use this mall as example to demonstrate my idea of implementing Live/Work unit.

It is a typical suburban shopping mall: the estimate site area is 1,620,000 square feet (approx. 37 acres) and with total building footprint of 500,000 square feet.

Image by author

I kept the same building footprint and structure as the prerequisite for this study and came up with these four options. The module of the units will depend on the spacing of existing steel structures. Typically, shopping centers are often consisted of composite construction of 30–50 feet (9–15 meter) span at 20–30 feet (6–10 meter) transverse column spacing.

A side note: The residential units (Res DU) in the chart are the combination mix of both subsidized employee housing and market rate units. Also, due to the parking ratio and requirements of the live/work units were varied by which jurisdiction the building is located, I made the parking ratio assumption based on an adjustment of our local jurisdiction (2).

What’s the takeaway?

The site becomes greener

As you can see from the study, the more anchor stores we convert, the more unused parking we can turn into green/open spaces.

The site is available for more tenant engagement and community involvement

With appropriate programming and added facilities, those green/open spaces can encourage tenant engagement cooperation and community involvement.

The site can avoid unnecessary utility rerouting

One benefit of keeping the existing building footprint is that the infrastructure and utility lines are already in place. Keeping the existing building footprint will avoid unnecessary utility rerouting.

The site has more affordable housing options and less commute for employees

Take option 3 for example. Imagine an anchor retail tenant like Walmart (which has both online presence and physical stores) moved into store B: they might need 160–180 associates in the store (3). Most of these associates could live in the subsidized employee housing on site as part of Walmart’s employment benefits. This could help reduce the burden of those employees’ daily commute, and further assist with their financial health.

Check out the future article for more of middle housing type as well as unit layout designed for this study.


  1. During and after World War II, income inequality fell rapidly and drastically. It stayed at this low level until about the 1970s, when inequality began rising again: at the top 10% population possess 50% of America’s total income.
  2. The parking ration in DC refer to section-32 table 701.5. The parking ration in Montgomery county refer to table
  3. Wal-Mart Discount Stores average 107,000 square feet; employ an average of 225 associates and offer 120,000 items. Wal-Mart Supercenters include supermarkets and average 185,000 square feet, employ 350 or more associates and offer 142,000 different items. According to Walmart’s website, the average total compensation and benefits for hourly associates is $17.50.

If you are interested in reading more illustration in this related article, check out here.




Architecture-expat living at the intersection of Art, Space, Place & City. Sketches more than writes. If interested, learn more at

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Hsiao Wei

Hsiao Wei

Architecture-expat living at the intersection of Art, Space, Place & City. Sketches more than writes. If interested, learn more at

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