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Shopping arcades may be fighting a losing battle for consumers in the long run. They appear to be too rigid in structure, lack complexity and adaptability. For the last years, internationally, there’s been a triumphant return for the department store. In London; Selfridge’s, Harvey Nichol’s and last, but not least; Dover Street Market, these are changing the idea of a department store. At least with Dover Street Market, the idea is to create a more adaptable structure. Brands are organised independently and can update lines and stalls freer than a shop with a generic men’s department. The fact that it is decorated like a shanty town just increases its impression of instant flux. Departments can expand and retract according to need whereas the shopping arcade is locked in so many ways to the physical borders between the actual shops.

Another great strategy is to mix in other activities with the shopping, eating, drinking, art exhibitions and so on, among the merchandise rather than in a food court. It’s basically all done in order to expose the customer too as many products as possible in a friendly environment. The need to sell is not emphasized, cash registers are almost hidden away, staff don’t accost you, the need to browse is understood and encouraged. The longer you spend there the more profitable you are and thus it’s in the interest of the store is to make you feel welcome and make you linger around. The shopping area becomes curated rather than engineered, art exhibitions are interlaced with products and the borders between art and consumer goods are blurred.

This concept has now found its way to Stockholm, it may have been around for a while, what do I know, I haven’t been there in ages. PUB is one of the classic department stores in Stockholm, but has in recent years become less exclusive and popular. The top floor has recently been refurbished to accommodate a very DSM inspired fashion outlet. Even most of the aesthetics seem to come from the same shanty-town concept.

This type of venues will probably pop up all over the place in the coming years, and whether or not they succeed will basically depend on whether they manage to maintain their exclusive reputation. You can only have so many luxury shantytowns in one city. I am quite positive to the concept I must admit, it adds a few of the layers of complexity that the shopping mall lacks by mixing bars and exhibition spaces with the shopping. These developments are more living room like, whereas shopping malls are highways, pick your exit from the main aisle, do your business, get back out. Places like D.S.M. and PUB manage to keep me interested quite a while longer. I am however no expert in shop design and profitability per square foot and so forth, and in the end, that’s what it all comes down to.

From an urban perspective, I don’t really mind them neither. They don’t pretend to be an extension of the street, that’s the whole point; it’s exclusive. These stores are highly controlled environments, but so are shopping malls, possibly to an even higher degree. At the same time, they never claim to be public, they never pretend to be an ersatz for the city centre, they are a part of it.

If you look up the term “Cyberpunk” in Wikipedia, you’ll find an image of Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz. Cyberpunk is as a genre of literature and films, and is usually set in a near future dystopia, with “high-tech and low life”, artificial intelligence and corporations running amok, where nothing is as it seems to our eyes. All in all an extremely in-human world. Bladerunner is a prime example of the genre.

The Wikipedia image caption states that Sony Center has aesthetic qualities resembling of the genre, but on the other hand, one could extend the analogy to cyberpunk even further.

Potsdamer Platz used to be the absolute city centre in Berlin in the twenties, it was the largest traffic junction on the continent, a huge number of vehicles and trams passed by every day and this also led to the erection of Europe’s first traffic light. Since a bunch of Third Reich official buildings were located in the vicinity, the area was reduced to rubble in the allied bombing raids. During the cold war, the area was part of No man’s land, and remained barren. When the wall came down, officials in Berlin were suddenly faced with the fact that their once city center was still rubble.

As the reunited Berlin was a city with aspirations, everything was done to make sure the area was returned to its vibrant pre-war self as quickly as possible. In order to achieve this, the large area was reduced to three sites, each to be sold off to just one corporation. Naturally, the prospect of cheap inner city land made many a corporation start drooling, and in the end the two largest slices were snatched up by Sony and Daimler-Benz and they set forth to develop the area at neck-breaking speed. The objective was to create the resemblance of urbanity, shops, cafes, theaters and so on on ground level. An urban area containing pedestrian streets, lined with trees, fountains and the usual urban paraphernalia. The only difference is that it is almost entirely privately owned and managed. A meticulously controlled private city. Quite cyberpunk, isn’t it?