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Ellen Brown

Design, University of Warwick

Thesis title:

From post-war to post-Covid: Shifts in the Design and Vision of the Shopping Centre Experience

This project looks at shopping centres constructed over the course of the 1970s, a period of prolific construction for large-scale, enclosed retail complexes in towns and cities across Britain. It seeks to contextualise these developments within an historical, urban and cultural fabric to understand how shopping centres are integrated into existing landscapes. Taking a cue from Walter Benjamin’s discussion of the nineteenth-century arcade as a catalyst for uncovering lost histories and past modernities, this project seeks to understand the role that shopping centres played within the built environment over time.

My research combines art historical literature on the design, visual culture and modes of representation with scholarship on the urban environment to situate the shopping centre within wider discussions about how space and place is navigated and understood. Using contemporaneous debates on topics such as heritage, “Englishness” vs Americanisation, consumerism and “taste”, I seek to contribute to an emerging academic discourse on postwar commercial modernism. By focusing on the (re)production of spaces of consumption over time, I will investigate how attitudes to the design and use of the built (shopping) environment have changed, and are charging, at a moment when shopping centres face an increasingly uncertain future.

Research Area

  • Architecture History, Theory and Practice
  • Design


March 2024: John Lewis: Partnership in Shopping Centre Development, 1969-1982 (Online seminar series, CHORD University of Wolverhampton)

March 2023: "Halting the American syndrome": From American-style malls to covered British high streets (Urban History conference, University of Warwick)

Feb 2023: "Vandals are destroying this ancient city": Measuring the public response to Nottingham's two shopping centres, 1964-1972 (Contemporary History and Politics PGR Seminar series, University of Nottingham)

Dec 2022: "Vandals are destroying this ancient city": Measuring the public response to Nottingham's two shopping centres, 1964-1975 (SPUD XVIII Seminar series, London School of Architecture)

Sept 2022: Two Tales of One City: Differing Notions of the Shopping Centre in 1960s Nottingham (History of Art PGR Symposium, University of Warwick)

Public Engagement & Impact

Feb 2024: 'From Arndale to Zara, Spring Lecture Series: Shopping Centres', Twentieth Century Society, London

Oct 2022: 'Looking at centre:mk through the archive', Archive-opia, Milton Keynes (video recording)


Feb 2023: Book Review - Alistair Kefford, The Life and Death of the Shopping City, Urban History


Nov 2023: Action Piece: 'Shop 'Til They're Dropped', C20 Magazine

Nov 2023: 'Cofferidge Close' and 'Shopping Building', in 100 20th Century Shops, C20 Society

June 2021: 'Building of the Month: Shopping Building, Milton Keynes', C20 Society

Sept 2020: 'The Instagrammable Shopping Centre', Vestoj