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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 prolific period of construction for large-scale shopping 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. My research examines how the design, use and function of 1970s shopping centres has been adapted since their construction alongside changing social, cultural and political attitudes.

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, from implementation to demise. Since the dawn of e-commerce two decades ago, the importance of the shopping centre as a mainstay in towns and cities has been in steady decline – something that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

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. By focusing on the (re)production of spaces of consumption over time, I aim to contribute critical perspectives around how notions such as ‘authenticity’ and ‘materiality’ impact the design of the built (shopping) environment.

Research Area

  • Architecture History, Theory and Practice
  • Design


Dec 2022: '"Vandals are destorying this ancient city": Measuring the public response to Nottingham's two shopping centres, 1964-1975', SPUD, 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

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