TOWN-MALL is a 2018 proposal for the transformation of Lincoln Square Mall for the city council of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Victor Gruen designed the original mall in 1963 with the intention of creating a civic-commercial space for the city. It was relatively successful until a complex of big-box stores was constructed outside the city, sending the downtown into decline. We were interested in re-purposing the monumentality of these generic boxes, channeling their iconicity into a new space of civic representation. By first acknowledging that the suburban periphery is the most contested political arena today, we can revive the familiar typology of the Big Box as a radically accessible space of political performance. Co-opting the big-box as a stage for voting and canvassing, local engagement and municipal assembly, this reusable container will highlight the proximity between consumer desire and political choice. While the opulence of the liner within the ultra-cheap shed of the big-box acknowledges the mall’s original complicity with private consumption, it simultaneously elevates the status of the building as a communal space. The vast interior, empty and neutral, re-instrumentalizes commercial space as a scenographic frame for civic representation.
TOWN-MALL solicited no response from city council, despite public calls for ideas to revitalize the Lincoln Square area. The rejection of the project underscored the increasingly problematic relationship between public space and private interests and the need to make visible the increasing displacement of the civic with consumption. If the “civic” is the obligation of the city to its citizens and its citizens to the city, we are proposing an equivalent set of duties between Capital and its intended subjects, reconstituting commercial space as a stage for political performance. As a new model for the public commons that is counter to the corporate sponsorship of public space, this TOWN-MALL qua TOWN-HALL questions this new alignment between the performance of commerce and political participation.