Saturday, July 13, 2013

Barton Creek Mall: Public vs. Private Space by Lauren Fedele


   Here in the United States there is a wide array of shopping malls and the population has grown accustom to them, even though there are many variations. Some malls have multiple stories while some are one level. Some have movie theatres, skating rinks, and other attractions while some simply have stores.  Many are enclosed spaces while others are more open and engaged with the outdoor environment. The list can go on. But, what defines a mall comes down to two things, how it looks aesthetically and its usage. These two elements reveal how the mall attempts to classify itself as a public or private space, which at times is an ongoing battle. As time has progressed, more people want a public space that resembles European street shops, which is apparent in many buildings architectural references. That is why new malls tend to be open and interact with the outside environment, giving the space a park like feel while still being controlled. We can see this in Austin at the Domain or in San Antonio at La Cantera mall. Barton Creek Mall, however, resembles the traditional shopping mall but projects itself as much more private than a typical mall.
         Barton Creek Mall is located on the Barton Creek Watershed and next to the Barton Creek Greenbelt on top of a hill, which makes it fairly elevated. It is primarily accessible by car and there is only one bus that stops at the mall making access to it limited. Additionally, very tall trees surround the edifice blurring the building. Once you have passed the foliage and the circles of parking lots, you can finally see the structure, however, the buildings lack of character and defining form make it feel like it is still trying to hide. Therefore, the exterior aesthetic with its buried location, lack of accessibility, and minimal character portrays the image of a protective, secluded, private building much like a castle or fort.
     When you enter the mall, it suddenly becomes more open and brighter making the space feel more public and free form. However, when you enter into an individual store you get the impression that you are entering a private space. The way the clothes racks and displays are arranged combined with the lighting and music, it controls how you move in the space and they are provoking a mood and ambiance that will hopefully promote the consumption of their products. When you leave a store, the atriums and hallways feel more open, free, and communal. It feels more like a public space such as a plaza or park. However, the placement of Kiosks and vendors in the middle of the hallways selling you T-mobile phones or perfumes are obstructing these “public spaces.” They are trying to further promote consumption but are also preventing demonstrations, protests, and performances from occurring in the space. Additionally, the fact that each individual store is separated by doors and that you consistently have to travel though separate spaces adds to the privatization of the individual stores in the mall. In the film,
“Blade Runner,” the city is designed in this similar controlling, enclosed, private form. The entire form of Barton Creek Mall is designed to portray a private space and conveys that it is intended to be used in a specific manner.
     Although Barton Creek Mall’s aesthetic and form portrays the mall as a private space, the people who come to the mall have slowly altered the use of it. The mall has become more of a park in multiple ways. For example, if you go to the mall during mid-day around noon on a weekday you will see three main groups of people are at the mall primarily to get out of their house. The first are families or stay at home mothers with their little kids. The second are teenagers, which can be found in groups or pairs typically walking around and talking. The third and last group is the elderly and they can be seen walking around, sitting, reading, or simply observing society. The mall is a relatively cheap form of entertainment and an easy social and gathering place. Taking into consideration that it is now the summer and too hot to be outside, this air-conditioned mall has been converted into a park. The benches and couches in the hallways and atriums of the mall are placed like they would in a park. People sit in them while talking to their friends, watching their kids play, reading their novels, or simply while waiting for their spouse to finish their shopping. You can see kids playing on the railings, on the fountains, and running around the atriums. Some people even come to the mall to exercise because it has air conditioning and it allows them to see and interact with people rather than at their enclosed gym or house. The reasons why people come to the mall are changing and the way the people at the mall are using the space is transforming.
     The mall is becoming a communal center, a place to interact with others and socialize. Although Barton Creek Mall is located in an area that is primarily middle to upper class and white, the mall attracts a wide range of people. You can see Hispanics, African Americans and Asians at the mall in addition to Caucasians. The stores located in the mall are mainly for middle class people. There are not many high-end or luxury stores like Dolce and Gabbana or Lactose. As you walk around, you can sometimes also hear other languages being spoken like Spanish. Even its lack of accessibility hasn’t stopped people from coming. One time when I was leaving the mall, I observed a lady and her two sons come out of a taxi that brought them to the mall. Barton Creek Mall is adapting to these changes also. They are playing more current music that speaks to the younger population. They have also added a kiosk that does currency exchange. I have never seen a currency exchange in a mall before but Barton Creek mall is trying to accommodate all its customers.
     There is no doubt that Barton Creek portrays itself as a privately owned space. The aesthetic of the building, its buried and fortified location, its lack of accessibility and controlling form indicate that. However, although it promotes consumption inside its walls with the use of banners, advertisements, and never ending string of vendors and stores which is the original and economic purpose of the building, it is transforming into a public communal center; into an indoor park. People of various ethnicities and economic class come to the mall as a form of entertainment and to socialize. Barton Creek is a prime example of the thin line between public and private space that malls hover.         

Capital Metro
American planning Association
Simon Malls
Samo Pederson: The Shopping Mall as a Public Space
Blade Runner