Solving Cities

Haunting images of deserted shopping malls

Haunting images of deserted shopping malls

Posting in Cities

Photographer Brian Ulrich's 'Is This Place Great or What' is a meditation on what the future of our cities won't be -- oversize, sterile and driven by consumption-as-distraction

[caption id="attachment_1026" align="alignnone" width="477" caption="Circuit City, Ponderosa Steakhouse, 2008. [All photos by Brian Ulrich, from Is This Place Great Or What, Aperture, 2011"]
Circuit City, Ponderosa Steakhouse, 2008.
[/caption]Photographer Brian Ulrich's 'Is This Place Great or What' is a meditation on what the future of our cities won't be -- oversize, sterile and driven by consumption-as-distraction.

Randall Park Mall, 2008.

Beginning in 2001, Ulrich used his camera to chart the arc of America's consumer landscape. From 2008-2011 he completed a series called Dark Stores, pictures of malls that had begun emptying out even before the great recession.

Dominicks, 2008.

It would be easy to read these images as a sort of visual existential crisis -- Pax Americana caught wide-eyed in the flashbulb moment after its debt-saddled economy finally began to implode. But it's also possible to read them as incredibly optimistic. These places, so haunting when emptied of shoppers, are precisely what the future of cities won't be like.

Circuit City, 2010.

Big box stores, mindless consumerism, shopping as a competitive sport, sterile expanses of shop floor and parking lot that are the antithesis of walkable, mixed-use communities -- this is their epitaph.

Rose, Northridge Mall, 2010.

Ulrich's series Dark Stores is on view now at the Cleveland Museum of Art. His monograph is available now. For more images from the series, as well as commentary from the artist himself, check out his post on Is This Place Great Or What at Design Observer.

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Christopher Mims

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Christopher Mims has written for Scientific American, WIRED, Popular Science, Fast Company, Good, Discover, Slate, Technology Review, Nature and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Formerly, he was an editor at Scientific American, Grist and Seed. He is based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure