Historical Evolution of Shopping Places

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In the beginning of the history of shopping places, the shopping activity took place in the open spaces with other urban and public functions and activities and activities of the city, like ancient Greek Agora or Roman Forum.

After centuries, the enclosed shopping malls separated urbanity and shopping activity from each other. These fully enclosed and environmentally controlled consumption spaces reinterpreted the urban fabric to simulate a city image and a street like atmosphere indoors. Inside the walls a new city was created, where people shop, eat, entertain, and even sleep, get married or have a college education.

Today, urban fabric and shopping mall integration is becoming more important. Open space and sustainable design for shopping malls are the rising trends in the world. So, the existing shopping malls are opening, integrating with and fabric and continually updating themselves to compete with the emerging shopping places. This recent regeneration trend is called ‘De-malling’ in the world.


As it is not possible to comprehend and design shopping malls without knowing their beginning and their evolution as a type, this dissertation explores the history of shopping places through recent trends in shopping mall design. Shopping malls are accepted as urban public spaces. So, the scope of study is originated according to urban public space quality of shopping malls. The study comprises a research on definitions and theories of public realm, public space, and urbanity and their interaction with shopping mall design concepts. The shopping spaces in history and the contemporary shopping mall, from the beginning through the emerging types, are exemplified and examined from literature and Internet, in order to understand their evolution, their transformation, and their regeneration reasons, strategies and solutions. In the end, the recent strategies also verify the customers preferring of shopping malls with improved urban space quality.


Today, consumption has become a lifestyle and shopping malls are the temples of consumption. Shopping malls are regenerating urban surrounding with their multiple functionality, different architectural concepts, and innovative architectural solutions they provide. How do they become that powerful?


The city is an involved organism under constant change. In its living mesh, public structures are bonded to the places where people live, and these, in turn, are bonded to each other, in a rich artifice of contiguity. The city presents us with a new set of environmental ideas, such as the street, the public square, the defensive wall and its gates. It crowds our discussion with a score of building inventions – for example, the canal and the granary, the palace and the bath, the market, the bakery, shops, restaurants, and libraries. (A history of Architecture: Settings and Rituals by Spiro Kostof, page: 43)


When Prehistoric people started to communicate they also started to trade. They bartered goods and services from each other. The history of long-distance commerce began approximately 150.000 years ago. The earliest trading activities took place in meeting and gathering spaces. (Shopping Environments: Evolution, Planning and Design By Peter Coleman)

During the Stone Age, the exchange of obsidian and flint was started. In Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic period settlement in southern Anatolia 7500-5000 BC, there is evidence that obsidian tools were traded for items such as Mediterranean Sea shells and flint from Syria.

In 1969 Jane Jacobs (journalist, author, and activist best known for her influence on urban studies) developed a new theory, called New Obsidian Theory, to explain the progress of urbanization in Neolithic ages. In this theory she created an imaginary city and named as New Obsidian, Çatalhöyük was her model city. According to Jacobs, the obsidian trade exposed the New Obsidian city and the whole city was a market place in function.

Also according to Kostof (A history of Architecture: Settings and Rituals by Spiro Kostof, p.43), the urban revolution differs from the Neolithic revolution. The city typified a social process and the revolution it brought about was embodied in the interaction of people with each other.

One of the primary purposes for the founding and functioning of cities is exchanging goods. So, trade is one of the reasons for interactions of people with each other that developed urbanization. Although it is assumed that trade was started in Neolithic period; the earliest figurative presentation of market place is seen in Egyptian drawings in 1500 BC. But, there is no certain evidence in what space or building they carried out their trading activities.

Before the invention of money, trade was state’s sovereignty to be. For example, in Ancient Egypt, pharaoh wielded complete control of the land and its resources as the absolute monarch of the country. All people were his workers. Then they started to trade in little scales. They used a kind of barter system. The ancient Egyptians did not conceptualize the use of money until the Late Period. During the 5th century B.C., money was introduced from abroad. (http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/prices.htm)

In the ancient east, chains of retail stores are known to have operated in China in several centuries B.C. Chinese people traded salt, iron, fish, cattle, and silk through the famous Silk Road, they also traded externally: goods from China could be traded by Greece (http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/china/ss/082208china_5.htm)


The Agora was an open ‘‘place of assembly’’ in ancient Greek city-states. The most important function of the agora was place for daily communications and formal and informal assembly. In the beginning, the citizens would gather in the agora for military duty or to hear statements of the ruling king or council, early in the Greek history in 900s-700s B.C. Later, the Agora defined as an open-air, often tented market place of a city where merchants had their shops and where craftsmen made and sold their wares. Agora was the genesis of modern urban space.

On market days, goods were laid out on mats or on temporary stalls to allow other activities – such as voting and debate, public displays, sports and parades – to take place outside market days. The earliest trading took place at the hub of the settlement, and so established the integrated relationship between trading and the heart of civilized activity in the center of the towns. (Shopping Environments: Evolution, Planning and Design By Peter Coleman)

Agora was located on the crossings of main roads of the city and surrounded by public buildings. One of the important parts of the Agora was the Stoa. Stoa comprises covered walkways or porticos for public usage. Large porticoes appeared on the main roads of the big towns during the Greek and Roman periods.

In the ancient Greek merchants spread their wares under the colonnades of the Stoa, which was especially designated for their activity. Still there were no permanent shops as a physically defined space for shops in the Greek Agora. The Greek cities developed in a spontaneous, organic fashion, lacked coherent street systems, and contained ‘only the beginnings of arcaded public promenades’. But later, starting in the sixth century B.C., new Greek cities emerged that were based on a systematic plan, called gridiron, with standardized blocks, long wide avenues, and a rectangular agora surrounded by colonnaded streets. The Romans extended this plan.


Forum is the market place or public place of an ancient Roman city, the center of judicial and business affairs and a place of assembly for the people (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/forum (12.12.2009)). Just like Greek Agora, the major cities of the Roman period formed open spaces as the center of the civic life, which were surrounded by temples, basilicas, bathhouses and state buildings. Shopping was one of the activities which took place both in the buildings and in the forum space. (Shopping Environments: Evolution, Planning and Design By Peter Coleman)

The Roman Forum, which was a rectangular courtyard surrounded by shops, was located on the axis, between basilica and capitol (Figure 3.6). This plan was repeated throughout the Empire. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio who was born in 80–70 B.C. and died after 15 B.C. has been called as world’s first known engineer. He outlined the standardization and use of readymade models in his treatise. As a result, from the 1st century B.C. new towns and municipalities became miniature Romes. The role of architectural innovation had been reduced.

The major forum was called the Forum Romanum. The others named as the Forum Caesaris, the Forum Trajani, the forum boarium (the cattle market),the forum piscarium (the fish market), the forum holitorium (the vegetable market), and the forum suarium (the hog market); like today’s supermarkets. (http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_pennellhistoryofrome47.htm)


Trajan’s Market provided a totally new image for urban design, as a revolutionary complex of vaulted spaces for commercial and social purposes. Apollodorus of Damascus built the Market in AD 100-110 in the time of Emperor Trajan. During the middle Ages the complex was transformed by adding floor levels. Trajan’s Forum is likely to have been one of the first collections of defined shops and was a magnificent arrangement of shared-use buildings. It was the first example of the shops largely under cover and arranged on several levels. Trajan’s Forum was having about 150 shops on various levels. The upper levels were used for offices while the lower part, had shops selling oil, wines, seafood, groceries, vegetables and fruit.


After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 5th century, Western Europe drifted into 500 years or so of dark ages, shopping included. The large-scale retail environment of the Roman forum was not re-attained until many centuries later. However, trading never ceased and barter became the basis for exchange of goods rather than money. Following the dark ages, the middle Ages witnessed the first sustained urbanization of northern and western Europe. As a result, towns began to proper again, alongside the castles and abbeys, eventually broadening and developing into trading centers. (Shopping Environments: Evolution, Planning and Design By Peter Coleman)


The market and town halls were the heart of trading and business activity of the city. They were located along with the market square, in the center of the town. The early market and town hall buildings combined the two uses: the first floor was administration, the ground floor remained open between the columns and was used as an extension to the market. The merchandises displayed on removable stalls. After a while, the ground floors were arranged into a group of small shops. So, the defined shop spaces in Northern Europe started. This format of outward facing collections of shops would come to form the basis of shop-lined streets throughout Europe in later centuries.

By 1300AD permanent structures had begun to intrude on to open market places. These islands of buildings originated as temporary stalls arranged in narrow rows devoted to particular trades. Later, the stalls were replaced by buildings with domestic accommodation or storage above a stall or shop, and many were eventually reconstructed as complete houses. A very good example of a combined market and town hall providing a collection of defined shops can be found at the Ring in Breslau – 1275, today Wroclaw in Poland. The Breslau Market Buildings are one of the earliest examples of purpose-built single-use market buildings. Beside the town hall, four parallel linear ways lined with shops on each side provided undercover stalls for different types of trade.

The market was founded according to Magdeburg Law as early as the rule of Henry I the Bearded between 1214 and 1232. Over time, the patricians' houses appeared and by the middle of the 14th century they had formed a closed construction with the limits of the plots defined. The Magdeburg Law were a set of German town laws regulating the degree of internal autonomy within cities and villages granted with it by a local ruler. The law was a milestone in urbanization of the region and prompted the development of thousands of villages and cities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdeburg_rights)

By the 16th century, across Europe market buildings were no longer combined with town halls. Instead, market halls were built as large linear structures covering long nave-like spaces, with side aisles lined with stalls forming collections of shops.