The (un)Dead: Adaptive Reuse and the American Shopping Mall Activating History, Theory, and Design-Research to Mobilize Interior Futures

Presented by: First Author: Gregory Marinic; Second Author: Ziad Qureshi

'The (un)Dead' is a research-based interior design studio which is currently analyzing and documenting the historical, cultural, demographic, and contextual conditions of dead/dying malls in the mid-continental United States in the I-35/I-45 interstate corridors.  With an eye toward the potential for their adaptation and reuse, students of interior design are examining these underpotentialized places to leverage the social, spatial, functional, and organizational opportunities offered by an existing infrastructure—the shopping mall—as a socio-economically diverse community nucleus.  Framed from a trans-continental approach to context, the project engages the I-35/I-45 corridors to map existing opportunities.  Working in teams for this initial contextual exercise, students investigated the history of mall development and mall culture in North America and then focused on discerning the contextual forces operating within an existing building condition.  The intention is to establish a foundation for interior design interventions, engaging the impact of interiority at an urban scale.

Beginning in Laredo at the international border on I-35, dead malls reveal an on-going transformation in production and consumption—a retail landscape built for 1970s suburban homogeneity that has become increasingly multicultural and hybridized.  This topical fourth-year studio uses existing, underperforming malls in the mid-continental United States as sites for adaptive intervention and innovation.  Students of intetrior design are exploring the social, cultural, and ecological parameters of adaptive re-use to reconsider obsolete infrastructures. 

This studio has been structured in a phased sequence which organizes schematic development into a scalar process from ‘original intent-to-appropriation-to-opportunity’, ultimately resulting in the adaptation and redevelopment of a dead or dying mall in the I-35/I-45 Interstate corridors.  Students will accommodate user-groups with multiple needs, seeking to maintain existing support systems, while introducing new opportunities. Taking cues from various histories, this project will engage the full extent of interior design, including interventions to the existing building façade, interiors, and outdoor spaces.  Interior concepts will inform the recalibration of ‘formal’ qualities on the building exterior.  Students will investigate renewal of an existing dead or dying mall through the lens of preservation, intervention, and transformation of utilitarian ‘everyday’ structures—considering the various histories of an existing structure as a living organism.  

As a large scale infrastructure, reimagining the American shopping mall will offer the opportunity to serve multiple user groups of various abilities, desires, generations, and socio-economic backgrounds.  Accordingly, students will implement a thorough site documentation and analysis of dead and dying malls in the I-35/I-45 corridor—from Laredo, TX to Duluth, MN—a mid-continental ‘interior’ site context for this studio.  Working in groups of two, students began the semester by developing a broad-based survey of mall culture to identify sites for intervention.  Projects must address blended programs which blur the boundaries between users to create a socially, economically, and culturally diverse new community offering long-term resilience.  

It is our intent to disseminate this research in a broad and interdisciplinary manner beyond the interiors community.  This design-research has begun to receive national recognition well beyond the studio in scholarly forums including an on-campus undergraduate research exhibition, a national research symposium, a national peer-reviewed conference, and an art-design-research exhibition in Philadelphia.  In addition, the faculty leaders are mobilizing this design-research toward future peer-reviewed publications in the United States and internationally.


  • Sobel, Lee, and Bodzin Stephen. Greyfields into Goldfields: Dead Malls Become Living Neighborhoods. New York: Congress for the New Urbanism, 2002.
  • Christensen, Julia. Big Box Reuse. Cambridge: MIT, 2008.

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