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Ellie Brown

Thesis: The 'Golden Age' of Shopping Centres: Spaces of Consumption in 1970s Midlands

Supervisors: Dr Otto Saumarez Smith and Dr Jonathan Vickery

Research funded by Midlands4Cities (AHRC)


As physical retail spaces verge on obsolescence, this project investigates how shopping centres built over the course of the 1970s were originally envisioned and how they have been (re)adapted over time alongside changing economic, political and cultural shifts. The evolution in design and use of spaces of consumption, such as arcades and department stores, has been the focus of scholarly attention through the 20th and 21st centuries across history, urban studies, geography and anthropology. This project combines art historical literature with in-depth visual analyses of architectural forms to shape an understanding of Britain's shopping centres now, at a point of their ‘becoming and disappearing’, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin’s term used to explain the nineteenth-century arcade. Coupled with the rise of e-commerce and virtual shopping, shopping centres must adapt or face abandonment. By focusing on the (re)production of spaces of consumption over time, I aim to contribute critical perspectives around how ‘authenticity’ and ‘materiality’ impact urban planning and the design of the built shopping environment.

Research Interests:

  • Architecture of Consumption
  • Public Art in Public/Private Spaces
  • Photography and Architecture
  • Material and Visual Culture


  • MA: History of Art*, The Courtauld Institute of Art (2018-9)
  • BA: History of Art, University of Leeds (2013-6)

*'Experiencing Modernism: Utopia, Politics, and Times of Turmoil' with Dr Robin Schuldenfrei

Contact: ellen.brown[at]