Escape from isolation

I just love shopping malls. I don’t really know why. I hate it when
they are closed and cut us off from tracts of previously public
space. I hate the way they put an end to the interesting by-ways of
the built environment and one-off specialist shops. I loath all
their links with property development, speculation, high finance
and globalised consumption.

But I love to wander round malls, sit in them and look in shop
windows. They make me feel relaxed. They calm me down. They remind
me of the early frightening days of school (and some other places),
when you could at least say to yourself, “They can’t control me all
the time. When the bell goes, I can get back into the ‘real

Some have called shopping malls the cathedrals of the 21st century,
referring to the bright colours and glassy grandeur many have
attempted. Certainly with their atriums, vaulted roofs and
sculptural features there are parallels between the two. But such
comments often intend a negative comparison; mammon replacing
spirituality. For me there’s a much closer comparison. These are
places where people can congregate and socialise and where quiet
contemplation can still take place – probably over a hot

I am not making the case for consumption here. I don’t usually
spend anything much in malls except maybe for a cup of tea or a
snack. With me, it’s mostly a matter of window-shopping. But then
maybe that is true for a lot of us, a lot of the time.

So why do I find malls such peaceful and tranquil places? I think
it is because it is the people, rather than the products, that
really interest me. It’s the sense of being among others. All human
life is here. Where do we still get this feeling now? At football?
If you are well heeled and male, maybe. Through radio phone-ins? I
don’t think so. Watching television? Hardly, as we separately tune
in to more and more channels of crap. Sitting in our cars, behind
our front doors? You must be joking. The truth is that almost
everyone – although I am not including the super-rich here – can
find his or her way into a shopping mall. There is no traffic to
worry about for children. Even the security guards can feel
reassuring. You don’t have to have money to spend although it can
be a treat when you do.

Malls are stronger than most other buildings on access and this can
only improve. At the mall caf’ I regularly sit in I often see a
couple of older people with learning difficulties, with their
supporter, at the next table. Like me, it’s a chance to take a
break, relax, have a drink, put down their bag and be alongside
others. There is a craft market at the mall on Wednesdays; it has
open stalls all week round and community notices on display. For
those of us who have ever felt cut off and lonely or been
segregated from others there is something sublime about just being
among other people. And I’m fortified by the sense that there’s
still a bigger world out there.

Ian Madoza is a mental health system survivor.

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