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Forget Ruin Porn: 5 Awesome Adapted Spaces That Used to Be Dead Malls

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Dead malls aren't just for ruin porn and think pieces anymore. Though about one-third of the approximately 1,200 enclosed malls in the U.S. are dead or dying, according Georgia Tech professor and architect Ellen Dunham-Jones, who tracks retrofitted retail spaces, 221 enclosed malls in the U.S. are in various stages of redevelopment.

The mixed-use downtown is a popular option. There are approximately 25 of those, with another 25 underway, and similar intentions have been announced for at least 40 other malls, though whether budgets will bear those projects out has yet to be seen. Churches are growing in popularity, and there is at least one ice rink (though sadly, Dawn of the Dead experience has yet to make it over the U.S.) Even Google has gotten into the game.

Still, relatively few indoor malls have been refitted with compelling design schemes, becoming spaces you can appreciate on their own terms while still being reminded of stopping by the combined Dairy Queen/Orange Julius on your way to f.y.e. Here are five of those.

Rackspace HQ; San Antonio, Texas

Photos via Studio8 Architects

The cloud computing company Rackspace spent over $100M turning San Antonio's Windsor Park Mall into a workspace designed by Austin's Studio8 Architects, and eccentrically appointed enough to (nearly) compete with a Google outpost. Chairman and co-founder Graham Weston chose "the very mall where he got the blue ruffle tuxedo he wore to his junior prom," according to a 2012 piece in the New York Times, to the mild dismay of employees who used to work at the Footlocker there. Now, the space is outfitted with a "$40,000 two-story slide, a chessboard the size of a basketball court and conference rooms named after popular television game shows and breakfast cereals," and can be explored via Google Street View.

Austin Community College's Highland Campus; Austin, Texas

Photos courtesy Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects

Earlier this month, CityLab highlighted a very cool project from Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects: transforming a 207,000-square-foot former JC Penney building at Austin's Highland Mall into a state-of-the-art academic facility for Austin Community College (whose administrative offices already neighbored the structure). The imposing, retail-brutalist facade was traded for a lighter, glassier one. ACC president calls the new space the "galaxy's largest learning emporium" (total number of computer stations: 604), and further changes that the college plans to make to the mall include creating "a regional-workforce center, a STEM simulator lab, a digital-media center, and a culinary and hospitality center." Through a partnership with Rackspace (see above), the college plans on hosting 570 of the company's employees in what was once a Dillard's, which will allow ACC students to intern there.

Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks; Nashville, Tennessee

Photos via Vanderbilt Health

In 2007, 436,524 square feet of Nashville's 100 Oaks Mall were leased to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which established the space as a satellite location housing "20 medical clinics as well as accounting, billing and other administrative offices," with the remainder of the mall occupied by new retail tenants. Medical facilities are a somewhat popular option for mall conversions. Though this one has a heavily redone interior, you can still see the contours of 100 Oaks underneath.

Arcade Providence; Providence, Rhode Island

Photos by Ben Jacobsen courtesy Northeast Collaborative Architects

In October 2013, construction wrapped up on a $7M project converting America's first indoor mall, a nationally landmarked space that had fallen on hard times, into micro-apartments:
The construction practices of yore proved a challenge for the rehabilitation team, led by Northeast Collaborative Architects. "They just laid down some flat rocks and started building on top of those—that was the foundation," Abbott said. "The building has settled over time. We call that 'character.'" As a result, the walls had to be shored up, and custom doors and windows were created to fit the uneven contours. The well-worn wood floors and lacelike iron balustrades were left in place. Marketed to "young kinds that just graduated," who don't yet need space for "that dining room set that grandma gave them," the 38 rental units sit atop ground-floor retail spaces. The waitlist for the former is said to be pretty lengthy.

Joplin High School; Joplin, Missouri


In May of 2011, one of the largest tornadoes in U.S. history did an estimated $3B worth of catastrophic damage to the city of Joplin, Missouri, but somehow managed to spare the abandoned Northpark Mall. With less than three months until the next school year was set to start, and a promise from Joplin's superintendant that school would begin on time, the city hired DLR Group and Corner Greer to develop a plan to convert Northpark to house the students. Working with contractors, the firm completed the repurposing in just 55 days:

Despite the incredibly tight schedule, CGA and DLR found time to work in a few emerging concepts in educational design. Unlike most older schools, which are organized along linear corridors, these classrooms are around shared social spaces—a move that the architects hope will encourage collaborative teaching. The student body was divided into six 200-person "learning communities," each headquartered at one of the classroom hubs.

The temporary high school was recognized by the AIA in 2012. Joplin students moved to a new high school in August of 2014. These days, Northpark Mall looks to be doing brisk-enough business. At the very least, it has an Aéropostale and a combination Dairy Queen/Orange Julius.