Structuring Fashion : Department Stores as Situating Spatial Practice

Abstract: This dissertation investigates department stores as complex spatial and cultural buildings, in which values and ideas are expressed, negotiated, and produced. Situated in a cultural context commonly referred to as a society of consumption, where identity and social structures are worked out through consumption rather than production, the query turns to a specific act of consumption: that of shopping. More precisely, it investigates the role of space and spatial distribution in shopping. How space is distributed, arranged, or ordered allows for different possibilities in constructing categories from which the shoppers are to make a selection, and for how these categories can be related to one another, which informs the shoppers what belongs together, what is to be held apart, what is important, what is private, what is public, and what is of higher or lower status. It further supports, prevents, and promotes different routes and choices, giving different patterns of presence, publicity, privacy, purpose, etc. that not only affects the atmosphere of the spaces, but makes suggestions of what is found in them. These questions are investigated through a series of conceptual laboratories, each addressing the problem from different standpoints and focusing on different parts of the question: from how categories are constructed and given character, to how they form systems of values, how shoppers are trained in aesthetics of fashion, how relative degrees of presences are made use of, and how they appear influenced by spatial distribution. In this, the work shifts between qualitative and quantitative methods, each completing and evolving the other. It shows that to a remarkable degree, much of the emergent values and ideas can be understood through the filter of spatial configurations, and especially when treated as two systems: one of exposure and one of availability. As similar operations also affect patterns of movement and being, which enables them to also be related to publicity, privacy, and other social characters, the department stores can be understood as not only commercial spaces but as sites of negotiation of public culture. As such, both the analytic model and the more specific findings have important implications for architectural theory in general.