By Hari Kunzru, 10 March 2002

‘The only experience of urbanity is a residual one,’ writes John McMorrough, one of the contributors to the Harvard Design School Guide To Shopping.

This immense, beautifully-designed tome brings together illustrated essays on every aspect of the quintessential twenty-first century occupation, from the trinity of technologies which enable modern retail – air conditioning, the escalator, and float glass – to the theories, ideologies and economic trends which are governing its rapid expansion and mutation. The story it pieces together is grim and fascinating. The contributors argue that shopping is fast becoming the only sanctioned use of public space and that the modern retail environment, optimised for maximum yield and planned down to the last detail, represents a final conquest of the city by the suburbs, and their values of predictability and control.

The volume is the second part of the ‘Project on the City’ an enterprise taking place under the direction of Rem Koolhaas. The first volume (equally immense, and equally fascinating) looked at the mushrooming cities of the Pearl River Delta. The next volume will deal with the chaotic urban experience of Lagos. The shopping volume throws up endless ideas, and includes serious analysis of the techniques and preoccupations of some of the architects who, like it or not, are the guiding lights of our new retail-driven urban experience, architects like Walt Disney and the mall designers Victor Gruen and Jon Jerde. With a focus on Asian models of urbanism, including a fascinating analysis of the Singaporean state’s reconfiguration of Singapore as a corporation, complete with the possibility of Singapore ‘franchises’ elsewhere in the world, the Guide is an essential tool for anyone attempting to understand the place of the consumer-subject under the emerging imperial dispensation.

Hari Kunzru <hari AT > is a contributing editor to Mute. His novel The Impressionist will be published on 4 April 2002

The Harvard Design School Guide To Shopping // Ed. Chuihua Judy Chugn, Jeffrey Inaba, Rem Koolhaas, Sze Tsung Leong // Taschen // Köln // 2001 // ISBN 3-8228-6047-6 // £30.00