THey’re shopping malls, but not as you know them. Retail architecture is undergoing a rapid reinvention, with some of the world’s most celebrated and cutting-edge architects leading the way. From the lavish to the surreal, these temples of commerce are nothing short of spectacular.

It’s hard to say at what precise moment in time the out-of-town shopping mall trumped the urban department store as the ultimate retail destination. The original concept behind the big indoor mall, as imagined by progressive modernist architects in the 20th century, was as a focal point for a community: a fully enclosed and climate-controlled retail nirvana where pedestrians could stroll, shop and dine with their nuclear family in tow, having left their gleaming four-door car at the entrance.

This utopianism was effectively kiboshed right from the start, when developers realized that car-centric clusters of shops needn’t take up great swathes of expensive urban land and could be better placed at the periphery of cities. Hence, the earliest malls appeared to suck the lifeblood out of towns, undermining the small, independent store in favor of ever-bigger chains and, as a result, urban shopping centers were typically seen as poor relatives to the superior out-of-town destinations— an attitude that prevailed right up until the end of the 20th century and beyond.

In car-centric America and parts of Asia, cities remain in thrall to ‘big box’ retail culture, while in Europe, enterprising retail developers have become more attuned to the idea of corralling and curating brands that better reflect their desired customers. The relentless march upmarket has also taken in traditionally down-at-heel shopping spots, such as airport departure lounges, so now high-end retail has become a kind of magic cloak that can potentially transform any environment.

Paradoxically, this renaissance of bricks-and-mortar shopping has also been helped by the rise of online retailing. The architectural experience of the modern mall is not so much threatened but indebted to its virtual counterparts. It wasn’t so long ago that experts were predicting a complete and irreversible shift to online shopping, even in the luxury sector, but instead it has merely enhanced and radically retooled our expectations of what to eat, drink, see and do at these locations, upping the game for everyone involved.

As the following examples of glittering architecture and breathtakingly ambitious interior schemes around the globe show, bespoke shopping environments are now much more than just malls. Ultimately, these temples to capitalism help elevate and shape our perception of the brands we find there, creating a worshipful space where we are falling over ourselves to part with our money and making destinations worth the pilgrimage (or transcontinental flight) to experience first-hand. 


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