Value space: an architectural geography of new retail formats on southern Vancouver Island




McGrail, Justin

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The subject of this dissertation is the architectural history of big-box stores on Southern Vancouver Island since their arrival in 1992. It examines the architecture and cultural significance of stores located in the Regional District of Nanaimo, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and the Capital Regional District. This study hypothesizes that big-box stores are, in terms of their architecture, retailing formats, and consumption practices, central locations and vehicles for the reproduction of capitalist social relations. In the postmodern or Late Capitalist era. these relations have emphasized consumption over production, and have exerted a deep influence on everyday life and political economy in urban Canada. This study interprets the architectural and social spaces of New Retail Formats (NRFs) through a Marxist perspective, and uses the inter-disciplinary methods of vernacular architecture studies and architectural-geography. I have evaluated the big-box store in terms of typology, distribution, and social operation. I have also placed them in the context of North American architectural history, especially in relation to shopping centres. I argue that big-box stores produce, consume, and reproduce distinctive forms of social space, which I have named "value space". Value space is the set of social and spatial relationships found within big-box stores that are shaped by both retailers and consumers, and which are focused on low-priced commodities. Value space is a contemporary and clear example of what Karl Marx and Henri Lefebvre each identified as key to capitalism's survival: the reproduction of the relations of production and consumption. In the same way that factory relationships also shape life beyond the factory, the value space of big-box stores is also produced, consumed, and reproduced in other social and professional practices, such as urban planning and municipal politics. The aims of my study were: to document the history of this new architectural type; to explain the place of big-box store development in municipal political economy; and, to examine the role of big-box stores in the reproduction of capitalist urban space on Southern Vancouver Island. In doing so, I argue that big-box stores are engines and symbols of urban development that foster increased consumption, support the socio-economic status quo, and refashion natural and social environments in accordance with the values of capitalism. I believe big-box stores are the architectural subject of greatest contemporary importance on Southern Vancouver Island. Few other buildings types today generate similar feelings - for and against - as do big-box stores. They are at once a building type, a retail format, and a symbol of contemporary urban development. Their importance comes from their size, from the scale of their operations, and from their impacts on municipal politics, urban planning, transportation infrastructure, regional ecosystems, and community life. The retailing and consumption practices they house, facilitate and manage contain the seeds of, or needs for, future consumption. This makes NRFs economic and symbolic centres for the reproduction of the relations of production and consumption.



Retail trade, Store size, Discount, Outlet, Victoria, British Columbia