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Trends in Civil Architecture and Design of Public Space Reveal a Professional and/or Governmental Awareness of a Looming Occult Threat.

As prepared for the 8th Annual Investigative Architecture Summit

~~Nate Austin~~



As incredible as it may sound, nearly every shopping mall constructed in a first world country in the past 20 years has been built to resist and mitigate a massive zombie assault. The changes have been slow, but by observing the various trends in mall construction, (asymmetrical escalators, bolted railings, more vertical space, integrated parking, and defensible food courts are some,) we can clearly see a central purpose emerge. While a few of the trends can be excused as serving some mundane commercial or safety related purpose, when taken together they all share one common goal: each one of them makes the public space either more defensible or more escapable by a group of resourceful humans facing a horde of slow but unrelenting opponents, colloquially, zombies.

Section 1 - Introduction and Primer

The field of speculative forensic architectural research is small and not widely publicized, so this introduction serves as a primer before we delve in to the heart of our argument in section 2. Readers well versed in the literature may wish to skip to that section. The two central tenets of forensic architectural research are A, that expensive architecture is carefully designed, and B, that some of the design principles might not be made public [1]. Briefly, A follows from standard economic risk models and from common sense, and B follows from the simple observation that the detailed design requirements for public spaces are not publicized by the owners or architects--that is, in the case of shopping malls, it is not possible to find a published list of the criteria that lead to the design decisions for the structure.

From these two tenets, we can see that it is possible, and indeed likely, that many public spaces are designed to meet requirements that are not obvious to the public that makes use of them (for a review of common examples, see Collins [2]). Forensic Architectural Research, as a field, exists to bridge this gap by examining buildings and spaces after the fact, and deriving and publishing the design requirements that motivated each decision. It is a rigorous scientific discipline undertaken by a group of researchers necessarily outside of the architectural and governmental professions, and is largely privately funded. As a study of human activity, the field falls under the broad umbrella of the social sciences[1].

This study draws on mall-construction and renovation trends pointed out by Archer [3] and Collins [4]. Those papers highlighted the growing homogeneity of mall ownership in the first world, identified the small group of architects and land owners involved in the decision making processes, and identified a collection of architectural trends that are irrefutably remaking the urban landscape.

Theoretical zombie research is a much younger and less rigorous field, consisting mostly of popular works, with some equally unreliable occult works. HOWEVER, it is not the goal of this paper to explain how a zombie uprising might actually occur, merely to show that some powerful and influential people appear to take the threat very seriously. For the purposes of this paper, we will assume that the Mall Makers [4] are concerned with an outbreak similar in nature to those popularly described by Brooks [5, 6].

This study explains many of the well-documented but heretofore ill-understood observations in Forensic Architectural Research by uniting them under a single superior motivational theory, drawn from an unlikely source in Popular Horror. As we show, each of the trends noted by Archer and Collins can easily be explained by assuming that the architects have reason to fear a massive undead uprising. Unfortunately, although this theory perfectly fits observed public space construction trends, it raises several troubling new concerns, which we address in the conclusion.

Section 2 - Mall Trends and Motivational Design Theory

Here are the major trends in mall construction over the last 20 years [3, 4]. In addition to new construction, older malls have been remodeled and retrofitted over the years to meet these new civil architecture best practices. For each trend we explain how it makes the mall more survivable in the event of an unanticipated zombie outbreak (UZO). Taken in aggregate these trends represent irrefutable evidence that some group of individuals with a large degree of influence over mall design has a good reason to fear an undead uprising. Needless to say their reasons remains secret, but by following up the leads presented here, further research may illuminate them.

Trend 1 - Asymmetrical Escalators: Increasingly in modern malls, the escalator to go from floor A to floor B is not located in parallel to the escalator to go from floor B to A [3].
What we are told: Weak arguments have been put forward that this is a customer retention tactic [7], but have also been refuted [8, 9].
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+0 through Z+2: Zombies not in close proximity to humans are generally modeled as wandering randomly [5]. Therefore Zombies wandering in a mall will occasionally step onto a moving escalator and be carried away to another floor. With symmetrical escalators, zombies carried up and down will tend to cancel each-other out, but with asymmetrical designs a low-zombie zone (LZZ) will tend to form around the 'from' location of each escalator. These LZZs can be exploited by humans moving through the mall.

Trend 2 - Easily Defensible Food Courts: Whereas in the past eating establishments were distributed more-or-less normally throughout a mall, in modern malls they tend to be concentrated in a food court, usually located in one end of the mall, and usually not adjacent to ground-level entrances[4].
What we are told: Customers interested in food are encouraged to pass as many non-food stores as possible to increase the chance of an additional purchase [9]. Zuthers [7] gives a good counter-argument based on studies of successful highly accessible outdoor strip malls.
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+1 through Z+30: Citizens trapped in the mall can gather at the food court. The large number of tables and chairs are easily navigated by humans, but present formidable obstacles to the undead, rendering any zombies in this area practically immobile [6]. Once the food court is cleared of any threats, the chairs and tables can be re-purposed to quickly and easily barricade the area against further incursions. More importantly for medium term survival, the fresh and frozen food stored in the eateries can sustain a small population for weeks.

Trend 3 - More Emergency Supplies, Better Concealed: Studies of published mall blueprints [10] show that modern malls have more first aid and water caches, and that they are more often concealed from the general mall public, in access corridors and janitorial spaces.
What we are told: Safety is increasingly important, but mall personnel are better trained and trusted to administer first aid--hiding the caches reduces the chance of lawsuit. This is belied by the total lack of applicable case law [10].
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+0 through Z+120: These hidden emergency supplies can be expected to go relatively undisturbed by the undead, and thus are likely to have the maximum possible positive impact for human survivors, undoubtedly including mall personnel, who are aware of their existence.

Trend 4 - Playground Spaces are Tightly Fenced: Relative to older mall designs, new designs fence in play areas much more aggressively, [3] and include choke points that did not exist in older designs.
What we are told: Modern parents are more concerned about their children wandering off [3]. This is refuted by the comparing construction trends across first world cultures[7].
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+0 through Z+5: A fenced area with one controllable exit is a highly defensible position for a small group of humans facing a zomboid enemy. Humans may rest in the relative safety of the playground for a time, and may later be able to lure zombies into this space and trap them there.

Trend 5 - More and Larger Interior and Exterior Fountains: Fountains are increasingly popular in mall architecture [4], and modern fountains include larger reservoirs [4] and more robust filtration systems[10].
What we are told: Fountains are popular gathering spots for customers. This is one case in which the public and private motivations seem to be mutually reinforcing [1].
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+1 through Z+60: If water utilities to the mall are shut off, the fountains, with their modern and hand operable filtration systems, will maintain potable water for a matter of weeks in some cases. A literal fountain of life in case of a zombie uprising.

Trend 6 - Fewer Main Entrances, More Emergency Exits: This has been widely reported [3, 4, 8].
What we are told: Consistency of customer experience drives the trend towards fewer entrances, fire safety concerns drive the corresponding increase in emergency exits. This second point is refuted by noting that modern malls are built of concrete and steel, and therefore cannot burn [10].
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+0 through Z+120: Zombies can be expected to be incapable of opening doors [5], and so will tend to use the two or three main entrances. This leaves the cleverer humans with a number of uninfected ingress and egress routes, allowing mall survivors to escape, and foraging parties to access the supplies within without having to face a wide and deadly corridor of foes.

Trend 7 - More Vertical Space: Modern malls are, on average, a dramatic 0.7 floors taller than they were 30 years ago [4].
What we are told: Land is increasingly expensive in urban spaces, therefore multi-floor designs are cost effective. However, by comparing mall height with local land value, we can see that there is no correlation outside the margin of error [9].
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+1 through Z+120: Zombies not in the presence of humans can be modeled as wandering randomly [5], therefore we can expect that they will tend towards the lower energy state of the lower levels of the mall. Crafty humans can clear the top level of the mall of the undead, and then easily defend the high ground from the few zombies that manage to reach them. Modern, more vertical designs give a clear advantage to humans when compared to older, more horizontal layouts.

Trend 8 - Railings are Bolted, Taller, and Denser: Modern malls, and most malls renovated in the last 15 years use safety railings on the second and higher floors that are bolted in place instead of welded [10]. These railings are also on average 45 centimeters taller [3] and more robustly constructed [4] than they were 30 years ago (the average gap size was 18 cm, now it is 8.7 cm).
What we are told: Safety and lawsuit protection are overriding concerns for mall owners. This is belied by the fact that there has not been a single case of a major mall owner convicted of negligence related to safety railing in the last 40 years [10].
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+3 through Z+120: This seems counter-intuitive at first: higher railings make it less likely for zombies to fall from the higher stories, thus making the second story more deadly for humans. However, because the railings are bolted in sections, rather than welded in place, they are easily removed by a handy human. Once removed, the unprotected ledge becomes an excellent and low-risk way to defend the upper floors by pushing zombies over the edge from a distance. In addition, rail sections, once partially unbolted, can be pivoted in place and then fixed, creating an instant completely effective barrier against wandering zombies. Close examination of some modern mall blueprints shows that the architects have included otherwise unexplained [10] anchor points in the mall floor that match the spacing of the railing bolts precisely. This would allow the railings to be quickly re-installed at key choke points distributed throughout the mall, transforming the space from a wide-open field to a tightly compartmentalized area that heavily favors human survivors over zombies.

Trend 9 - Closely Integrated Multi-Story Parking Garages: The trend towards large multi-story parking structures that are linked directly to internal mall entrances is well documented [3, 4, 8].
What we are told: Customer convenience is increased by moving the average parking space closer to the stores. However, the additional (large!) expense of these garages [9], and the fact that any gains in walk-time are offset by increased traffic jams in the parking lot, tend to cast doubt on this explanation (see: principle of least risk [1]).
How it applies to an UZO: Day Z+0 through Z+21: Any survivors in the mall may need access to a vehicle in order to flee the infected zone, or for other reasons. An older, large, flat, traditional parking lot is likely to be filled with zombies from the surrounding areas [6], making it hard or impossible to access a given car, but a multi-story parking garage is far less likely to become clogged with the undead, since they will have no motivation to climb the stairs or ramps [5]. Therefore cars parked on the upper levels of such a structure will be relatively accessible. Since most modern malls allow access to the parking garage from the upper floors [4], It will be possible for human survivors to move from the safe second floor of the mall to a vehicle with relative ease.

Section 3 - Conclusions

Our conclusion is inescapable: a modern mall is far more survivable in the event of an unanticipated zombie outbreak than the malls of 20 or 30 years ago. All of the identifiable trends in mall construction are in this direction, and none run counter to it. Because so many of the trends are so poorly and incompletely explained by the standard model, we are forced to conclude that this new theory, as incredible as it sounds at first, is the best one we have. In a nutshell, the owners and/or architects of the major commercial spaces in the first world anticipate a massive occult uprising, the likes of which has never been reliably documented [6], and they are preparing against it, often at great expense.

The authors find this conclusion extraordinarily troubling. Forensic Architectural Research, as a field, is used to the idea that highly paid architects and designers operate on strange hidden principles [1], but the principles revealed by this study are far stranger and more hidden than any that, to our knowledge, have been previously published. Bluntly put, what do they know that we do not? This is the open question that our research has lead us to, and unfortunately it is darker and more distressing than we ever feared.

Topics for Further Research:
  • Are similarly motivated trends visible in automotive design, commercial design, residential design, or mass-transit systems?
  • Over what time frame did these considerations rise to the forefront of public space design?
  • How many of these trends were initiated by shifting government regulations, and how many were not?
  • To the extent that regulation is involved, does the government provide documentation that may reveal the interested or informed parties arguing in favor of such regulations?
  • To what extend do trade organizations and fraternities such as the Masons and Freemasons influence these trends?
  • Do the movers of these trends have disproportionate connections to any major world religions, cults, or scientific communities?
The authors hereby strongly urge the community to take up these topics and publish any findings, and will be seeking additional grant money to take on several of these questions over the next year.


1. Zimmerman, Frank, Harding; Understanding our Public Spaces, privately circulated memorandum, 1991, republished in Collected Investigative Architecture, Harper, 1995.
2. Collins; Flood and Riot Control Features of New York Public Space, Forensic Architectural Review, Volume 4, 1997.
3. Archer; A Review of Recent International Trends in Public Commercial Space, Forensic Architectural Review, Volume 11, 2001.
4. Collins; Finding the Mall Makers, Proceeds from the 4th Annual Investigative Architecture Summit, Jones and Jones, 2004.
5. Brooks; The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, Three Rivers Press, 2003.
6. Brooks; World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Three Rivers Press, 2003.
7. Zuthers, Archer; Understanding the Standard Framework, Proceeds from the 3rd Annual Investigative Architecture Summit, Jones and Jones, 2003.
8. Fairview, Long; Field Research in Commercial European Spaces, Forensic Architectural Review, Volume 19, 2005.
9. Carmen, Hamacho; Applied Theoretical Motivation Modeling in the Design Space, Forensic Architectural Review, Volume 14, 2002.
10. Austin, Carmen; Statistical Review of "Safety" Features in Commercial Spaces, Proceeds from the 6rd Annual Investigative Architecture Summit, Jones and Jones, 2006.

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