When the sprawling Randall Park Mall opened near Cleveland in 1976, it was briefly the largest mall in the world, and developers touted it as a symbol of the good life in suburbia. The small town where it was located added two shopping bags to its municipal seal in homage. This year, after decades of decline, it’s being torn down.
The photos were the last ever taken of the mall. “I was chased out of the Randall Mall by police and demolition workers as they were beginning the demolition process,” Lawless says.
For Lawless, the images represent the failure of the economy in Cleveland, which has lost nearly half of its population since the malls were first built, and in the country as a whole.
“I wanted Americans to see what was happening to their country and hopefully encourage people to care instead of continuing to ignore these problems,” Lawless says, calling himself an “artivist” who uses his work to promote change. “Most Americans are too busy watching reality television to fully understand the reality that surrounds them.”
The malls he photographed aren’t the only examples: Over the next couple of decades, as many as half of the malls in the U.S. may be abandoned.
While Lawless blames the economy, at least part of the shift also has to do with bad design. Fewer people want to live or shop in the suburbs, and fewer people want to spend their free time under depressing fluorescent lights indoors. If malls are going extinct, that’s just another opportunity to retrofit suburbia–either by building smarter, denser developments, like this new neighborhood built in a former mall parking lot, or by turning the land back into green space.