Marc Augé famously suggested that airports are non-places because they are too transient to have an identity. Other non-places include highways, hotel rooms, and waiting rooms. Augé used the idea of the non-place to describe the dislocations and standardizations that characterize super modernity.
Of note, our shopping mall cities, Shenzhen for example, offer few concrete (literally!) objects that have particular and recognizably distinct identities. At the MixC in Luohu and coastal City in Nanshan, for example, we see the same mix of chain stores, domestic and international arranged in a space that is more luxurious than the Rockaway mall of my teenage years, but in essence no different. The comparison, chez Shenzhen is with an imagined countryside and the urbanized villages. In other words, supermodern shopping malls are a place holder in the search for something better, but not interesting in and of themselves.
Today, I am in Hong Kong international airport and have noticed a few replicas of preserved buildings. Such is the anonymity of the super modern city that we even become nostalgic for colonial architecture — smaller and distinct from the airport, which dwarfs these toylike memories of a quaint accessible, familiar and endearing city that never was.
In the Washington, DC metro area we have a hideous new excrescence called National Harbor, on the Maryland shore of the Potomac, across from Old Town Alexandria. The huge warehouse hotel advertises a multistory glass lobby that contains several pre-fabricated “Colonial” houses. From the lobby you can SEE across the river to the center of Alexandria that consists of blocks and blocks of preserved historical homes, factories and churches!
I’m not sure why we’re “playing house” in the past. There seem to be several interconnected reasons — scale of buildings, the desire to imagine ourselves as heroes and heroines of history, the peacemaking of regional architectures… But yes, it does seem that viewing and consuming mini-worlds is one way of buffering against the alienating abstractions of hyper modernity.