The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul - John Varley II - 19th Century
Can the Supermarket generate tradition?

C h r i s t i a n   B e r o s

We could question the role of the supermarket in replacing the open city market “traditional” value[1], as it is the richness of the face to face trading act[2]. If we consider city markets not only as place for distribution of goods, and purchasing, but a spatial and temporal social manifestation, a weekly gathering event, and probably a highly significant place for a local community, then, I believe the contemporary role of the supermarket in the city, doesn’t not recreate the richness of the social trading relations of a market and its potential of creating community.

The main variables which might differentiate the supermarket, from a city market, (and therefore the “tradition” attached to the trading act), are in the spatial and social codes:

Spatially, city markets are embedded in the local urban fabric, either shaping or being shaped by the urban fabric, and so benefit from multiple movement flows derived from city patterns. Therefore the richness of the city grid adds on a complex relation of movement and stationary activities which derives in different ways of socialising and interchanging in the same space. The spatial relations in an open market are usually more complex than in a supermarket, the multiple sellers, competing in the same space, determine a spatial pattern of points of direct transaction between buyer and seller, but also creates pockets of gathering, encounter, and different speeds and levels of unplanned social relations.

In social terms the complexity in a supermarket is restricted to the buyer/purchasing relation, and the act of transaction requires very little social interaction. The act itself is directed to the purchase of goods according to the layout determined by a single seller, and probably the only social relation act is at the moment of passing by the cashier, and paying. On the contrary, one of the main exquisite details of a traditional market is actually the theatrical experience of bargain for prices, as well as the sense of exploration, which adds to the cognitive experience[3]. Markets would also act as spaces for social manifestation, as temporary events, which allow the community to see as well as to be seen. Becoming an act of social representation.

Nowadays the actual shopping environment has become more and more de-spatialised; online shopping, fast delivery systems, and the future of VR spaces, are changing the physical structures of retail. However, this competition could be considered beneficial.  In this sense, the role of the physical purchase needs to be balanced with the social role of face to face interaction, which indeed creates the tradition (which you cannot find in supermarkets). In other words for the traditional value to prevail, the social value of space might need to be maintained and enhanced according to time.





[1] What tradition is: „a belief, principle, or way of acting that people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a long time, or all of these beliefs, etc. in a particular society or group.” (Cambridge Dictionary,

[2] Trading is one of the most primitive of all social interfaces. Here it is argued that it is also spatial in three main respects: in terms of distributions of goods, in terms of the network properties of space that distribute shoppers, and in terms of the cognitive aspects of space that allow people to coordinate their search for goods. ("The complexity of the elementary interface: shopping space. Alan Penn. University College London, UK.,

[3] Cognition is "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses" It encompasses processes such as knowledgeattentionmemory and working memoryjudgment and evaluationreasoning and "computation", problem solving and decision makingcomprehension and production of language.  (Oxford Dictionary,

Christian Beros is a Chilean Architect. He graduated from FAU, Universidad de Chile in 2001, and later continue Master in Science studies in London, at The Bartlett, University College London in 2006. During the following years he worked for Space Syntax Ltd. in London,  Bucharest and Santiago de Chile, being part of an international team with projects through the UK, Europe and Asia.


Christian’s field of work ranges between Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, focusing in the relation between society and space and the way in which buildings and spaces can modify human behavior and interaction. His main research field has been wayfinding, spatial cognition, and strategic design. Nowadays he focuses in his own studio Beros-Abdul Architects, based in Bucharest, Romania (