The other day, walking into the Shoppers Drug Mart at Almon and Robie in Halifax for the first time provided me with an interesting experience of urban space.

After walking through the automatic doors, with a quick right turn, I swear I had been in this store before. The layout: cosmetics on the right, followed by hygienic products, food, with the pharmacy at the back, the photography centre at the far right and and the magazines at the front, presented a space that I surely had negotiated many times in the past.

I quickly realized that besides a few minor differences: a “healthy food” section instead of Canada Post, exclusively English signage instead of bilingual, the layout of the store was exactly the same as the Shoppers Drug Mart I frequented in Montreal, on St Laurent, just north of Avenue des Pins.

After recognizing this fact, I found myself caught in a strange experience of convoluted space and place, the result of occupying the exact facsimile of a store I had gotten to know very well over the past four years, within a profoundly different context. Instead of the neighbouring yoga studio, the Banque National, Pawn Shop, The Main, St Cuthbert with it’s beautiful triplexes and the mountain in the distance, from the same windows I saw a very different street scene in Halifax: a suburban parking lot, and auto-body shops at the fringe of the North End.

The streetscape outside Montreal’s Pharmaprix – the heart of the Plateau, on greasy St Laurent

The more “suburban” setting of Halifax’s North End Shoppers offers a completely different scene as gazed from its windows

My experience of the same space, same store-layout, experienced in different places, different cities was an opportunity to think about the unexpected side effects of the homogenization and mass production of architecture and the layouts and designs of big-box, suburban developments and stores. In cases that suburban design infiltrates urban settings, the lack of differentiation in design of the layout works to emphasize the differences between the stores, as opposed to having the more expected adverse effect of making every place seem the same.

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