In celebration of the creation of the modern shopping mall, is to thank the creator, Victor David Gruen, born July 18, 1903. Today is Gruen Day, a properly named holiday for and Austrian architect best known for his pioneering designs of enclosed shopping malls and open-air centers he was commissioned to design across the country. Gruen was an advocate in temporarily eliminating the use of a car for shopping as family pleasure in urban cores of cities and suburbs, first in Fresno, California in 1965.
Victor was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna, Austria and studied architecture at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, were he found himself to be a staunch-socialist, then opened an architect firm in 1933. Victor escaped Hitler's Austria and emigrated to the United States in 1938 with very little to him name other than what was left behind in Austria.
After developing a reputation for drafting and design excellence in New York City, he moved to Los Angeles in 1941 and ten years later, founded Victor Gruen Associates. After the war ended in 1954, Gruen was commissioned to design the the first open-air shopping mall near Detroit, Michigan in 1954, called Northland Mall.
After much success with Detroit, considered the most famous of his work, with partnership from Dayton's Department Store chain, he constructed the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, the first enclosed, air-conditioned mall in the country, in 1956.
Until the 70s, his firm designed over 50 shopping malls in the United States, followed by many housing sites and commercial office buildings in Boston. After designing the Lakehurst and Randhurst Malls in Mount Prospect and Waukegan, Illinois, he left America in 1968 to return to Vienna, before they were opened in 1971.
Gruen died on February 14, 1980 in his home of Vienna, Austria.
In the Gruen Associates produces film from 1968, "Fresno: A City Reborn", really demonstrated the basic principles Gruen stood for, being clean and contemporary, bring people together be getting them off the streets and out of the the dangers of the city scene, and into comforting communal centers, you could say he was a true "people person"!
The film starts with scenes of the downtown sprawl of Fresno, California, and the quote from Lyndon B. Johnson:
"Our society will never be great until are cities are great"
That America was reaching an urban crisis, basically running out of room for shopping downtown as suburbs began to grow, and the market seemed out of balance as people no longer came downtown, they went through downtown. That city centers were becoming dreary ghost towns and with the use of the car, location had to be reconsidered, thus seizing the use of vehicle travel for walking, that is where the open-air plaza comes in.
With an improved system of arterial roads and a growing rate of freeway travel after President Eisenhower signed the Federal- Aid Highway Act in 1956, these acted as by passes not to go through the city, but to go around to get to the suburbs quicker, and to not crowd, or overlook what downtown still had to offer.
The Fulton Mall was opened in downtown Fresno the September 1964, and after that, this concept has been seen throughout the world and universally ushered in what malls and life style centers are seen as today, trees, foliage, fountains, and public artwork, downtown with out a street.
The Gruen Effect:
In the podcast from Roman Mars, 99% Invisible-163- The Gruen Effect, goes through and touches on the key aspects of who Victor was and the architectural contributions he gave to shopping design. In the article by The Eye, on how Victor pioneered the American Shopping Mall, then became its number one critic.
The design of the outside of the store seems rather simplistic, yet its when you walked inside that's what really had to catch your attention, which kept you in the store longer, which made you purchase more.
People were in need on somewhere else to gather, said best by socialist Ray Oldenburg, there was the need of a "third place", because home was the primary place, work was secondary, and the mall was the third.
Going to the mall was a commitment, as you had to now leave you house, and go drive there, then leave your car somewhere to get the the center on foot.
Think of it as if it was not for the mall, and the concept, much of we do use today that is the complete opposite of shopping, might not be what it is if it was not started as a result of what the mall started, like are advanced interstate system, and variety of styles and an over all hangout place.
Thank you for reading and be sure as were ever you are, try and stop by a local mall today and think about where you actually are, not the stores, but what it is that you are a living part of.