The architect Victor Gruen ‘invented’ the shopping mall. He was the first person to come up with and execute the idea of a hermetically sealed shopping area – something that dovetailed with the imperatives of property development, retailing, as well as ideas of femininity and the need for places to ‘duck and cover’ as the American’s were, bizarrely enough, planning to do if subjected to a nuclear attack by the bad guys. His original purpose? To liven up the suburbs. He felt they were soulless and needed some civic life.
Was he mad? No – he was an idealist whose ideas got hijacked. The shopping malls initially had multiple civic spaces of many different kinds where people could congregate and socialise in various ways. But the civic space didn’t earn its keep as well as retail space.
It’s an interesting story. My Dad once told me that we might have been related. In this day of Google and the internet I can confirm pretty quickly that we’re not. Though they spent their early years in the same city, Vienna, Victor was born Victor David Grünbaum. My father Fritz Heinz Georg Grün. So no dice.
But it’s an interesting and sad story if you can ignore the occasional ideological mannerisms of the author.
Towards the end of his life
Gruen claimed that real estate businesses had hijacked his concept of the shopping town and reduced them to machines for selling. He disclaimed paternity once and for all and refused to pay alimony to those bastard developments. He became interested in ecology, concentrated his attention on the concept of the self-sustained city and the cellular metropolis and was active in the anti-nuclear power movement.