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Pedestrian Modern

Pedestrian Modern: Shopping and American Architecture, 1925–1956

David Smiley
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Pedestrian Modern
    Book Description:

    Too close to the wiles and calculations of consumption, stores and shopping centers are generally relegated to secondary, pedestrian status in the history of architecture. And yet, throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century, stores and shopping centers were an important locus of modernist architectural thought and practice. Under the mantle of modernism, the merchandising problems and possibilities of main streets, cities, and suburbs became legitimate-if also conflicted-responsibilities of the architectural profession. In Pedestrian Modern, David Smiley reveals how the design for places of consumption informed emerging modernist tenets. The architect was viewed as a coordinator and a site planner-modernist tropes particularly well suited to merchandising. Smiley follows this development from the twenties and thirties, when glass and transparency were equated with modernist rationality; to the forties, when cities and congestion presented considerable hurdles for shopping district design and, at the same time, when modern concerns about the pedestrian deeply affected city and neighborhood planning; to the early fifties, when both urban shopping districts and suburban shopping centers became large-scale modernist undertakings. Although interpreting the tools and principles of modernism, designs for shopping never quite shed the specter of consumption. Tracing the history of architecture's relationship with retail environments during a time of significant transformation in urban centers and in open suburban landscapes, Smiley expands and qualifies the making of American modernism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8421-2
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    In October 1956, between farms and single-family home subdivisions outside Minneapolis, a fully enclosed shopping center opened its glass doors (Figure I.1). For its architect, Victor Gruen, the project represented a triumph, and not only because it made the pages of Life magazine. Southdale was the most ambitiously realized of Gruen’s continuing ventures into retailing.¹ Two years earlier, his Northland Shopping Center (Figure I.2) opened outside Detroit; its landscaped malls, fountains, and sculptures received positive acclaim in both popular and professional media. These were not the first shopping centers in the country, but Southdale was the first realized large-scale, fully...

    (pp. 17-50)

    The representation of store design in American architectural magazines through the 1920s was only partly about selling goods. Editors deemed it necessary to ensure that such work first and foremost be considered a high-minded architectural enterprise—that is, respectable, professional, artistic, and anything but commercial. For the most part, small stores and storefronts were described in terms ranging from facade composition and eclectic associations to framed mise-en-scènes and historical precedents. The mechanics of sales and display were treated in terms of elite furnishings or cabinetry, and the entire operation was treated as a tasteful expression of an urbane culture. Elite...

    (pp. 51-92)

    That the editors of Architectural Forum could claim in 1940 that modernism was uniquely suited to the design of stores no doubt raised some eyebrows. Other critics were more circumspect, wondering if the adoption of the modern was “sometimes for efficiency, sometimes for publicity, sometimes to be ‘smart.’”¹ In 1939, Forum editors noted that “the dramatic attention getting qualities of modern architecture” could serve as an “extra salesman,” and while this was certainly not the highest compliment in aesthetic or professional terms, they went on to praise the store in the already normative language of modernism. More than in other...

    (pp. 93-132)

    To great fanfare, Milton Bradley proclaimed in 1954 in an advertisement for its new game Park & Shop that “every child will enjoy the hustle and bustle of parking and a trip to the stores.” The game mimicked a day’s errands in town, including library and post office visits, medical appointments, and bill paying, but mostly the game was organized around shopping (Figure 3.1). The game board was a diagrammatic map of a small gridded town or urban district: a four-block by five-block grid, with a main intersection plus a perimeter road dotted with ten identical single-family home icons and...

    (pp. 133-174)

    In 1947, Princeton University sponsored a conference titled “Planning Man’s Physical Environment,” with presentations by Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Richard Neutra, Sigfried Giedion, George Howe, Joseph Hudnut, and other notables.² The discussions about design, technology, education, and planning at the conference were high-minded, if general, and the participants framed the future of the city in broad and often dire terms. Giedion took a position that was cosmopolitan and represented the city as the highest of architectural syntheses, whereas others, such as the Boston architect William Roger Greeley, took the small town as a model. Shopping was never mentioned. In...

    (pp. 175-206)

    In the United States, after the atomic bomb was used on Hiroshima, widely circulated images of urban devastation elicited intense reactions and dire predictions and, as images are wont to be, were fully instrumentalized: deeply etched historical settlement patterns came into question and norms of professional practice were challenged. The bomb and its many representations altered the terms by which many Americans understood their cities. A Saturday Evening Post article of 1946 titled “Your Flesh Should Creep” concluded that atomic weaponry might impel the United States to dispense with the Constitution and forcibly abandon cities for the safety of the...

    (pp. 207-242)

    At midcentury, the American shopping center outside the core of the city was a new kind of architectural project whose form was undecided and whose professional status was unclear. The shopping center was beginning to reach beyond its “primer days,” but the architectural value of the commission remained ambiguous.¹ Architectural Forum’s editorial position on the transformation of midcentury modernism is symptomatic of the rhetorical balancing effected for the shopping center within architectural discourse: the central question for the “new building pattern” was to treat it as an architectural concern first, a commercial problem second. Through the treatment of the shopping...

    (pp. 243-254)

    Walter Benjamin wrote that Eugène Atget’s images of deserted Parisian streets were comparable to crime scene photographs in which action is suspended and all hints of human presence are elided (Figure C.1).¹ In particular, Atget’s 1920s store windows may have been empty of subjects, but they were bursting with signs of active consumption. This absent presence was a sign of modernity—the window became a flat screen onto which the world was projected, and, at the same time, it joined interior to exterior, the space of the store to the city beyond. The images document the world of commodities not...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 255-292)
    (pp. 293-336)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 337-358)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-359)