(left) Burdick Mall, Kalamazoo, MI, designed by Victor Gruen, 1959; (right) Dixie Square Mall, Harvey, IL, 2009, photo by Jon Revelle
In anticipation of the consumerist high holy day of Black Friday, I was delighted to read former BB guestblogger Mark Dery's insightful essay in Change Observer about the birth, and death, and rebirth, of the shopping mall. Mark begins with the father of mall architecture, Victor Gruen, and his Southdale Center built in 1956 outside Minneapolis. From there, it's a delightful Deryan romp through the death of malls and on to the present "rare window of opportunity to hit the re-set button on consumer culture as we know it." From "Dawn of the Dead Mall" in Change Observer:
Visions of taking a wrecking ball to malls everywhere are satisfyingly apocalyptic. But sending all that rebar, concrete, and Tyvek to a landfill is politically incorrect in the extreme. Already, architects, urbanists, designers and critics are thinking toward a near future in which dead malls are repurposed, redesigned and reincarnated as greener, smarter and more often than not more aesthetically inspiring places — seedbeds for locavore-oriented agriculture, vibrant social beehives or [fill in the huge footprint where the mall used to stand].
Brimming with evangelical zeal, New Urbanists are exhorting communities with dead malls to reverse the historical logic of Gruenization, turning malls inside-out so storefronts face the wider world and transforming them into mixed-use agglomerations of residences and retail; repurposing parking lots into civic plazas; infilling the dead zones that surround most malls with transit-accessible neighborhoods checkerboarded with public spaces (a rare commodity in sprawl developments),and weaving the streets of said neighborhoods into those of the surrounding suburbs.
The more visionary ideas sound a lot like what the cyberpunk designeratus Bruce Sterling calls "architecture fiction," somewhere between Greg Lynn and Silent Running, Teddy Cruz and Ecotopia.