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Pedestrian Modern

Shopping and American Architecture, 1925–1956

David Smiley

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

...I spent very little time in shopping malls during the first half of my life; they simply did not interest me. This did not stem from any nascent politics I can recall, but I found the places both boring and distracting. It was not until my first teaching job in the American Midwest that I rediscovered the mall. Most of my students had grown up in the suburbs, and the mall was second nature to them. My position about the...

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Introduction: Centers and Peripheries

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pp. 1-16

...Southdale was the most ambitiously realized of Gruen’s continuing ventures into retailing. 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 enclosed, and air-conditioned...

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ONE: The Store Problem

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pp. 17-50

...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...

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TWO: Machines for Selling

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pp. 51-92

...“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 types of commissions, in store work, “form must follow...

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THREE: Park and Shop

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pp. 93-132

...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 singlefamily home icons and one chamfered corner making room...

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FOUR: Pedestrianization Takes Command

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pp. 133-174

...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 all cases, however...

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FIVE: The Cold War Pedestrian

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pp. 175-206

...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...

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SIX: The Language of Modern Shopping

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pp. 207-242

...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 center as a studied choreography of mov - ing people, objects, and vehicles—as a “traffic complex”—the wiles...

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Conclusion: Pedestrian Modern Futures

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pp. 243-254

...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 merely as the outcome of mass production...


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pp. 255-292


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pp. 293-336


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pp. 337-358

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About the Author

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p. 359-359

...David Smiley teaches at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816684212
E-ISBN-10: 0816684219
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679300

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2013