restricted access ONE: The Store Problem
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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 shops carried value because of the class they catered to as well as for their “proper” representation of architectural quality. Overall, storefronts were considered subsidiary parts of the larger building masses in which they were housed. This system of conventions began to shift in the 1920s when heated debates about modernism emerged across the profession and in the magazines. The varied terms through which modernism was given architectural meaning were laden with crisscrossing associations, affiliations, and refractions . American architectural periodicals of the time joined the modern to, inter alia, pragmatics, organicism, coherence, straightforwardness, the ONE THE STORE PROBLEM The modern movement in architectural and decorative design may be applied with peculiar success to the design of shops and stores. —Ra n dolph W. Sexton American Commercial Buildings of Today, 1928 17 l machine, objectivity, logic, simplicity, and progress, all of which indicated that the modern was as much wish image as truth claim—especially since many of the terms were claimed equally by the “traditionalists” or others seeking a so-called middle ground so as not to jettison the forms or methods of what Lewis Mumford called the “genteel reaction.” Fiske Kimball, for instance, defended the work of McKim, Mead & White as modern in its simplicity and abstraction, an improvement, he said, upon an earlier eclecticism or mere structural expression.1 Like an echo of the eighteenth-century battle between “the ancients and the moderns,” early twentiethcentury architects were caught up in interpretations of authority, order, and rule making as much as they were in the specifics of any one building, image, or space.2 Defining modern design and modern architecture was tendentious. In 1929, Ralph T. Walker (of the New York firm Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker) was highly critical of the “fetish” made of utility and the machine, but the same year Architectural Forum praised these qualities in Duiker and de Klerk, among others; in 1930, John Harbeson (partner of Paul Cret) was highly dismissive of Le Corbusier’s machinic metaphors, but the same year Henry-Russell Hitchcock demanded “conversion ” to machinelike logic over stylistic “syncretism”; also in 1930, George Howe decried the limits of American “stylistic tradition” and, aided by illustrations of Le Corbusier, Oud, and others, called for a return to “sound tradition” in which “a sane and logical formula” might “solve new problems.”3 While many praised the Museum of Modern Art’s 1932 framing of a newly found architectural coherence based on what Hitchcock described as “the aesthetic crystallization of the engineering solution to the building problem,” others, such as Fuller and other writers for Shelter magazine, saw in the International Style a brute exercise in disciplinary, aesthetic , and political cleansing.4 The 1933 Century of Progress exhibition in Chicago was also seen by some critics as a testing ground for various forms of modernism, European and otherwise, and not always with praise.5 More catholic in his tastes, Lewis Mumford (not unlike Giedion) went so far as to praise as incipiently modern the well-executed utilitarianism of the subway station and the “cheap popular lunchroom”; in similar terms he lauded the seventeenthcentury farmhouse, the nineteenth-century factory, and the work of the engineer and the shipbuilder, all of which connected use and form.6 In these terms, Mumford also held in high esteem the modernist rationalism he saw in German “objectivity ” (Sachlich), not because of a formal preference (he said) but because the entire range of production—from cities to buildings to household goods—was socially and organically integrated.7 So why did the eclectic editor and chronicler of architecture Randolph Sexton write that modern architecture could be applied with “peculiar success” to store work? Sexton was no purist, and perhaps he worked with a looser or inchoate interpretation of the modern as representing “the new” rather than taking any organicist, 18 THE STORE PROBLEM aesthetic, or functionalist position. Yet this was...


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