Design critic Alexandra Lange (The Design of Childhood) turns a nostalgic but clear eye on the shopping mall as an icon of consumerism intimately linked with the American Dream in Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall. This thorough, culturally aware history will surprise and inspire audiences who may feel they already know the story of the shopping megaplex, and provides a tour not of malls themselves, but of what they have meant to the people who gather in them.
Lange begins with the birth of malls in the 1950s, when suburban planning overlooked the need for gathering places. Architect Victor Gruen, inspired by a 10-story department store in downtown Detroit, created the first malls with the idea of making every day a perfect shopping day for a demographic largely composed of white, stay-at-home mothers.
Lange's design analysis of iconic malls such as NorthPark Center in Dallas, Tex., and the Minneapolis tourist destination Mall of America will engross architecture buffs, but she fully hits her stride when boiling down the synergy between spatial design elements and the evolution of U.S. culture. Not only did shifting economic tides affect malls, the mass entrance of women into the workforce left malls dealing with record numbers of unattended teenagers. A seeming haven for youth getting their first taste of independence, yet in many cases welcoming only white youth from the desired economic class, malls created their own security forces and tacitly upheld racist policies. Lange envisions more diverse and sustainable uses for malls, inspiring readers to see these behemoth structures as a vital and versatile resource for the future. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads