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Pedestrian Modern

Shopping and American Architecture, 1925–1956

2013
Author:

David Smiley

Pedestrian Modern

How the design of stores and shopping centers shaped modern architecture in the United States

In Pedestrian Modern, David Smiley reveals how the design for places of consumption—stores and shopping centers—informed emerging modernist tenets. Tracing the history of architecture’s relationship with retail environments during a time of significant transformation in urban centers and in open suburban landscapes, Pedestrian Modern expands and qualifies the making of American modernism.

In this provocative, original, and persuasive book, David Smiley argues that urban modernism is as much about creating new kinds of pedestrian spaces as it about highways and high-rises. Most provocatively, he argues that the best example of ‘pedestrian modernism’ is the American shopping center. This deeply-researched investigation into the modernist origins of the mall is a model of creative scholarship and design thinking.

Robert Fishman, University of Michigan

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.

Awards

Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Pedestrian Modern

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

Pedestrian Modern

In this provocative, original, and persuasive book, David Smiley argues that urban modernism is as much about creating new kinds of pedestrian spaces as it about highways and high-rises. Most provocatively, he argues that the best example of ‘pedestrian modernism’ is the American shopping center. This deeply-researched investigation into the modernist origins of the mall is a model of creative scholarship and design thinking.

Robert Fishman, University of Michigan

Pedestrian Modern challenges the idea that architectural modernism involved a critique of shopping and mass culture. Smiley shows that the architects who designed the key consumer settings in the United States explored modernist idioms of transparency, circulation, and master planning. The results, both urban and suburban, made modernism an appealing everyday experience for the general public.

Gwendolyn Wright, Columbia University

This study elevates and elucidates an underappreciated, ubiquitous aspect of American culture through meticulous research in the books, magazines, journals, and archival resources of those several tumultuous decades.

CHOICE

In the discussion of what is fundamentally a suburban or rather a non-urban building type, the author pays attention not only to the pure architectural and formal aspect of the buildings but more importantly to its social and cultural significance.

Docomomo

Smiley . . . has made a substantive addition to our perspective on modernism at the mid-twentieth century.

Winterthur Portfolio

Smiley’s extensively researched analysis sheds new light on the intertwining of modernism and merchandising and is a significant contribution to the history of the design profession.

Buildings & Landscapes

Pedestrian Modern

Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: Centers and Peripheries

1. The Store Problem
2. Machines for Selling
3. “Park and Shop”
4. Pedestrianization Takes Command
5. The Cold War Pedestrian
6. The Language of Modern Shopping

Conclusion: Pedestrian Modern Futures

Notes
Selected Bibliography
Index

Pedestrian Modern

UMP blog - How the suburban U.S. shopping mall reimagined the city and undergirded architectural modernization

In 1958, the Architectural League of New York held a photographic exhibit of new street furniture. Today, such an undertaking seems unremarkable but the show warranted a lengthy review in the New York Times. That street furniture was a "major topic" reflected the prevailing opinion of architects and planners that the quantity of both traditional and utilitarian "stuff" of the street – from mailboxes to benches to lighting – had accumulated to the point of "visual anarchy." It had become absolutely necessary, argued League president Morris Ketchum, to establish "overall control" in creating the "right environment" for users of the street.

Read the full article.