Who, you ask, is Victor Gruen – NOT a J. Gordon Lippincott? In the commercialized cacophony that is the “Holiday Season” leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah, I felt compelled to learn more about the inventor of the modern shopping mall.
And it was my sheer dumb luck that the Austrian Embassy in Washington DC has been hosting an exhibit about Gruen this year, so I learned ALOT (not in person, but hey…). Mr. Gruen was a Jewish, Austrian-born architect and urban planner who emigrated to America when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. He envisioned malls as community centers, consistently advocating that they be developed as mixed-use environments, incorporating not just retail establishments, but restaurants, apartments, and even schools, medical centers, parks and lakes into their footprints. He extended his concepts to entire cities, including the plan for modern Tehran.
Gruen’s ideas were not fully adopted in his lifetime: shopping center developers routinely took everything in his plans which would enhance sales and ditched the rest. He deeply regretted the “bastard developments” produced by his concepts. Except for… Disneyland. COOL!!!!!
And as I look around the thriving, beautiful, spacious urban centers recently built at The Village at Totem Lake – which even hosted Corbin Maxey, a popular animal expert, to the delight of dozens of children – and Woodinville’s Schoolhouse District, I think Gruen would be pleased. People were paying attention after all.
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