Monday, December 15, 2008

Mall ra(n)t-ing

In 1938, Victor Gruen fled his native Austria to escape from the Nazi invasion. Though trained as an architect, he couldn't find enough work in his adopted country, the USA, and found himself working on store designs, which was infra dig for architects in those days. As time went by, he found himself specialising in designing larger and larger shopping spaces. Between 1954 and 1956, he designed two large malls which went on to become the de-facto templates for shopping malls the world over. However, Gruen was apalled by the Frankenstein's monster he had unleashed - only the store part of his design was implemented and the rest of his vision, of the mall as a mini-community, with apartments, medical facilities, lake, etc. was chopped off in pursuit of profits from shopping centres. Having conceptualized the mall as a replication of the shopping district of his native Vienna, he was apalled to find that those districts had given way to shopping malls. He declared himself as being in "severe emotional shock" at the sprawl around his shopping centres and in 1978, two years before his death, said that he refused to pay "alimony for those bastard developments".

Of course, we believe that we learn from our mistakes; maybe we learn from the smaller ones - the malls of today are more airy, spacious-looking (and safer?) than the shopping centres of old where shops were crammed in all shapes and sizes, with merchandise spilling out on to walking area too. The larger mistakes? They're probably too large to be seen with the naked eye. The Chennai City Centre seems to be impressive at first look, with its mish-mash of architectural styles and flourishes. I try to avoid going to it though, because the overpowering feeling is of claustrophobia.

That's not something hundreds of other people feel, obviously. The Chennai City Centre should be thankful for that!


ANC said...

This is the first blog of its kind that I've come across. Good job! And yeah, I'm not a big mall fan so this was fun to read!

Shantaram said...

>> ANC>> Thank you for stopping by!