«Karlo Trost ARCH 251: Architectural History 2 April 14, 2015 The social dimension of space comprises the ways in which the built environment ...»
GENDERED SPATIAL ORGANIZATION IN VICTOR GRUEN'S
SUBURBAN SHOPPING MALL
ARCH 251: Architectural History 2
April 14, 2015
The social dimension of space comprises the ways in which the built environment shapes
human experiences and interactions. There is a mutualistic relationship between space and power,
whereby space is deﬁned by individuals with socioeconomic and/or political power and power is subsequently upheld by the deﬁnition and organization of space. When Dolores Hayden asked: “What would a non-sexist city be like?”, she was asserting that the built environment is dictated by our society's gendered social hierarchy and that architecture represents a physical record of those at the top of this hierarchy. The built environment is comprised of the institutions and structures that beneﬁt certain individuals and oppress others. Capitalism, as a system in which wealthy persons can sustain their privilege, and where this privilege is related to gender and race, has contributed to the construction of the built environment and continues to do so. With the rise of postwar suburbia came the proliferation of the suburban shopping centre. Shopping mall architecture had not been thoroughly considered until the architect Victor Gruen began to theorize on the construction and planning of malls, employing merchandising strategies to maximize proﬁts. Considering the greater number of stores and services that are targeted toward women (than toward men), there seems to be a strong relationship between the shopping mall and women as a social group. However, Gruen only brieﬂy discusses the role of women in the planning of his malls, describing them as target consumers. The exclusion of women from his planning philosophy reveals the way in which women are perceived as non-actors in society. Malls were constructed to allow women a sense of freedom, yet continued to restrict their access to places of power. Shopping malls embody the notion that the built environment is, as Leslie society. Malls were constructed to allow women a sense of freedom, yet continued to restrict their access to places of power. Shopping malls embody the notion that the built environment is, as Leslie Kanes Weisman writes, a “form of social oppression [and] an expression of social power.” Women's sociospatial conﬁnement during the postwar era reveals a relationship between socioeconomic gender inequality and the built environment. And so, Gruen's mall architecture, deﬁned by the planning of the mall as a totality (the mall as a single-, double-, or triple-pull plan and the situation of the centre within its suburban context), by the planning of the individual interior spaces within the mall (the organization of interior pedestrian space, the organization of consumption spaces, and the placement of stores, and the placement of stores), and by the mall's interior design, has upheld the gender hierarchy of our imperialist, capitalist patriarchy.
In current literature addressing women's relationship to the built environment, there is signiﬁcant focus on the domestic sphere. The suburbs grew out of the postwar baby boom and signiﬁed the new and increasing importance of domesticity. Suburbia perpetuated the utopic vision of American domesticity that developed alongside the Cold War, where families retreated into postwar afﬂuence and consumerism. After the Second World War, middle-class women were largely removed from their positions in the workforce. Conﬁned to large homes, far away from city centres, these women became homemakers, which developed as a profession in its own way. A homemaker's place of work was in the home, but she was tasked with child rearing and other domestic chores, tasks that necessitated consumption. Thus, the shopping centre became a spatial extension of her life as a homemaker. Betty Friedan, in her book The Feminine Mystique, discusses “housewifery” as comprising the tasks related to married women, most of whom are unemployed and with multiple children. As the role of housewife or homemaker came to be wholly singular identities, the work associated with these identities grew to be more time consuming. Friedan also comments on the open plans of many suburban houses: the absence of separation between the living room, dining room, and kitchen, entraps housewives in a homogenized domestic space. Understanding women's relationship to the home is necessary for understanding their relationship to the built environment outside of the home.
Places of consumption prior to the establishment of the suburban shopping mall had already been gendered. The department store was recognized to be a place most frequented by women and was thus organized to accommodate a segregation of men and women. Men's products were sold on ground ﬂoors, near principle exits, and women's products occupied the remaining spaces within the building.
Gruen's mall adopts the gendered shopping experience of the department store, perpetuating the gendering of shopping itself. An analysis of his work establishes a relationship between the proliferation of suburbia, gender-based oppression, and the introduction Gruen's shopping mall. And because his model has been so widely adopted, he is responsible, or at least complicit, in the perpetuation of gender hierarchies.
In Shopping Towns USA, Victor Gruen's written work discussing the planning of suburban shopping centres, the mall is described as the new suburban city centre. Gruen recognized that shopping malls held great potential in contributing to the civic and commercial liveliness of the suburbs and so, the primary objective of the shopping mall was to generate capital within the suburban context, that is, outside of the city centres. Northland Center in Detroit and Southdale Center in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, were Gruen's ﬁrst two mall projects and exhibit very clearly his strict merchandising planning philosophy. Organization of the mall was carefully considered to maximize commercial opportunities, employing the use of “magnets”, in the form of big retail chains, as points of attraction. Northland Center (Figure 1) featured a single-pull plan, with one major attractor, the department store Hudson's, situated at the centre of the mall, around which pedestrian trafﬁc would constantly ﬂow. Southdale Center (Figure 2) featured a double-pull plan, with two major attractors situated at opposite ends of the mall, directing trafﬁc from one end of the shopping centre to the other.
Southdale, being the ﬁrst enclosed shopping mall, embodied the notion of convenience and represented the ideal consumption space for women. It gave women the opportunity to leave their homes and to shop, in a spacious, temperature-controlled environment, regardless of season. Gruen's shopping centre, as a new building typology, promised women convenience. But what may have been convenient for women – the mall having a great number of stores, each offering different products and concentrated into one location – was, above all, commercially beneﬁcial for big businesses.
Merchandising planning was created and implemented to assure commercial effectiveness in the mall and to shift important economic activity away from city centres. The various design and planning strategies employed in mall architecture have been used to maximize trade opportunities and to constitute the shopping centre as a suburban city centre and a hub of entertainment. Essentially, the shopping mall acted as a tool for developing the suburbs shopping mall acted as a tool for developing the suburbs Source: Shopping Towns USA (Gruen and Smith, 1960), 133.
Figure 1: Northland Center in Detroit feature a single-pull plan.
Source: Shopping Towns USA (Gruen and Smith, 1960), 135.
Figure 2: Southdale Center in Edina featured a double-pull plan.
and thus, to further middle-class, white America. The upward social mobility of (white) Middle America is characterized by a speciﬁc image, that of the nuclear family. The nuclear family constitutes an economic unit, as well as a means of producing capital. The tasks undertaken by housewives and mothers, such as the preparation of meals, dish-washing, laundry, general house cleaning, and the nurturing and rearing of children, are part of women's invisible labour; labour that is an integral part of the economic microsystem that is the nuclear family. And the aforementioned microsystem is itself an integral part of the suburban capitalist economy. The oppression of women can be deﬁned by their exclusion from social and economic production, or alternately, by their sole inclusion in consumption practices. As a response to postwar afﬂuence, shopping was made recreational and represented physical liberation for women. But when shopping became an enforced part of women's labour, the shopping mall came to represent a form of imprisonment. Capitalism in suburban America was sustained by the private, unpaid work of mothers, homemakers, and housewives, and so the freedom promised by shopping malls, or rather, by consumption within the malls, was nothing more than a lie.
It would seem that the relationship between women and the practice of shopping is so profound, private, unpaid work of mothers, homemakers, and housewives, and so the freedom promised by shopping malls, or rather, by consumption within the malls, was nothing more than a lie.
It would seem that the relationship between women and the practice of shopping is so profound, that the history of the shopping mall and its precedents are a history of women themselves. To analyze the malls of Victor Gruen as fabrications of gendered space, we must understand the ways in which shopping practices and the shopping mall have been, over the last century and a half, constituted as female practices and spaces, respectively. Thus an analysis begins with the recognition that capitalism and patriarchy are systems in which persons with socioeconomic power have the ability to oppress minorities and to shape the deﬁnitions of gender and space (and their relationship to each other). The emergence of shopping as, ﬁrstly, a leisure activity, and then, a female-oriented economic activity, is related to economic class and race. Beginning in the late 19th century, retail spaces, such as department stores, began to be characterized as feminine in nature. Department stores accommodated women through the implementation of rest areas, lavatories, and concession areas. Though the addition of amenities for women in public spaces facilitated the entry of women into the public sphere, retailers were not particularly concerned with accommodating women, but with catering to them in order to increase proﬁts. During the postwar years, as a result of government mandated domesticity for women, shopping was redeﬁned as a task related to housewifery, or professional housework. However, shopping, as a female-oriented practice, seems to be rooted in women's economic status, as well as related to women's unemployment. Women from from the middle, upper-middle, and upper classes could afford to remain unemployed after the war. This is certainly true for white women, who were signiﬁcantly less employed than African-American women (between 1950 and 1970, black women surpassed white women in labour force participation by at least 5 percent). In a sense, the shopping mall became a necessity for women because it provided them with increased physical mobility, which, along with social mobility, is an important factor in women's autonomy.
The history of the shopping mall as a gendered space and of shopping as a gendered practice is evident in modern mall designs and planning. Gruen has perpetuated the feminization of shopping spaces and practices because of a desire to maximize proﬁts. In Shopping Towns USA, Gruen describes a hypothetical shopping centre where, out of 500,000 square feet of rentable area, approximately 50 percent is dedicated to or associated with women's interests. This assured that women would be constantly stimulated while in the shopping centre, and that they would constantly be surrounded by pleasurable experiences. The hypothetical shopping centre also features many “neutral” stores and services: food retailers, children's interest, furniture, drugs, optometry, shoe repair, banking and postal service, among others. Considering, the diversity of the stores in the hypothetical, 50 percent is a considerable amount of space to be solely dedicated to women's interests. By creating feminized consumption spaces, Gruen is transforming suburban women's experiences into almost purely capitalist ones. Interestingly, in Shopping, when referring to the generic shopper, he uses female pronouns, indicating that the generic shopper, the targeted shopper, is a woman. By capitalizing on the combined history of women and shopping, Gruen is complicit in the conﬁnement of women to spaces devoid of power.
The interior design of retail spaces took on a domestic aesthetic that allowed female patrons a sense of the comforts of home while shopping. The department stores of the late 19th century catered to women's needs, not only in terms of products and services provided, but through the domestication of a retail space. Similarly, Gruen attempted to domesticate the shopping mall – to posit the mall as an extension of the home – by placing great importance on the newly recreational aspect of shopping. The notion of shopping as a recreational activity was facilitated most importantly by the creation of places for relaxation: clusters of benches hidden away from major pedestrian trafﬁc. Often, these sitting areas were covered by trees or plants, further emphasizing the space as a separate entity; another world within the mall.