The Third Place: The Shopping Mall and American Suburbia

The rise of American Suburbia after 1945 saw a significant number of Americans moving away from the cities and into emerging communities of single-family homes. The automobile allowed millions to live in American Suburbia, commute to their workspaces in the US cities, and make the return trip back to their Household before evening. Department Stores and Supermarkets that had once concentrated much of their economic activities in the cities established newer branches in American Suburbia. Their relocation to American Suburbia was accommodated by the concurrent rise of the Shopping Mall. The Shopping Mall, eclipsing the Small Businesses on Main Street, grew in both size and composition across the US throughout the late 20th century. After the Death of Bretton Woods, they gradually began to lose their relevance in American Suburbia due to the appearances of “discount stores” in the 1980s and later eCommerce websites after the 1990s.

I discussed about the Shopping Mall before in the context of Department Stores within the Entry of the same. And in that same Entry, I was also convinced that the Shopping Mall was the missing link to unlocking the mysteries of the Third Place as an institution peculiar to the Total Educational Effort. But what most people, Americans and non-Americans alike, may or may not know is that the Shopping Mall had a radically different design philosophy from what it ended up becoming. To understand the design philosophy, we need to investigate the historical development of the Shopping Mall based on the Intents of its architectural designer.

Photo of Viktor Gruen (born Viktor David Grünbaum),
Austrian Jewish architect of the Shopping Mall

Origins of the Shopping Mall

The concept of the Shopping Mall is the brainchild of Victor Gruen (born Viktor David Grünbaum), an Austrian Jewish architect who fled the German-speaking world in 1938 after the Hitlerists took over Austria in the Anschluss. He immigrated to these United States, where he became one among various architects from the German-speaking world who went on to design the buildings, storefronts, and interior layouts of America’s emerging Retail Industry. Gruen’s design philosophy boils down to the belief that the aesthetics and appearances of the Retail Industry should appeal and attract potential customers to their premises. The ideal was that customers, regardless of their Class (or, for our purposes, Social Rank), would visit the Department Store because they already have an idea as to what the Department Store is selling before stepping inside.

Much of this design philosophy was in some respects derived from the philosophical views of an Austrian Jewish inventor and scholar, Josef Popper-Lynkeus. Born in Austria, Popper-Lynkeus spent much of his life in Czechia between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of significant interest to this Author (and perhaps even Gruen’s formative years in the 1920s and 1930s) was the efforts by Popper-Lynkeus to outline the role of the State within the State of Total Mobilization. A significant part of his philosophy was the attempt to describe how the State should conduct itself in its relations to the Totality and the Self.

Photo of Josef Popper-Lynkeus, ca. 1917

Popper-Lynkeus advocated for a social system wherein the State has a “Constitutional Obligation” to ensure that the Totality has access to education, housing, and healthcare. The Totality, in return for receiving those “essentials services,” would return the favor by participating in a sort of civil service to their nation before proceeding to pursue their Vocations and then finally receive a Pension upon retirement. While his works are largely forgotten, his economic-related works have contributed to the development of Ecological Economics (a subdiscipline studying humanity’s economic interactions with nature and its environmental impact), while others were well-received among more prominent Jews like Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Rosa Luxembourg, Theodor Herzel, and others. He was an historical proponent for the establishment of the State of Israel as a tenable solution to the problems of Antisemitism in Europe during the early 20th century.

Gruen, inspired by Popper-Lynkeus during his early adult years, got involved in Austria’s Social-Democratic and Socialist movements in the 1920s. It was also the same period when he received his educational background as an architect and used his knowledge to support those same movements. In his early writings and designs, Gruen saw the potential in promoting architecture that promoted Socialistic aesthetics. When he was designing buildings and interiors for Jewish and Gentile clients from the Austrian Social-Democratic and Socialist movements, Gruen participated in a “Political Cabaret” that engaged in social commentaries about the German-speaking world and satirizing its prominent political trends. While his satire sometimes involved playful jokes about Social-Democracy, some were more serious ones about Christian Democracy (which he thought was too supportive of Neoliberalism) and Pan-Germanic Socialism in particular. The latter is interesting because Gruen shared the consensus among Austrian Social-Democrats that Pan-Germanic Socialism was not a Pure Socialism and that it was at best a ruse to fool working class Germans and Austrians into supporting Capitalist economic interests. The rise of Adolf Hitler and Hitlerism for Gruen gave further credence to his social commentaries, which probably played a role in his subsequent decision to immigrate to the US by 1938.    

After 1945 and the rise of American Suburbia, Gruen found himself in a position during the early 1950s to rekindle his old passions from the 1920s and 1930s. It culminated in the conceptual designs that went on to become the Shopping Mall. The Shopping Mall was intended to be a sort of “Third Place,” which to Gruen meant an intermediate between home and work. It would serve as a location for people to congregate, relax, socialize, and meet others, regardless of their class and social status. The Shopping Mall would erase the distinctions of class and region, giving the Totality another opportunity to create a National Consciousness. While prototypes began to be drawn as early as the late 1940s, it was not until 1954 when Gruen finally unveiled his vision of the Shopping Mall.

In a suburb north of Detroit, the Northland Shopping Center was an open-aired complex that represented an early realization of Gruen’s vision. Although it was far from being the realization of that vision, it did serve as an early starting point for Gruen to build upon. His reputation as the architect of the Shopping Mall was finally achieved through the opening of the Southdale Center, located in a suburb near Minneapolis, in 1956. Southdale Center, despite laying the groundwork for the organizational parameters of the Shopping Mall, was a bittersweet achievement for Gruen. Rather than serving as a model for communal living, the Shopping Mall became subverted by Neoliberalism to suit its twin paradigm of Production for Profit and Production for Utility. Its implementation in American Suburbia contributed to further urban decay in the US cities, especially in the wake of the Death of Bretton Woods and the Deindustrialization and Globalization that followed.

Photo of Northland Shopping Center
Photo of Southdale Shopping Center

In final analysis, Gruen consistently considered himself as a Social-Democrat receptive to Pure Socialism. He may not have been on board with any one particular Pure Socialism’s political or economic aims, but he was nonetheless sympathetic to their general positions on social issues. This goes to back to the figure behind his design philosophy, Josef Popper-Lynkeus, who was also not a proponent of any Pure Socialism. In fact, Popper-Lynkeus was more concerned with the role of the State and what the Totality and the Self are supposed to expect from their State as citizens.

Moreover, if one recalled what I had described earlier about Production for Utility, it should not be surprising to discover why and how Neoliberalism was able to easily subvert Shopping Mall. Production for Utility, as a Mode of Production, cannot exist without Production for Profit. The Second Mode of Production seeks to mitigate the excesses of the First Mode of Production and does not try to deviate too much from it. The most pronounced forms of the Second Mode of Production have consistently been Social-Democracy and Social Corporatism (Read: Tripartism). That is because in those variants of Production for Utility, the “Parliament” acts as the regulating interlocutor between the “Firm” and the “Customer.” Since they are Socialist and Corporatist compromises to Neoliberalism, it is unsurprising to discover how they, like the Shopping Mall, became easily subverted in the two decades following the Death of Bretton Woods.     

Are Shopping Malls the True Third Place?

How does Viktor Gruen’s conceptualization of the Third Place differ from the version that I am about propose in the next Entry? Gruen’s “Third Place” was and continues to be the Shopping Mall. It is clear in his original vision and that was what he had set out to achieve. Even though Gruen did not appreciate the final outcome and how it later became subverted by Neoliberalism, I cannot blame him for being unable to anticipate it. My version of the Third Place relies on an entirely different design philosophy than the more idealistic and somewhat impractical one had Gruen chosen. Similar to how MTEP (Mission-Type Economic Planning) was designed to be distinguishable from STEP (Soviet-Type Economic Planning), I went to great efforts to ensure my version of the Third Place was compatible with the Work-Standard and Production for Dasein.

The key difference lies in my Third Place’s relation to the First and Second Places. The Third Place is not meant to act as an intermediate between the First and Second Places; it is that and more. It should not be isolated from the First and Second Places, instead supporting them through its own means of production. Moreover, Gruen’s “Second Place” assumes that the Third Place itself exists in a Market, not a Tournament operating under MTEP, and his “Second Place” was also isolated from the national educational system. I, on the other hand, viewed the Second Place as the SSE’s Student Economy and Student Government, which can be expected to work alongside the Council State and the VCS Economy.

Perhaps another notable difference is that Gruen designed his Third Place to be just one building incognizant of technological changes. In my version, the Third Place can be reconfigured into one of two possible variants. And if there was anything else that would set mine apart, it has to be the specifications of the Work-Standard. Without the Work-Standard, my Third Place would be no different than that of the “Third Place” that Viktor Gruen had sought to implement. More importantly, it would even be vulnerable to the economic firepower of eCommerce websites.

Therefore, if this Author’s Third Place is not the Shopping Mall, then what are they? What would be a suitable name to describe them? It would have to the “Shopping Arena” and the “Shopping Citadel.” Within a functioning Council Democracy, these two halves of the true Third Place are meant to accommodate the Total Educational Effort, MTEP, the State Commissariats, the Kontore, and all the other specifications which I had outlined at the beginning of Section Five. Over the course of the next five Entries, I will be discussing more about those two and how they interact with the First and Second Places.   

Categories: Third Place

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: