Gruen, Victor David
GRUEN, VICTOR DAVID
An architect who first brought the modern shopping mall to the sprawling, growing, and scattering suburbs, Victor Gruen (1903–1980) was both a successful businessman and an influential urban planning theorist. Known as a practical visionary Gruen attempted an alternative to both post–World War II suburban sprawl and dying center cities. In the early 1950s he designed two major Midwest shopping malls: Northland outside Detroit, Michigan; and Southdale near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Both projects strongly influenced countless suburban malls built in the last half of the twentieth century by integrating architecture, art, and landscape which, in turn, had an immeasurable impact on U.S. society and culture of the period.
Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1903, Gruen was the son of a successful lawyer. He grew up in a cultured home, enjoying the excitement of a vibrant, beautiful city and visiting relatives in all the capitals of Europe. He especially loved the theater. His father had many clients in the arts, and the boy loved to watch directors organize stage sets and place actors within pleasing backdrops. David R. Hill, writing in the Journal of the U.S. Planning Association, suggested that these early experiences may have influenced Gruen's later insistence on designing architectural spaces in which human beings were integral players.
After studying architecture at the Vienna Master School for Architecture of the Academy of Fine Arts after World War I (1914–1918), Gruen began his career with a German architectural firm, Melcher and Steiner, in Vienna. After nine years with the firm he opened his own architectural offices. It was not an auspicious moment to strike out on his own. Austria was hard hit by the Great Depression (1929–1939) and the family fortune was lost. The young architect's projects were limited to retail storefronts and building rehabilitation. However with two friends he won a competition for the design of a public housing project. And he had just received his largest commission for a store building when Nazi troops arrived in Vienna.
After three terrifying months spent as a Jew in occupied Vienna, Gruen fled to the United States in 1938 with only eight dollars in his pocket. Beginning with design work on stage sets for Broadway shows he was soon designing commercial spaces, progressing from small shops to commissions from Macy's for major new department stores in Kansas City and San Francisco. Moving to Los Angeles he established Victor Gruen Associates, Architects, Planners and Engineers. The firm would soon expand to five partners, 50 professionals, and some 200 employees with offices in Los Angeles and Detroit.
A brilliant, energetic man with a pronounced talent for business, Gruen had amassed 21 state architecture licenses, given 225 speeches and lectures, published 75 articles, coordinated two hundred important projects for his firm, and completed two major books within 20 years after his arrival in the United States. Gruen's first shopping mall, Northland, outside of Detroit, Michigan, was begun in 1952 and opened in 1954. It was the largest mall in the world at the time and has been called "a classic in shopping center design." Northland was soon followed by the 70-store Southdale near Minneapolis, Minnesota, the nation's first completely enclosed mall. Southdale introduced the concepts of a climate-controlled shopping space and the associated development of office buildings, apartment houses, and parks connected to the shopping mall.
Gruen subsequently turned to downtown redevelopment planning. An important breakthrough came with his 1956 plan for Fort Worth, Texas. He envisioned a downtown with a ring freeway and parking just off the freeway ramps. Commuters and shoppers, after parking their cars outside the urban area, would take minibuses to offices and retail establishments in the city center. Trucking and mass transportation would go underground. Pedestrians would be able to walk everywhere. Although his plan was never implemented urban designers around the world took pieces of it and adapted it to local needs. Gruen's firm, meanwhile, took on assignments for additional shopping centers, regional health complexes, major office buildings and parking garages, as well as urban renewal projects. Among these were the cities of Kalamazoo, Michigan; Fresno, California; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Gruen continued to crusade for a comprehensive metropolitan approach to city planning in which automobiles would not dominate. He believed that the business centers of modern cities should adopt the organizing concepts behind medieval marketplaces. According to this concept, shops should be arranged in logical sequences and shoppers should walk instead of ride between them. In books, articles, and lectures Gruen promoted his theories. At age 65 he returned to Vienna, where he opened a European branch of his firm. He consulted on major European planning projects and continued to write prodigiously until his death in 1980.
See also: City Planning
Current Biography. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1959, s.v. "Victor Gruen."
Current Biography. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1980, s.v. "Victor Gruen."
Gruen, Victor. The Heart of Our Cities: The Urban Crisis: Diagnosis and Cure. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.
Gruen, Victor. Shopping Towns U.S.A.: The Planning of Shopping Centers. New York: Reinhold Publishing Co., 1960.
Hill, David R. "Sustainability, Victor Gruen, and the Cellular Metropolis." Journal of the U.S. Planning Association, Summer 1992.
"Victor Gruen: Architect," [cited April 20, 1999] available from the World Wide Web at: www.uwyo.edu/ahc/digital/gruen/.
"Gruen, Victor David." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gruen-victor-david
"Gruen, Victor David." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gruen-victor-david
Victor Gruen (grōō´ən), 1903–80, American architect, often called the inventor of the modern shopping mall, b. Vienna as Viktor David Grünbaum. In Vienna, he studied at the Technological Institute and Academy of Fine Arts, worked for Peter Behrens, and opened (1933) his own architectural firm. He fled Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria, moving (1938) to the United States and becoming a citizen (1943). His innovative design for the Lederer leather-goods shop (1939) on New York's Fifth Avenue was the first of several early retail projects. In 1951 he founded Victor Gruen Associates, bringing together an outstanding group of architects, engineers, and planners. The firm proved to be a major force in the design of renovated center cities and in the creation of the large shopping malls that came to dominate suburban commerce and entertainment. As an urban planner, Gruen was instrumental in formulating master plans for such cities as Fort Worth, Tex. (1955), Kalamazoo, Mich. (1958), Cincinnati, Ohio (1963), Fresno, Calif. (1965), and Tehran (1963–67). Among his most notable shopping-complex projects are the Northland Center (1954) in suburban Detroit; the Southdale Center (1956) in Edina, Minn., outside Minneapolis, America's first enclosed mall; the Cherry Hill Mall (1961), in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia; and Midtown Plaza (1962), Rochester, N.Y.
See his Shopping Towns USA: The Planning of Shopping Centers (with L. Smith, 1960), Heart of Our Cities: Dianosis and Cure (1964), and Centers for the Urban Environment: Survival of the Cities (1973); biography by M. J. Hardwick (2004).
"Gruen, Victor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gruen-victor
"Gruen, Victor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gruen-victor
Gruen, Victor David
Gruen (1964, 1973);
Gruen & and L. Smith (1960);
J. Jacobs (1961);
Tunnard & and Pushkarev (1981)
"Gruen, Victor David." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gruen-victor-david
"Gruen, Victor David." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gruen-victor-david