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The invention of the shopping mall: Victor Gruen and production of the high-liquidity, capitalist space

Journal article
Authors Alexander Styhre
Published in Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology
Volume 17
Issue 2
Pages 283-299
ISSN 1726-0531
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Business Administration, Management & Organisation
Pages 283-299
Language en
Keywords Retailing, Shopping mall, Market liquidity, Capitalist space, Victor Gruen
Subject categories Business Administration


Purpose – The economic system of competitive capitalism strives toward liquid markets wherein the cost for transacting is minimized. Liquidity is mostly addressed in association with abstract markets (e.g. the securities market), but also consumer markets are determined by liquidity concerns. The purpose of this paper is to examine the shopping mall concept, developed by the architect and social reformer Victor Gruen during the early 1950s, as a form of production of capitalist space, intended to reduce transaction costs. As an auxiliary benefit, Gruen envisioned the shopping mall as a cultural and civic center in the midst of the satellite town of suburbia, the new site of urban expansion during the post-war boom decades. Design/methodology/approach – The paper reviews secondary literature on the historical development of the shopping mall as a consumer space. In addition, relevant economic and social science literature is referenced. Findings – The architecture, design, ornamentation and day-to-day management of the shopping mall were premised on a consumerist way of life, ultimately serving as an all-too-visual index of the triumph of competitive capitalism in the cold war era. However, Gruen’s accomplishments were gradually compromised by the interest of money-minded developers and construction industry actors, and the shopping mall arguably never fulfilled the social and cultural function that Gruen anticipated. Regardless of such outcomes, the production of capitalist space as scripted by Gruen is still determining everyday life in consumer society, making Gruen a key figure, albeit only limitedly recognized, in the history of late modern society and in the capitalist economy. Originality/value – The paper emphasizes the role of Victor Gruen in the post-Second World War period, being one of the most influential practitioners and social reformers in the era. Furthermore, the paper stresses how market liquidity is a key concern in Gruen’s project to create a communal space for the American suburban population in the era of the expanding welfare state.

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