Here's another building that 'changed' America.
The thing is, you've got to put yourself in 1950's shoes to try and understand what a promising typology the enclosed mall was. It was seen as another way to be liberated from the dirty and seedy downtown industrial center. It was a place to go to with the whole family, in the new car. What I'm wondering is - would the middle class in the United States have thrived so much if it weren't for the shopping center? I think the answer has to be no.
Btw, Victor Gruen was also the chief designer for post-war Detroit's four major suburban shopping centers: Eastland Center, Southland Center, Westland Center, and Northland Center. Another, albeit completely different, architectural legacy from Motown.
IMO it was the car that powered the middle class, and the mall was probably an inevitability (a place we were going to pass through). I'd say that the sanitized community gathering place was an excuse for the parking lot, which was the real need. And I'd say that box stores are the proof of that; we didn't learn that malls weren't socially satisfying, we only learned that they weren't efficient enough. Now we have parking lots that surround warehouses.
I think the real test of the shopping center as an institution is just on the horizon. The question now, after shopping malls continue to go under, is what can they be turned into? What other new functions could they absorb to ensure their continued relevance in the next 100 years? And you're absolutely right about the car. That's the star of this story. But also know that shopping was a form of propaganda that the U.S. used to demonstrate to the rest of the world just how great our system was and how prosperous our citizens were. That's what the Kitchen Debates between Nixon and Khrushchev were all about.
- The question now, after shopping malls continue to go under, is what can they be turned into?
Rubble, I hope. :) The fact that they are an island destination makes them very limited in terms of community functionality, IMO. In my childhood town, two malls were replaced. One became a box store grouping, the other became 'The Village', a faux mainstreet, surrounded by parking lot. The Village seems to do enough business, actually.
You have to remember that we're talking about 1908 here. Nobody was thinking about buildings in this way before. In a way, the fact that you find this building meaningless is even more telling of its complete ubiquitous power. These types of buildings and their way of thinking about space totally revolutionized manufacturing throughout the world and it happened in the matter of a few decades, which is why it feels so normal, but at the time this was really new and groundbreaking shit. Even Corb's manifesto which says that "Architecture is a machine for living in" wasn't published until 15 years later. And Corb was in fact greatly influenced by what he saw during his visit to industrial America. Architecture was starting to empathize with and incorporate the car. For me, the real interesting thing that this building talks about is how our lives were starting to become compartmentalized. Now (in 1910), you would GO to work, and GO on vacation, and GO to grandma's house. Our lives were exceedingly being dictated by the clock and reduced to schedules. You can read this in the elevation of the building. It's a grid of repetitive rectangles all working together to create the mass of a whole building. I mean, is it just a coincidence that the elevation of the building, as wholly dictated by it's functionality, looks exactly like a calendar? This was also happening in painting at the time too, which of course was equally revolutionary. Cubism was partly about deconstructing the body into parts and reassembling them. It was about, for me, the beginning of the lack of cohesiveness in our daily lives. Highland Park is where all of this started.