Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

“A Resource of Semi-Public Community Space”

Dayton's Department Store at Southdale, 1956 (courtesy Gruen Associates).

An interview about the book with Martin C. Pederson, one of my first editors (at Graphis and later Metropolis).

Alexandra Lange’s new book, Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall, is aptly titled. For a book clocking in at a brisk 263 pages, it’s an engaging, elegantly written, and deceptively comprehensive work. Lange is a wonderful critic, so one of the consistent pleasures of the book is the rigor she brings to the mall, as both an architectural idea and a cultural phenomenon. She likes them, even with their very obvious flaws and shortcomings. Recently I talked to Lange about the book, whether malls are a dying building type, and what becomes of them in the future.

MCP: Let’s start where I usually start: the origin story for the book. Tell me why you wanted to write about…a dying building type.

AL: I think “dying building type” is up for debate. That said, there are two different origin stories. One of them is that when I finished my last book, The Design of Childhood, which ends with kids at around 12 years old, I realized that I was starting to get interested in teenagers. I wrote a couple of articles for Curbed about teenagers in public space and teenagers and the public library. The logical third space after that is teenagers and the mall. So that was on my mind. How are we providing for teenagers? Where do teenagers go? Why is there this black hole in the literature about teenagers, even more so than there had been for children, which is why I wrote my other book?

The second part was, I was the architecture critic for Curbed at the time, and I started noticing that people seemed to be building things that were in my mind shopping malls, but they weren’t calling them shopping malls. The most notable example being Renzo Piano’s City Center Bishop Ranch, which is in the greater Bay Area. Of course, Renzo, whenever he does a project, goes on and on about the piazza. And it sounds perfect in his accent.

So he was talking about City Center Bishop Ranch. The architecture was all very tasteful and high end. It’s a wealthy area that doesn’t have a main street. I was looking at the plans and I thought: This is a shopping mall.