Sources of Inspiration – Mall of the Moment
Posted August 11th, 2013 in Uncategorized by Rick Hill

louisvuittonIn my last post, I shared with you my vision of the enclosed shopping mall of the future, depicting it as a consumer sanctuary that will subtly nourish our senses and enhance our experience of being human. I described fluid spaces formed with new technology and materials incorporating light, water, botanical gardens, music, and art.


For hundreds of years, the relationship between art, fashion, entertainment, and commerce has been one of symbiosis. The celebrated showman P.T. Barnum understood this relationship well. In the 1860s, Barnum suggested to his friend R. H. Macy that he put his cherished collection of mechanical toys in the windows of Macy’s flagship New York department store at Christmastime.


New technology developments, architectural styles, art movements and fashion trends are often so closely entwined, it can be difficult to know which was the influencer and which the influenced. These movements and trends communicate and assimilate, inspiring designers, planners and builders of places who then weave them into their own vision of specialty shops, department stores, shopping centers, theme parks, and resorts.


However, inspiration can also be the product of a reaction or response to something outside of the norm. In the decades following the Civil War, hundreds of American painters traveled to Paris to study at the government-sponsored École des Beaux-Arts and at the numerous private salons. Their goal was to learn the techniques of the leading French painters. However, in their quest to learn from the established schools and salons, they failed to see the emerging impressionist movement evolving outside of the Parisian mainstream.


Notable developers of buildings and creators of imaginary worlds have always been inspired by others’ imaginings, and the products, technology, and places they have created. Walt Disney’s first theme park, which opened on July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, California, was inspired by Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, which had opened more than a hundred years earlier, in 1843. A little less than one hundred years later, after the invention of the light bulb, the Walt Disney Company introduced the main-street electrical parade with technology-infused music.


Historically, world fairs, cultural exhibitions, and festivals were the primary communicators of new technology and cultural innovations. The Crystal Palace of the London Great Exhibition of 1851 was the inspiration for the great exhibition halls in Paris and New York and served as a model for Toronto’s highly successful Eaton Centre and the center court of the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai.


The 1867 International Expositions in Paris is said to have inspired Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The Exposition Universelle of 1889 held in Paris included America’s Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley performing the “Wild West Show,” while artists Whistler, Gauguin, and Van Gogh were denied exhibit space by fair organizers. Thomas Edison’s phonograph was one of the exposition’s most inspiring innovations. Four years later, the designs of Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition inspired L. Frank Baum’s vision of Emerald City for the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and generations of real life urban planners.


In the buildup to World War II, many of the European abstract expressionist artists moved from the reach of Nazi Germany to North America, including Marcel Duchamp, Hans Hofmann, and Willem de Kooning. Their interaction with painters such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock inspired the first indigenous American art movement, which influenced contemporary fashion and architecture.


Dior fashion models inspired rock icon David Bowie’s music videos, while Dior uses Bowie’s lyrics in Dior promotional videos. Fashion designer John Galliano has been called the “Dali of fashion.”


Finally, the original mall designs of Victor Gruen, an Austrian-born architect who emigrated to the United States in 1938 when Germany annexed Austria, was the true visionary of America’s first enclosed shopping malls. Gruen’s original malls included wide clerestory lit malls and center courts with high ceilings from which hung Alexander Calder-like mobiles. Gruen’s designs also incorporated modern art sculptures, fountains, aviaries filled with exotic birds, reflecting ponds complete with goldfish, and gardens filled with tropical plants.


Sadly, with the ongoing drive to eliminate non-essential operating costs and the determination to find new income-producing kiosk space, Gruen’s high-maintenance amenities have largely been eliminated. In this current environment, it seems as if the Wall Street analysts’ reviews of quarterly earnings have become the primary inspiration for the shopping mall of the moment.


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