David Smiley. University of Minnesota, August 2013. 376 p. ill. ISBN 9780816679300 (pbk.), $35.00; ISBN 9780816679294 (cl.), $105.00.

Reviewed January 2014
Joan Jocson-Singh, Order Unit Librarian, Butler Library, Columbia University Libraries, jmj2176@columbia.edu

One of architecture's most-overlooked areas of design is that of the American mall. David Smiley's book sheds light on the development of the modern shopping center and uncovers the evolution of this unique- yet-ubiquitous commercial space in the light of modernity.

Divided into six chapters, Smiley offers a persuasive and explanatory discourse of pedestrian spaces and discusses the history of shopping. He situates the reader at the beginnings of the modern mall, citing Austrian architect Victor Gruen's venture into U.S. retail spaces in the 1950s and its implications for future perspectives towards architecture and merchandising. He explores the origins, development, and relationships between the architect, the pedestrian, and the mall itself.

The book brings to light the connections that modernity had with the retail sphere, documenting how the mall became an extension of the tenets that modern architecture proposed - functionality, transparency, and the avant-garde.

Smiley’s chapters on “Machine and Selling” and “Park and Shop” highlight and chart the normalization of function and planning, processes already considered modern. Transforming the shop into a place that functioned for both pedestrians and drivers and challenging the conventions of 1920s retail design are all reexamined and reimagined in his discourse.

Illustrated throughout with both pastoral and urban scenes, clippings of maps and plans from magazines like Architectural Forum and Architectural Review, Smiley's book provides a visual timeline of the progression from small-town shopping center to full-scale mega-mall. As a whole, his fluid writing and deep knowledge of the subject coalesce into effortless storytelling that results in an enjoyable read. Moreover, his illuminating analysis reveals the perfect marriage of the modernist’s aesthetic and the merchandiser’s commercial sense that the American mall was moving toward. At times, Smiley’s discourse reads bucolically profound, where metaphors of complex modernity are expounded to the reader by comparison to storefront windows that read what the world projects onto them, or the dream-world created by malls carrying “just affordable” wares, just within reach.

Altogether, Smiley’s book is quite comprehensive, including well-organized notes and a bibliography section at the end. As a scholarly resource, Pedestrian Modern provides both architecture students and architects a well-thought-out history and argument for the potential reimagining of the ever-changing mall. Ultimately, Smiley’s insight into the changing aesthetic of consumer spaces and its influence on modernity shows us how reciprocal modernity and consumer space are.

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