Few places have been as nostalgized, or as maligned, as malls. Since their birth in the 1950s, they have loomed large as temples of commerce, the agora of the suburbs. In their prime, they proved a powerful draw for creative thinkers such as Joan Didion, Ray Bradbury, and George Romero, who understood the mall's appeal as both critics and consumers. Yet today, amid the aftershocks of financial crises and a global pandemic, as well as the rise of online retail, the dystopian husk of an abandoned shopping center has become one of our era's defining images. Conventional wisdom holds that the mall is dead. But what was the mall, really? And have rumors of its demise been greatly exaggerated?
In her acclaimed The Design of Childhood, Alexandra Lange uncovered the histories of toys, classrooms, and playgrounds. She now turns her sharp eye to another subject we only think we know. She chronicles postwar architects' and merchants' invention of the mall, revealing how the design of these marketplaces played an integral role in their cultural ascent. In Lange's perceptive account, the mall becomes newly strange and rich with contradiction: Malls are environments of both freedom and exclusion—of consumerism, but also of community. Meet Me by the Fountain is a highly entertaining and evocative promenade through the mall's story of rise, fall, and ongoing reinvention, for readers of any generation.
“Alexandra Lange is the poet laureate of mall culture, and her book is as delightful as a cold Orange Julius. While it is deeply researched and full of fascinating insights, it never discards all of the things that made the mall the hub of social life that it once was. This book makes me want to listen to Muzak and stroll past a Sharper Image all over again.”—Rachel Syme, staff writer, The New Yorker
“[Reacquaints] us with the roots of half-accomplished dreams; in this case, one of our best design writers traces the influence of Waukegan's Genesse Street, Dawn of the Dead, and department stores on now-struggling suburban sprawls saddled with acres of parking.”—Chicago Tribune
“Combining architecture's past with her own, Lange reflects on the malls of her adolescence and in turn prompts you to think about the ones you grew up around. A lot of things come to mind: glossy tiled floors, the glow of a backlit store map, tinny-sounding Muzak on echoey overhead speakers, whiffs of cinnamon buns and orange chicken. Lange shows us how these things become collective memories in the U.S., then looks abroad to envision a more meaningful public afterlife for our fallen shopping centers.”—Vulture
“An insightful look at the design of both objects and public spaces.”—InsideHook
“This thorough, culturally aware history will surprise and inspire audiences who may feel they already know the story of the shopping megaplex . . . Despite malls' sometimes problematic past, Lange envisions an inspiring, community-oriented repurposing of these monuments to consumerism . . . her hope and optimism for more diverse and sustainable mall uses will inspire readers to see these behemoth structures as a vital and versatile resource for the future.”—Shelf Awareness Pro
“An architectural page-turner. This insightful, witty, and smart book captures everything compelling and confounding about the American mall.”—Roman Mars, co-author of The 99% Invisible City
“A mall is not just a mall in this fascinating, far-reaching history. Alexandra Lange nimbly navigates sweeping changes in American society, explaining so much more than how and where we shop, and—much like the architectural institution at the book's center—providing plenty of fun along the way.”—Julia Cooke, author of Come Fly the World
“The shopping mall is an American tragedy but also a triumph. This book shows both its sides with generosity and tenderness.”—Ian Bogost, author of Play Anything
“If you want to understand America, look no further than the mall—that is, if you can still find one. With Meet Me by the Fountain, Alexandra Lange brilliantly explores how these places we thought were just churches built for worshipping at the altar of capitalism actually represent everything we are, aren't, want to be, and never knew we could have been.”—Jason Diamond, author of The Sprawl
“A deeply researched history of the American shopping mall . . . Lange concludes by examining the possibility that the mall might be reborn as something more than simply a shopping space by incorporating offices, hotels, and even educational centers . . . The mall is dead—but it may yet live again, as Lange's instructive book capably shows.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In this spry architectural history, Lange tracks the American shopping mall's postwar origins, evolution during the second half of the twentieth century, and twenty-first-century collapse and future possibility . . . invite[s] readers to map their own mall experiences onto the chronologically organized accounts of architects, developers, and specific sites that follow.”—Booklist
“A thought-provoking cultural history . . . Lucid and well researched, this is an insightful study of an overlooked and undervalued architectural form.”—Publishers Weekly