Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall (Hardcover)
“A smart and accessible cultural history.”—Los Angeles Times
“A fantastic examination of what became the mall … envision[ing] a more meaningful public afterlife for our shopping centers.”—Vulture
A portrait--by turns celebratory, skeptical, and surprisingly moving--of one of America’s most iconic institutions, from an author who “might be the most influential design critic writing now” (LARB).
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.
About the Author
Alexandra Lange is an architecture critic and the author of four previous books, including The Design of Childhood. Her writing has also appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, the New York Times, and T Magazine, and she has been a featured writer at Design Observer, an opinion columnist at Dezeen, and the architecture critic for Curbed. She holds a PhD in twentieth-century architecture history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and has taught design criticism there and at the School of Visual Arts. She lives in Brooklyn.
“A smart and accessible cultural history—outlining the social, economic and architectural forces that led to the creation of U.S. malls as we know them . . . Lange doesn’t have a false nostalgia for malls. Meet Me by the Fountain is frank about how they have usurped public space. But at a time when malls still serve the function of bringing us together, Lange’s book is a thoughtful guide to helping them do what the best of them already have—but better.” —Los Angeles Times
“Artfully elucidates the 70-year history of the mall ... Lange asserts that malls, as ‘blank boxes in the middle of the big empty parking lots,’ can ‘serve as a land trust’ for the 21st century. This sounds like a stretch, but it proves to be true. Some malls die, but most don’t…Ms. Lange’s elegant conclusion: The mall is dead; long live the mall.” —Wall Street Journal
“A fantastic examination of what became the mall. 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
“[Meet Me by the Fountain] shines in its study of malls as symbols, and drivers, of American consumerism and urban sprawl . . . Though Ms Lange pays rapt attention to malls’ shortcomings, her book is refreshingly optimistic.” —The Economist
“Fascinating cultural history.” —Christian Science Monitor, 10 Best Books of June
“A well-researched introduction to the rise and fall and dicey future of an American institution.” —New York Times
“An insightful look at the design of both objects and public spaces.” —InsideHook
“[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
“Dives into the storied, almost nostalgic, past of the American mall and makes a case that, no, malls aren’t dying—they’re just changing with the times.” —Fast Company
“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
“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
“A thought-provoking cultural history . . . Lucid and well researched, this is an insightful study of an overlooked and undervalued architectural form.” —Publishers Weekly
“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
“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
“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
“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