Melvin Backman at The Nation:
The shopping mall has a great many antecedents: the opulent markets of Victorian London, the arcades of Paris, and the department stores in the United States that could swallow an entire city block. But the mall as we know it has only one daddy: the architect Victor Gruen. A Viennese socialist, Gruen had established a tidy practice designing residential projects and shops before the Nazis seized Austria in 1938. Gruen’s forte was making the quotidian a bit lovelier: A typical tweak of retail spaces might have involved relieving the tight, cloying atmosphere of a tiny perfumery by placing mirrors on the ceiling. After fleeing to the United States, Gruen dipped his toe in wage drudgery before deciding to unpack his drafting desk and return to his bread-and-butter work of transforming shops into open and welcoming spaces in a freelance capacity.
What made Gruen’s designs distinct was the way they were able to add small pleasures to the act of shopping. An early American commission came from another recent émigré, the Polish chocolatier Stefan Klein, who was looking to bring fancy chocolates to New York.