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Victor Gruen: A Paradoxical round trip between Europe and the United-State

Abstract : Fifty years ago, Victor Gruen (1903-1980) – now usually relegated as a footnote in most of the histories of architecture of the Twentieth Century, was one of the most influential architects in the occidental part of the world. Two reasons, at least, could explain the oblivion regarding his work: First, his aim was to design the architecture of everyday life, mainly intended for the middle class caught in the Post World War II euphoria of mass consumption. Second, his architecture and planning refer mainly today to a double failure: the shopping centre failed to be the new urban centre he had imagined for the suburb; the shopping mall (or pedestrian mall) failed to save the city centre from the decline – and sometime the ruin – speeded up by the development of the shopping centre. Actually, his thought seems to most of the critics at least paradoxical. Recognized as the “father” of the shopping centre, Victor Gruen Associates was acclaimed for building new regional shopping centres all over the United-States. On the other side, as early as the mid-fifties, he alerted his contemporaries to the dangerous phenomenon that was hitting most of the American cities, changing them into “doughnuts”: the depopulation of the cores and the increase and development of the suburbs. To fight against chaotic suburban sprawl and the death of the downtown, he urgently called for comprehensive planning at the metropolitan scale, as the only means of preventing simultaneous expansion of the “dough” and irremediable ruin of the “hole”. The pedestrian shopping mall designed for the downtown area as part of a revitalization plan integrating – with the help of the three-dimensional planning – all the essential functions of the city – traffic, business, shopping, housing – was thus imagined as the counterpart of the regional shopping centre. Born in Vienna, Victor Gruen never forgot his European background and always kept in mind an idealized image of the European City. His architecture and planning are a transposition, in the second half the Twentieth Century, of this idealized image, with the hope that it would built a better urban environment. Back in Europe, mid-sixties, he urged his contemporaries not to reproduce the mistakes made in the United-States, and to focus their attention on the city centres of the old as well as of the new towns being designed. This is another paradox of Gruen’s career: once back in Europe – retired from Victor Gruen Associates –, he started a new activity in Vienna (Victor Gruen International) and created a new foundation (Victor Gruen Association for Environmental Planning), working fervently to brink back life in the city centres while Europeans were dreaming about the American shopping centre. This paper will focused on this second part of his career during which Gruen worked in France, Belgium, Italy, Swiss, Austria with the aim to understand Gruen’s major influence on so many projects for new towns or city centres revitalization plans.
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Contributor : Catherine Maumi <>
Submitted on : Sunday, February 10, 2019 - 11:21:36 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, May 11, 2021 - 11:36:55 AM


  • HAL Id : halshs-02013373, version 1



Catherine Maumi. Victor Gruen: A Paradoxical round trip between Europe and the United-State. 17th International Planning History Conference, TU Delft, Jul 2016, Delft, Netherlands. ⟨halshs-02013373⟩



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