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Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall

A portrait—by turns celebratory, skeptical, and surprisingly moving—of an iconic American institution, from an author who “might be the most influential design critic writing now” (LARB).

Few places have been as nostalgized, or as maligned, as the American mall. Since its birth around the turn of the 1950s, it has loomed large as a temple of commerce and agora of the suburbs. In its prime, it proved a powerful draw for creative thinkers from Joan Didion to Ray Bradbury to George Romero, who understood its 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. Hardcover, 320 pages.

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