Territory and Interior: United States after 1945 Essay

It was the United States’ ambition to aid all the countries that were affected by the war; it was the Marshall Plan[1] that stabilized the European economy following the Second World War. Part of this economic restoration plan was to stock up on consumer goods that include motorways, automobiles, housing, and commodities.  The Roosevelt and Truman administrations understood that economic consumption was essential to a stable economy so they encourage people to purchase houses and fill them with American good.  Postwar United States was characterized by abundance, consumerism, and prosperity.

The sudden demand for consumer products and housing drove the contractors and developers to mass produce houses that were “laid out at equal distances from each other and offered to buyers in a limited series of variations of layout and color, just like commodities” (Cohen, 2003,p. 181).  There was also a change in consumer behavior in the late 1940s.  The owners of department stores began to realize that the consuming public was beginning to vacate the poor urban centre and settle in the suburban areas so there was a need to distribute their consumer goods in the suburbs.  Thus, the first shopping centers and malls were born in the suburbs of United States.  Large malls were the best places to sell goods because it was the most convenient way to gain instant profit.

Victor Gruen, a Viennese architect, was one of the first builders of shopping centers in the United States.   Gruen thought that it was important for owners and operators of shopping centers to have control of the shopping center’s environment; the shopping center’s design and layout had to be predictive in order to deliver desirable economic benefits (p.186).  This motivated Gruen to take hold of the tiniest detail, such as temperature and weather.  There were only 126 days of outdoor shopping in Edina, Minnesota so Gruen made Southdale Center an enclosed mall, with “daylight entering the interior from large clerestory windows along one side” (p.188).  It was not only a shopping mall but a place where public life and social interaction took place.  Fountains, a goldfish pond, large potted plants, a children’s zoo, large bird cages, restaurants and venues for fashion shows and exhibitions” were on the patterned squared floor of the mall.  These additions to the shopping centers provided engagement and entertainment of the public, which made them feel that they were “indeed a public and not merely consumers” (p. 189).

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            The spaces of dwelling, work, leisure and consumption were considered as “one continuous environment,” all dependent on production and consumption (p.196). Pedestrian interiors were infused with shops and various lobbies of apartments, hotels, and offices. The desire to “interiorize” spaces was done to attract passersby (p.196).  The interiorization of shopping malls and other institutions coincided with the energy and conservation movement so both reinforced each other: malls were built with large rooflights and interiors open enough to be taken as sheltered exterior spaces so allow sufficient light to enter (p. 202). Angled aerial walkways and mirrored passages also served as attractions to the customer, drawing him to stay inside the establishment.  The City Beautiful movement inspired the American architects to incorporate arcades, winter gardens, and crystal palaces inside the shopping centers; the replica of nature could be found inside the modern shopping center (p.202).  Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace was the best example of an establishment inspired by the City Beautiful Movement.  The goal of interiorization was not to make the interior seem an interior but to make it a “normal exterior space” as much as possible (p.205).

            In the 1970s and 1980s, people commuted and drove to the suburbs to work in the offices which were seemingly isolated.  This motivated corporations to build areas of leisure and recreation within offices (p.208).  Kevin Roche’s and John Dinkeloo’s College Life Insurance Company of America headquarters presented an image of corporate idyll because the glass buildings became reflective boxes that seemed to serve as a mirror to the sky (p.208).  The Union Carbide corporation’s World headquarters had offices which resembled rooms at home. The John Deere West Office building enacted a “fantasy of immersing in a wood,” as there was an atrium that resembled a winter garden (p. 213).  Architects made the initiative to infuse natural elements in corporate offices to “temper the predicable, systematic character of American downtown development” (p.216).

            Shopping centers and offices were created as such to “entertain visitors in order to continue to attract custom” (p.222).  The interiors of these complexes made the consumer feel as if everything was conveniently available.  This visual merchandising enticed the consumer to spend his or her money on “abundant everyday services” (p.223).

            Casinos, after the Second World War, had developed their own typical characteristics. The casino’s “artificially illuminated and air conditioned environment” suspended time and provided “maximum optical stimulation” to its customers   and gave them a feeling that everything was within reach in one floor (p.225-226).  The reflective surfaces also generated a sense of identification with himself.

            Many investors poured in a big amount of money in museums because it was a greatly popular institution.  Similar elements in shopping centers were found in museums.  The Crystal Palace, the atrium, the corporate lobby, the shopping mall and the casino all played their part in developing “architectural and decorative devices for the museums” (p. 230).

            The postwar American interior has aspired to be “universal, to be all places, and to contain all contents” (p.239).


Cohen, L. (2003).  “Is there an Urban History of Consumption?”  in  Journal of Urban History 29(2):  175-239.

[1] The Marshall Plan of 1947, named for State Secretary George Marshall, was United States’ program for rebuilding the European economies after the Second World War.