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

Written by Alexandra Lange

From Bloomsbury Publishing:

“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.

“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 … envision[ing] a more meaningful public afterlife for our shopping centers.” – Vulture

“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

“Reminds us that the mall has helped shape American society, and has evolved with our country since the 1950s … [Lange] posits that there’s still a place for malls in our society, as long as they adapt to better serve their communities.” – The Atlantic

“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

“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

“Lively, deeply researched, and ultimately optimistic.” – The Architect’s Newspaper

“Reading this book is like looking in the nooks, crannies, and hidden hallways of your local shopping emporium with a critical eye. It’s a hark back to your childhood in the most intriguing way.” – The Bookworm Sez

“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.” – Shelf Awareness Pro

“A deeply researched history … The mall is dead―but it may yet live again, as Lange’s instructive book capably shows.” – Kirkus Reviews