Victor Gruen describes Southdale Mall, circa 1964

[Image from MNHS.]

Southdale center, near Minneapolis, confronted the planner with a new challenge. The climate in this Middle Western area is especially rigorous, with extremely cold winters and very hot summers. Climatic conditions made it appear that outdoor public pedestrian spaces would be attractive to shoppers during only a few days of the year. The answer to that challenge was inspired by the covered pedestrian areas of the gallerias in Milan and Naples. In Southdale, for the first time in the United States, pedestrian areas were not only covered but also air-conditioned, heated in winter and cooled in summer, thus achieving springlike temperatures all year round. Because the roofing-over and air-conditioning of pedestrian areas created additional expense, an attempt was made to reduce the size of these pedestrian spaces, without, however, losing spaciousness and airiness. Buildings were moved closer together and were developed vertically, with two main shopping levels and a partial shopping level in the basement. In order to achieve equally strong foot traffic on the two main levels, the surrounding car storage area was graded in such fashion that some of the parking lots, by sloping upward, could give direct access to the upper level while others, by sloping downward, could lead direction into the lower level. Within the main pedestrian court, a centrally located public escalator facilitates exchange between the two levels. The Architectural Forum in March, 1953, referred to Southdale as a market square "reflecting a teamwork of a store-owning family whose third generation is already planning for the fifth; an economic consultant equally determined to put the center beyond the reach of competition; and an architect eager to go far beyond what any previous center has attempted and really tackle the problem of preventing community blight. … [It] is a beautiful example of how to plan a lot of fun into a serious, functional circulation scheme.... For tangible climate and intangible atmosphere, the like … has never before been seen in a northern city."


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