Screening of 'The Gruen Effect' at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York

Tonite the film 'The Gruen Effect - Victor Gruen and the Shopping Mall' by Anette Baldauf and Katharina Weingartner was shown at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York (ACFNY).
The film is a very informative and entertaining documentary, tracing the most creative and influential time of Vienna-born architect Victor Gruen's life during which he and his wife, Elsie Krummeck, developed the concept of a 'shopping town', today known as shopping center.
Still from 'The Gruen Effect' with Victor Gruen to the right. [image via derstandard]

'The Gruen Effect' is edited as montage from historical footage, animated drawings, live footage from Vienna and New York and interviews at different locations in the these two cities. Reflecting Gruen's 'renaissance' character, the film is diverse and full of (visual) humor, such as one scene using historical footage of a woman escaping some cars at a traffic light while a voice is reading a passage from Gruen's unpublished autobiography dealing with the (for Gruen) troublesome fact that cars were becoming more and more important for American society in the fifties and sixties.
The film shows some widely unknown history of the historical development of the shopping center, an architectural (and predominately economical) model which was so influential in Western societies over the last fifty years.
Gruen & Krummeck developed the concept of a shopping town/city initially as a social utopia, as a new, socially active and attractive urban center for a largely female and neglected population living in the newly built and (socially as well as culturally) deserted suburbs in the US. The first 'shopping town' designed by Gruen &Krummeck was built in California in 1945. These initial concepts of Gruen & Krummeck were designed in admiration of vibrant European city centers (Gruen loved the busy life in pre-war Vienna) and therefore included facilities like kindergartens, playground and other social amenities which were later stripped away from the shopping city layout by profit oriented investors who adapted the shopping city to become the shopping center and ultimately the mall. The rest is ((sub)urban) history and you can refer to an article by Anette Baldauf to read more about these pioneering times.

Northland Center in Detroit by 'Victor Gruen Associates'. [image via Mute]
As a fifty minute movie 'The Gruen Effect' is densely filled with information and shows the historical developments of the (humanistic) idea of the urban shopping experience leading to (material) fulfillment and numerous life-like and honest contradictions.
So Gruen's pioneering role in developed the shopping city made him a successful entrepreneur and in the States a celebrated 'starchitect'. Fter 30 years in the US he decied to leave to Vienna again and was there stripped off his title as architect (he had in fact never finished his architecture studies in Vienna) and was faced with a rapidly growing consumer culture which endangered his so much loved humane and traditional urban fabric in Vienna. The ghosts I was calling...
'The Gruen Effect' depicts as well the current decay of the idea of the singular-use shopping mall with footage shot in the closed-down and derelict 'Midtown Plaza' which was designed by Gruen in the center of Rochester to counteract suburbanization.
The film depicts as well Gruen's role in shaping the modern urban planning in Vienna. He initially wanted to green the city and close the inner city for traffic, realized was the pedestrian area in Kärntner Strasse and Graben which nowadays represents an open-air shopping center as an example of 'Scheinurbanismus' (illusive urbanism) as Alex Wall states in the movie.
In the end of 'The Gruen Effect' we are confronted by architect Alan Bruton that it is about us - the citizens - to decide if we want a city where we can either be citizens or left to be mere consumers. We decide that every day.
Panel discussion with Katharina Weingartner, Peggy and Michael Gruen, Katharina Posch, Anette Baldauf and Alan Bruton.

After the screening, a panel discussion was adding up to the movie with a conversation about the movie, Gruen's life, personality and contemporary recognition. The conversation reminded about the fact that the shopping center as (economical) model has been turned inside out, from suburban locations back into the city and is now present as predominant model for urbanism throughout the (capitalized) globe.
To see 'The Gruen Effect

If you are quick to read this: There is another screening in NYC, tomorrow Friday, 4th of February at Parsons New School of Constructed Environments, which is followed by a panel discussion as well. 

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