Page C1.1 . 3 December 2014   
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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"The Store Problem"

by David Smiley

"The modern movement in architectural and decorative design may be applied with peculiar success to the design of shops and stores."
— Randolph W. Sexton American Commercial Buildings of Today, 1928

The representation of store design in American architectural magazines through the 1920s was only partly about selling goods. Editors deemed it necessary to ensure that such work first and foremost be considered a high-minded architectural enterprise — that is, respectable, professional, artistic, and anything but commercial.

For the most part, small stores and storefronts were described in terms ranging from facade composition and eclectic associations to framed mise-en-scènes and historical precedents. The mechanics of sales and display were treated in terms of elite furnishings or cabinetry, and the entire operation was treated as a tasteful expression of an urbane culture.

Elite shops carried value because of the class they catered to as well as for their "proper" representation of architectural quality. Overall, storefronts were considered subsidiary parts of the larger building masses in which they were housed. This system of conventions began to shift in the 1920s when heated debates about modernism emerged across the profession and in the magazines.

The varied terms through which modernism was given architectural meaning were laden with crisscrossing associations, affiliations, and refractions.

American architectural periodicals of the time joined the modern to, inter alia, pragmatics, organicism, coherence, straightforwardness, the machine, objectivity, logic, simplicity, and progress, all of which indicated that the modern was as much wish image as truth claim — especially since many of the terms were claimed equally by the "traditionalists" or others seeking a so-called middle ground so as not to jettison the forms or methods of what Lewis Mumford called the "genteel reaction."   >>>

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This article is excerpted from Pedestrian Modern: Shopping and American Architecture, 1925-1956 by David Smiley, copyright © 2013, with permission of the publisher, University of Minnesota Press.

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The June 1907 article Modern Store Fronts, published in Architectural Review 14, discussed the superiority of a new kind of retail design, as compared with Victorian designs of the previous generation.
Image: Architectural Review Extra Large Image

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The Problem of the Store Front, published in Architectural Review 8 (July 1901), addressed the structural limitations of masonry and stone construction, which seemed at odds with a growing desire for wide expanses of glass in storefront designs.
Image: Architectural Review Extra Large Image


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