Austin’s Highland Mall as Victor Gruen’s Last Laugh

Oh, Highland Mall, the stuff of my childhood back-to-school shopping dreams. It opened in 1971 and closed officially in 2015, though it had been dead for a while before then. During the 80s, it was the most accessible mall in Austin to my family, who lived in rural isolation to the east of the city. I salivated to be driven 50 miles to shop in that neon-lit concrete bunker, though now I’m much more likely to be found eating ice cream in a green space at The Domain farther north when I visit my home city. Today, the property is owned by Austin Community College and is being transformed into a mixed-use anchor of neighborhood amenities, including not only retail, residential, and park areas, but also computer and chemistry learning and co-working facilities.

Food court at Highland Mall, Bellerophon5685
So who was Victor Gruen? Tom Scott gives a brief introduction to the Austrian architect who conceived of the shopping mall as a way to combat suburban sprawl in the United States, his adopted country–then hated the “bastard offspring” of his idea and developers’ money that resulted. The Highland Mall of my youth was one of those bastard offspring; the Highland Mall of the future is much more what Gruen had in mind.

Illustration of an analog numeric typewriter, superimposed on a paper chart of printed numbers.

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