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The Jerde Partnership International, Inc.

Universal City Walk

Horton Plaza in San Diego

A longitudinal section of Canal City Hakata, a 2.5 million square-foot development in Fukuoka, Japan.

Jerde spent 10 years at Kober before quitting, fed up with the mindless, cookie- cutter nature of the work. “Huge consumption machines,” Jerde says of those early malls. “Air-conditioned, with planters and a couple of dead fish,” he drawls. “Yahoo.”
“People didn’t know they were being exploited hugely. The malls were covered so they could shop 24 hours a day. It had nothing to do with their comfort; it had to do with their shopping.”
When an old friend, developer Ernest Hahn, called him late in 1977 to help rebuild six blocks of burned-out land in a dead section of downtown San Diego, Jerde jumped at the opportunity. “Ernie said, ‘Jerde, you know all that crap you used to talk about? Well, the time has finally come,’” Jerde remembers.
That year, he formed the Jerde Partnership, and what grew from the dust in San Diego was Horton Plaza, an entirely new kind of shopping center. It wasn’t a building at all, but a village of department stores and entertainment venues that connected downtown with the waterfront along a colorful walkway lined with lights. It was a huge hit.
“All of a sudden these suburbanites and all these people really yearned to go back to the old way, to get communal again,” Jerde says. The success of the project stimulated a wave of new investment in San Diego’s historic core.
Horton Plaza crystallized Jerde’s vision for public space, and became the touchstone for every project the Partnership would undertake for the next 20 years. Even before that project was unveiled, Jerde had masterminded the popular (and economical) design of the 1984 Olympics. The colorful scaffolding and pylons that dotted Los Angeles for two weeks that summer came to symbolize the upbeat spirit of those Games. And by 1993, when CityWalk opened, the Jerde Partnership was on a roll.

As “design czar” for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Jerde devised simple yet dramatic temporary architectural elements, at very low cost, to link events sprawled over a 100-mile radius.

CityWalk, located next to the Universal Studios theme park, represents Jerde’s formula at its garish, magnetic best. The two-block-long promenade reminds even the most Los-Angelesed of visitors what it’s like to stroll down a vibrant, chaotic Main Street. The architecture is a painstaking mishmash of styles and eras that lovingly collapses the real-time evolution of L.A. from the pre-Hollywood era to the present. Brownstone yields to stucco, which gives way to concrete-and-glass, all within the space of a few yards. Colonies of palm trees, gaudy neon billboards and jutting forms – like an inexplicable 10-story steel pylon – add a heaping dose of color. And everywhere you look, people: Gen-Xers, the polo-and-khakis crowd, teenagers on scooters, grandparents, young couples pushing strollers.
Most of Jerde’s projects, like Horton Plaza, CityWalk, Beursplein in Rotterdam and Canal City Hakata in Fukuoka, Japan, are self-contained sections of cities that have few connections to the existing urban fabric. Jerde’s most vocal critics say that such cordoned-off spaces play up fake realities to replace real ones, while the public must pay to experience them.
Jerde’s designs for the Power & Light District, a project to revitalize Kansas City’s depressed downtown, sparked resistance to what Scott Cantrell, former architecture critic for the Kansas City Star, called “synthesized nostalgia” – the kind that drives CityWalk. “Why, at the cusp of the 21st century, would one be building fake 19th-century façades?” Cantrell wrote, attacking the project that city officials eventually abandoned last year. “It seems to me there’s something inherently dishonest about that. There’s something unhealthy about a civilization that’s in wholehearted retreat from its present. I think Mr. Jerde is certainly capable of fine architecture, but he has too often settled for a kind of shallow glitz over more thoughtful proportion and finish.”

A section from the plans for Bellagio. Jerde’s site plan for the $1.9 billion resort was modeled on villages surrounding Italy’s Lake Como.

Jerde has a stock response to this sort of criticism: he doesn’t care. “Elitists love to say, ‘Oh, that guy, he designs shopping malls,’ but they’re trying to observe me from a perch that I’m not on,” he says. Jerde downplays his focus on entertainment centers, saying instead that his work, with its visceral impact, is itself the entertainment.
Other observers have marveled at how Jerde’s designs are integrated with their surroundings. San Diego’s Horton Plaza features the deep shadows and colors native to Southern California. CityWalk was built from existing, deteriorated buildings. And Jerde imbues all of his creations with the energy of a real city. Powerful perceptual triggers – lights, neon signs, incongruous architectural styles – activate every sense. Anyone who’s ever traveled to Venice, Italy, Jerde says, will relate.
“Remember what it felt like when you first stepped into the Piazza San Marco? You thought, ‘I can’t believe that humans were this brilliant.’ It’s that feeling of heightened perception, that all your organs are turned on.”

IN THE FALL, JERDE WILL return to Europe and to the classroom. For two weeks in October, he will be the architect-in-residence at the USC School of Architecture’s semester-long program in Saintes, a town in central France. There, with Timme, Jerde will supervise 15 undergraduate students in individual and group projects.
Jerde’s style is very hands-on, Timme says. “He’s fantastic with the students. He sees no difference between him teaching and being the head of a big firm.”
Timme recalls an episode from Jerde’s last visit to Saintes, two years ago, when the students were developing designs to convert an old provincial home into a residential artist colony. The students wanted to include hotel-style rooms, but had no references for designing that kind of space.
Jerde immediately called California and told an associate to fax him blueprints for six hotels the firm had designed.

A view of the luxury retail promenade inside Las Vegas’ Bellagio. Commissioned by developer Steve Wynn to design “simply the world’s finest hotel and resort casino.” Jerde painstakingly recreated the finest of European urban experiences: pedestrian-oriented public spaces, bustling arcades, open-air cafés, tree-lined walks, a museum to hold Wynn’s $300 million art collection.

“Suddenly his whole office is frantically searching for it ,” Timme recalls, laughing, “all because Jerde ‘The Man’ is on the phone and he needs this stuff urgently. It would have taken months for the students to come up with what he provided.”
Jerde has no problem reaching back to his architecture student roots. He and Timme still wake up early on occasional weekend mornings to sit in their favorite Los Angeles locations – the beach at Santa Monica, for example, or Will Rogers State Park – and sketch. In the summer of 1999, they traveled to Saintes together to inspect a property a donor had recently given to the architecture school: the large former residence of artist Dora Maar, a model and mistress of Picasso. For several days, the two architects lived in the old house, meticulously taking photographs and measurements.

BACK IN LOS ANGELES, Jerde retreats to his own home, his sanctum, for peace and inspiration. The so-called Stone House, a squat, rustic dwelling in a canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, was built by architect Alan Seiple. It is decidedly low-tech – no computer in sight, and fireplaces to generate heat – and the dark interior is a far cry from the vibrant spaces Jerde creates. But the jovial Buddha statue that greets visitors at the entrance seems to reflect Jerde’s optimistic, eclectic worldview.
Earlier this year, Jerde’s wife Janice, herself a former architect, finished a year-long renovation of their new home, located about two miles through the mountains from the Stone House. The 1960s California-style ranch, with its wall-length windows looking out onto a verdant yard with palm trees, will become the family’s residence, while Jerde will keep the Stone House as a studio.
Friends say Janice, with whom Jerde had a son, Oliver (his fifth child) in 1993, is Jerde’s rock. They were married in 1990, three years after Jerde and his third wife had a particularly bitter divorce “that cleaned him out,” Janice says. But looking at the man today, he seems – to borrow a phrase from novelist Tom Wolfe – a man truly in full. In November, the marriage of his eldest daughter to an architect had him beaming for weeks. The Partnership, now 120 members strong, is at work on more than 75 projects “on every continent except Antarctica,” Jerde says. It seems life, even for this perennial optimist, couldn’t be better.
“They say an architect’s prime time is from age 55 to 65,” Janice says, smiling in the foyer of their new home.
“His personal life is stable, his professional life is totally on board, and now his living situation is set up. He's really coming into his own."

Bellagio photo by Dennis Keeley / drawings by Jerde Partnership International / L.A. Olympics photo by Simmons/Del Zoppo Photographics

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