April 1, 2015

Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada, by The Jerde Partnership (photo from vegasexperience.com)

In February, architectural giant Jon Jerde passed away and the profession lost one of its giants.

Over twenty years ago, I won my first international architectural competition: the redesign of the pier and waterfront for Hermosa Beach, California. Led by The American Institute of Architects, the committee that selected me was shepherded by legendary architect, educator and community leader, Charles Moore.

The media believed that being awarded this civic commission, my first large scale project, Mr. Moore was “handing his baton” to this young architect.

Me. I was not even 30.

A week later, Moore unexpectedly passed away. When reporters interviewed me, all I could say to at the press conference was, “His death is very sad.”

From that point, every time my name came up alongside Moore’s, the press reiterated like a broken record, “Poon says of Moore’s passing, ‘His death is very sad’.” This ridiculously generic phrase became an empty banner: my sad cliché that did no justice to the prolific career of Charles Moore.

So it is here with Jon Jerde, I will attempt more substance.

Though I was never fond of Mr. Jerde’s style of architecture—his bright colors, his awkward classical motifs, his funny shaped geometric forms, and his somewhat cartoonish results—I loved how he infused happiness and a dream-like sensibility into his projects. He created a new sense of community, of urbanism, of creating gathering spaces for cities.

From early in my education, I followed his work from the groundbreaking Horton Plaza shopping center in downtown San Diego, to Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, to the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas. They were visionary statements about the world.

Jerde often said he didn’t want his projects to be thought of as shopping malls or shopping centers. Though his projects were primarily retail, his projects transcended the nomenclature of his developer clients. Jerde’s work went beyond the superficial word of “style.” Jerde and his firm, The Jerde Partnership, were pioneers and innovators.

Jerde articulated his vision with bold sincerity. “We yearn for the marriage between the magic and the banal,” he once said. “We put people in a popular and collective environment in which they can be most truly and happily alive.”
Jerde called his intentions and actions, “Placemaking.”

A sense of place is hard to define, but one knows when a place has a there there. The simple key is that Jerde’s projects catered to people, not for example, cars or commerce. At his projects, a visitor can feel a sense of community, whether it is a grand space for thousands to gather or a simple bench to sit and relax. Jerde’s work transforms buildings and plazas into significant public destinations that promotes health, joy and well-being.

Jerde stamped his philosophy of “Placemaking” on more than 100 projects around the globe, from the United States to Rotterdam, from Istanbul to Beijing.

His death is more than sad. It is a loss not just for the field of architecture and urban planning, but for the progress of cities.

© Poon Design Inc.