Cute is not Almost Alright: Jerde Partners and the American Shopping Experience

It is unfortunate that Jerde’s picturesque, ersatz, façade-driven shopping centers (loosely rooted in Robert Venturi / Denise Scott Brown’s “Main Street is almost alright” theory —Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 1966) have so successfully altered both suburban and urban commercial American architecture, that the general public fails to note a complete substitution for real place, real time, and actual communal experience. So complete is the influence of this ubiquitous falseness, it barely matters which shopping center is or isn’t a Jerde product. No reason to hate these locations, but an hour of targeted shopping is long enough for me. I’ve worked as a grip at Universal Studios several times; the Studio is amazing (probably not by design) from any number of angles, yet the adjacent Universal CityWalk is nothing more than a pleasant theme park. I was amused –certainly not annoyed– when a open trailer contraption loaded with tourists observed me eating my light lunch on a pile of 2″ X 8″s during one of those work gigs. There are superior alternatives to the Jerde retail commerce model. Genuine vitality flows naturally from real places offering real experience, including the mundane or serene. Give me a “serious” dead mall (with stores where I want to buy goods) over a Jerde-inspired concoction any day.

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