Jon Jerde (1940–2015)

Jon Jerde. Photo: Joe Pugliese. Courtesy, The Jerde Partnership.

RAY BRADBURY, the science-fiction writer, lived most of his life in Los Angeles but never learned to drive. No wonder he wrote essays lamenting the lack of a town center. In 1970 Jon Jerde, a Los Angeles architect, read an article in which Bradbury described how a town square in the sprawling city might be organized. Jerde arranged to meet Bradbury over lunch, and the two men became friends. A few years later, Jerde was asked to design a mall in a derelict section of San Diego. Bradbury told Jerde that “one of the joys of travel is being lost in a great city and loving it,” and he recommended that Jerde design a place “in which people would be lost but safe and filled with joy.” The result, a mall called Horton Plaza (1985), has been called a “collaged fantasy land, where Spanish piazzas collide with Moorish souks” and a “carefully curated kind of trash.”

With Horton Plaza’s success, Jerde’s reputation grew. So did the size of his projects, culminating in Minnesota’s gargantuan Mall of America (1992) — some might think the name redundant. A few architecture critics might use the title of Bradbury’s 1962 novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, to describe Jerde’s work, in which fake town centers replaced real ones. Still, Jerde was, according to one writer, the most copied architect of the last century. If that is so, it may be because his ersatz city streets, made with cheap materials and crude details, were easy to knock off, unlike the work of another Bradbury acquaintance, Frank Gehry, who also started out as a mall designer. (Gehry’s Santa Monica Place [1980] competed, unsuccessfully, with Jerde’s Universal CityWalk [1993] and Glendale Galleria [1976]–and was finally renovated by the Jerde Partnership in 2010.) Meanwhile, in a twist, Bradbury’s longtime home in the Cheviot Hills neighborhood of West Los Angeles was torn down in January, angering preservationists; the architect Thom Mayne is building a new house on the site. But Cheviot Hills is pure suburb, and nothing Mayne does will give it (or the city around it) any kind of center. That was the job of Jerde, who died on February 9 at seventy-five, having helped America trade city walks for CityWalk.

Fred A. Bernstein is a writer based in New York.