Destination Design Developers in the Mix
A few populist, yet possibly high minded, developers have stumbled upon this dichotomy. Perhaps they see a more complicated public, a society that does appreciate gorgeous architecture and outstanding public spaces, yet often simply wants to escape and be entertained. I myself consider Dostoevsky and Tolstoy two of my favorite authors, yet find a good cheap mystery novel a grand distraction on an overseas flight. Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso is the quintessential example of a developer that, by design or simple intuition, has stumbled upon this split, and seems to seek to be both populist and high minded.
Not a retail design architect, Caruso’s early work accomplished this in an unrefined manner. His first significant work, The Promenade at Westlake, combines highly associative storefronts suggestive of old Italy with crudely designed, modern shops expressive of the Golden Mean. People flock to the center, drawn by the romantic appeal of the historic architecture, yet also enriched by Caruso’s attention to detail, fine materials, water features and sculpture. It is destination design architecture on the scale of a supermarket, one of the first strip centers that seems to understand that it was built to be inhabited by people, not just cars and shopping carts.
While the Promenade’s poorly conceived “modern” architecture likely appeals to no one, Caruso seems to understand that just as Apple is wildly popular, there is a public for a more sophisticated, more relevant, more modern architecture. His more recent work, including The Grove in Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand in LA suburb of Glendale, both include more thoughtfully designed modern storefronts. While the modern shops at the Grove are so infrequent as to be disruptive, modern architectural elements are more frequently included, and of much better quality, at The Americana. The elevator Tower at The Americana at Brand
With the possible exception of a rusty steel elevator tower that dresses the parking structure, however, the bifurcation remains. The modern architecture is adjacent to, yet entirely separate from, the historic architecture. It is as though the interior of a Honda Element as been installed in an otherwise beautifully recreated 60’s Corvette. Unlike the previously cited examples of the VW and Mini, neither architecture seems to acknowledge the existence of the other.
I’m an expressive modernist at heart, yet surround myself with non-architects, non-designers. Consequently, I’ve become increasingly interested in finding the Bug, in designing the Mini, of the architectural world. It seems arrogant and self defeating to ignore the appeal the popular, yet short sighted and an enormous missed opportunity to design to the lowest possible standard. Perhaps a more detailed study of the appeal of the past, popular and romantic in the minds of the public, as well as an increased understanding of the appeal of the modern, and an evolved and systemic coupling of the two, will create an architecture that will lift an embracing public.
This coupling represents a blue ocean of opportunity for designers – we will study it in more detail in coming articles.