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"Travel By Design" series #1
»Interview: Jon Jerde

Jerde and Diana
          Jon Jerde and Diana

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We're going to start our new "Travel By Design" series with the controversial John Jerde. I say "controversial" because Jerde has been called "the wonder boy of the outdoor shopping experience." Jerde's the man behind the huge Mall of America in Minneapolis, as well as the lakefront complex at the Bellagio in Vegas, and CityWalk in Los Angeles. He's been both acclaimed and criticized for his pre-packaged, urban designs.

So you can understand why I was surprised when Jerde chose a deserted ruin in southern France asLes Baux in the cliffs the place that has most inspired him. How could this ancient hillside village of Les Baux de Provence connect with Jerde's ultra-modern urban structures?

I wound my way high up into Mandeville Canyon in Los Angeles and found Jerde's rustic house. We sat by a crackling fire and talked about how he got to Les Baux de Provence in the first place.

Cave-like amphitheater When you look through a photo book of Jerde's work, there's a structure he designed in Fukuoka, Japan, where you can actually picture the Canyon de Chelly. It has high, canyon-like walls that curve dramatically around a stream. He's even made a cave-like amphitheater, dug out of one side of the building. It's sort of a modern-day cliff dwelling. That trip to Europe so many years ago still shapes how Jerde looks at the world.

The longer we talked, I started to understand how Les Baux de Provence meshed with Jerde's urban vision. He's compelled to create spaces where people can meet and interact, not just stand back and admire an untouchable structure.

After his fellowship in Europe, Jerde came back to the States with a desire to become the "everyman" architect. He started going into rundown urban centers and reinvigorating city economies with his designs. If you've been to Horton Plaza in San Diego, you can picture what I mean.

Jerde's success with Horton Plaza was in leaving the enclosed mall behind and creating an open-air, interesting space with lots of curves and observation points.

Jon Jerde is a free thinker, that's for sure. On the one hand, he'd like to blow up the tourist stands in Les Baux de Provence. Yet, he builds these super-tourist attraction malls. Through Jon Jerde's eyes, I wound up seeing the urban mall in a new way.

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