Jon Adams Jerde, FAIA (January 22, 1940 – February 9, 2015)
Jerde lured suburbanites into public spaces designed to feed the national addiction: consumption. But his manufactured "places" have had a lasting imprint on the American landscape.
The Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip. Minnesota's Mall of America. The Universal Citywalk. All of these glittering, crowd-happy destinations (and plenty more across the country) were the handiwork of Jon Jerde, the late American architect and urbanist that you may not know about but certainly should. While faux public spaces, from the aforementioned tourist spots to generic local malls, are so ubiquitous today, they were at one point rather avant-garde. Jerde, who passed away last month at age 75, is remembered in a new obituary over at Architect Magazine, in which writer Karrie Jacobs explores Jerde's singular vision to transform crossroads of American consumerism into, appealing, albeit more or less contrived, "communal experiences."1
As I look back on Jerde’s career, I’m surprised at how ubiquitous his firm’s work has become; indeed, I’m amazed by how many of his creations I’ve visited without even realizing it. I once stayed at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas—the one with pirates battling out front—because it was cheap and convenient. It didn’t even occur to me that it was Jerde’s. When I toured the Palms Casino Resort, a Las Vegas tower geared to hipsters, I took in the Wallpaper-sleek lounges and heard about how the hotel was the setting for a season of MTV’s The Real World. I never distinguished Jerde’s imprint.
Perhaps it’s not that Jerde became more subtle during his career, but that faux places, with all their brightness and hyperactivity, have become so commonplace that his handiwork is harder to notice. Occasionally, Jerde’s environments, over time, shed their eager-to-please quality and, like the Fremont Street Experience, merge with the urban landscape. The Bellagio, for instance, is an overtly fake slice of Northern Italy, but the dancing fountain out front (courtesy of WET Design) has become an indigenous piece of Las Vegas, a manufactured spectacle that now feels like a civic monument.2