Urban landscape put on stage Architecture: Jon Jerde is bringing a style known as entertainment design to U.S. cities and abroad. His Hollywood-inspired theme makes eating and shopping a theatrical experience.

Sun Journal

July 11, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

FUKUOKA, Japan -- From a beachfront office in Venice, Calif., architect Jon Jerde immodestly proposes to reshape the way people view the urban community, breaking down the walls between cultures and between entertainment and shopping, pleasure and profit, the viewers and the viewed.

His latest effort is Canal City Hakata, a Hollywood-inspired, $1.4 billion shopping and entertainment complex that opened here in April. Jerde sees it as just the first of many "third-millennium" cities dedicated to his controversial view that the world's greatest cities can be saved through an infusion of fantasy and fun that is not bounded by national origin.

Among his best-known projects is Universal CityWalk, the $100 million complex next to Universal Studios in Los Angeles. After its completion in 1993, the project -- which incorporates bits of L.A. Art Deco and Las Vegas glitter in a pedestrian-friendly promenade -- sparked a lively debate over the future of America's languishing urban neighborhoods.

One architecture critic called it an "imaginative first step on the road toward reinventing the incoherent and often inhospitable metropolis." Others said it foreshadowed the privatization of public spaces and swallowed millions of dollars at the expense of true city neighborhoods.

CityWalk is to Los Angeles, another critic wrote, as a petting zoo is to nature.

Exporting a vision

Now, Jerde is exporting his award-winning vision -- and the debate -- overseas. The issues raised by such projects are of particular concern in Asia, where historic preservation gets little more than lip service from leaders more concerned with boosting economic growth and maintaining order than with saving granite or promoting the democracy of public plazas.

Through his packaging of Hollywood-inspired entertainment, retail and restaurants, he has become a guru of a form of architecture known as entertainment design. In his world, eating or shopping becomes a theatrical experience.

By tearing down the walls between celluloid and reality, Jerde appeals to the huge appetite for Hollywood glamour that has made American films and music among the United States' most profitable and influential exports.

Jerde projects are on the drawing board or under construction in a dozen spots, including Tokyo; Beijing; Shanghai, China; Seoul, South Korea; Manila, the Philippines; Rotterdam, the Netherlands; and the Gold Coast of Australia. Imitators abound, promising a glut of look-alike developments featuring theme restaurants, movie complexes and shops packaged in neon and high-tech glitter.

Jerde's fantasy-laden work is in many ways the opposite of the approach that Maryland's Rouse Co. took with its festival marketplaces in more than a dozen American cities, including Baltimore, during the late 1970s and 1980s.

Rouse's festival markets were planned as lively collections of shops and restaurants that could address what the late developer James W. Rouse saw as the yearning of people to come together at the center of a city. His leasing agents scoured a region to find tenants who represented what is authentic and representative about a particular area -- crabs in Maryland, shrimp Creole in New Orleans. In effect, they start with reality and work toward fantasy.

Jerde, by contrast, starts with fantasy and works back toward reality. His environments are designed to provide escapes from the places they're in, not continuations. They are apart from the larger setting, not part of it.

Since it opened, the Canal City project -- about twice the size of San Diego's Horton Plaza, another Jerde creation -- has attracted 4.5 million visitors, a testament to his powerful and profitable vision of urban life.

Rising above the neighboring industrial buildings and shops of Fukuoka, a port on the north coast of Kyushu, Japan's southernmost main island, Canal City Hakata is a fanciful parody of Arizona desert cliff dwellings.

A man-made canal featuring randomly spouting geysers of sparkling clear water -- obviously not from the mud-brown canals of the surrounding neighborhood -- winds through a canyon of colorful enameled metal, porcelain and mosaic tile and stone.

Along one side are layers of trendy boutiques, restaurants and entertainment facilities, including Japan's biggest movie theater complex. Across the canal, the urban milieu fractures into a thousand glistening pieces in the glass wall of the Grand Hyatt Fukuoka hotel.

Turn the corner here, and you are tempted by a dazzling display of DKNY dresses and Louis Vuitton handbags. Step up the escalator and stumble into a high-tech entertainment zone from the creators of the Sega game machines.

Redefining design

Capturing the Zeitgeist, Jerde calls it.

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