In memoriam: Jon Jerde, 75

School News

In memoriam: Jon Jerde, 75

February 10, 2015


Visionary architect shaped urban city centers, Las Vegas attractions and the 1984 Olympics


Jon Jerde, a 1965 graduate of the USC School of Architecture, member of the school’s board of councilors and namesake for an endowed chair and traveling fellowship at the school, died Feb. 9 at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles after a long illness. He was 75.


A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects since 1990, he was the first Distinguished Alumnus of USC Architecture, receiving that honor in 1985. Jerde taught design studios at USC Architecture at the University Park campus and at an international campus in France. The Jon Adams Jerde, FAIA, Chair in Architecture was established in 2000. It is currently held by Thomas Phifer.


Reinventing the shopping center


Jerde, founder and chairman of The Jerde Partnership in Los Angeles’ Venice neighborhood, was a visionary architect known for reinventing the shopping center as an experiential and entertainment destination. His multidisciplinary team created the look of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and his firm’s influential domestic projects included Horton Plaza in San Diego, Universal CityWalk, the Mall of America, and the Bellagio hotel complex and Fremont Street Experience, both in Las Vegas.


The Jerde Partnership, with offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul, South Korea, designs projects around the globe, and it is estimated that “Jerde Places” are visited by more than 1 billion people each year.


“Jon has been an icon for an architecture which connects the human mind and heart — a connection along which most architects have neither the courage nor talent to walk,” USC Architecture Dean Qingyun Ma said.


Jerde and his wife, architect Janice Ambry Jerde, established the Jon A. Jerde Traveling Fellowship in 2000, funding grants to help USC Architecture students see other parts of the world. Jerde was awarded a similar fellowship after his USC graduation to travel and study in Europe, and he told the Los Angeles Times in 1988 that seeing people from all walks of life enjoying city centers was a “revelation.”


Vibrant city centers


He went on to recreate vibrant city centers in formerly dilapidated areas, starting with Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego, and continuing in declining urban districts from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Osaka, Japan, to Las Vegas.


Jerde, born in Alton, Ill., grew up in oilfields around the west, moving with his father, an engineer for Fluor.


After his parents divorced, he and his mother moved to a garage apartment in Long Beach where he would build cities out of scraps and trash and visit the Long Beach Pier. where he found a sense of community. His college career began with engineering and art classes at UCLA, but a chance meeting in 1958 with Arthur Gallion, then dean of USC Architecture, changed his life.


Gallion, recognizing the talent in Jerde’s sketches, found funding for him to attend USC, where landscape architect Emmet Wemple became a mentor and lifelong friend.


Jerde’s post-graduation trip to Europe solidified his philosophy of placemaking — creating memorable places that pulsed with life and community. He briefly left architecture in 1975 after a decade of designing typical suburban malls, frustrated that his ideas about experiential destinations were being ignored. Then mall developer Ernest Hahn called him and allowed him to put his ideas in practice in the four-block Horton Plaza. The resulting urban village was a resounding success, drawing 25 million visitors when it opened in 1985, and continuing to be popular today.


Olympic ‘design czar’


After being named “design czar” for the 1984 Olympics, Jerde created a kit of parts of striking architectural elements with a color palette by colleague Deborah Sussman that could be adapted at low cost to brand hundreds of events around the city. “The abstract, colorful look, which Jerde described as ‘an invasion of butterflies,’ drew wide praise, the Los Angeles Times wrote. Time magazine declared: “If there was a special gold medal for creative ingenuity, the U.S. Olympic design team should win it.”


Jerde began his Las Vegas collaboration with impresario Steve Wynn in 1993, transforming Treasure Island into the first family resort in the city. The Fremont Street Experience followed, and then the Jerde-Wynn’s most ambitious project, the Bellagio in 1996. That same year the Jerde Partnership opened Canal City Hakata in Fukuoka, Japan, a 2.6 million square foot development that used water and nature for a mixed used destination that revitalized the city’s dying downtown. Newsweek anointed Jerde “Designer of the Decade.”


Other Japanese projects followed, including Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, the largest privately developed project in the country’s history. Sited on more than 28 acres, the project included an art center, garden, Tokyo’s largest office building, a cineplex, a Grand Hyatt hotel, the Asahi TV headquarters, retail stores and a subway station. Other large projects included the Dentsu headquarters in Tokyo, La Cittadella in Kawasaki and Namba Parks in Osaka.


A final project: Santa Monica Place


Jerde’s last project, in collaboration with company partner David Rogers, FAIA, was the reshaping of Santa Monica Place and opening it to the Third Street Promenade.


In addition to his wife, Jerde is survived by their son, Oliver; his children from his previous marriages, daughters Jennifer Jerde-Castor, Maggie Jerde-Joyce and Kate Jerde-Cole and son Christopher Jerde; and four grandchildren.


A memorial service is being planned, with a date to be announced. Memorial contributions can be made to the Jon Adams Jerde, FAIA, Endowment at USC Architecture; to the UCLA Foundation to support the work of Dr. David Reuben at the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program; or to Ancient Egypt Research Associates in Boston.

Jon Jerde was a visionary architect known for reinventing the shopping center as an experiential and entertainment destination. (Photo/Gina Sabatella)