Outdoor Room with a View - Design Bureau

Outdoor Room with a View

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

by Aryn Beitz

Stand atop the third-level, open-air dining deck at Santa Monica Place with its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Palisades Park, and, for a moment, you might forget you’re in the middle of a shopping mall. Nearly a decade in the making, the new retail oasis is luring consumers with its open-air design and natural, urban layout—something its original architect, Frank Gehry, failed to achieve with his design. 

Gehry’s original design for the shopping center failed to cultivate steady foot traffic, impressive retailers, and most importantly, shoppers, due to its enclosed, monolithic structure in the center of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The luxe boutiques and brands that should have been setting up shop inside Santa Monica Place were instead opting to open on the Third Street Promenade, a popular tourist area nearby where patrons could stroll along the street and shop amidst the lush Southern California landscape.  

Aware of the apparent flaw in Gehry’s original design and the massive amounts of revenue that Santa Monica Place was missing out on, shopping-center owner, operator, and developer Macerich purchased the center and began conceptualizing an extensive redevelopment led by The Jerde Partnership, a Los Angeles-based architecture and urban planning firm. The goal was to seamlessly integrate it into the existing fabric of the city by using an architectural style from centuries past: a traditional, open-air market. “Santa Monica is best experienced outside in the sunshine and ocean breezes, so removing the roof was a necessary part of tying the new project into the urban experience,” says David Rogers, Jerde partner and principal designer of the project. “This was essential in making Santa Monica Place function like a part of the city.” 

Removing the roof and opening up the project to the city was Jerde’s first step in creating a fluid, organic shopping experience, along with creating a sense of connectivity between the Third Street Promenade, historic pier, and civic center. “The world’s great cities are living organisms that are constantly changing and evolving,” Rogers says, “and if you build a project that is not organic or does not flow with a city’s fabric, it will become a stagnated element for the area’s growth and progression.” 

Today, Santa Monica Place is one of the first and only redevelopments to convert an existing, enclosed suburban-style mall into a dynamic, open-air urban gathering place in the United States. The defining and pivotal transformation of the shopping experience from one-dimensional to multifaceted has instilled a new sense of hope for both retailers and consumers. 

“The residents and leaders of Santa Monica take great pride in their city,” Rogers says. “We worked very hard to design this project to reflect the intimate character and lively spirit of the city.”


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