The Mall as American Dream

Does America Still Want the American Dream?

Twelve years after work began on a $2 billion entertainment complex in New Jersey, is another giant mall still an appealing vision?

The Atlantic, Oct. 9, 2015

Driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, past the proverbial smoke stacks and then across a brief interruption of marshland, a massive orange snout looms into view. Around the next bend, you see the cranes: not the marsh kind, but tall yellow-metal arms, five or six of them, perched beside the sprawling body attached to the snout.

The cranes are quiet for now. Their symbolism, however, broadcasts loud and clear. The American Dream mall and entertainment complex at the Meadowlands—the half-built behemoth that Governor Chris Christie called “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America,” the mega-project that has lurched from failure to would-be rescue and back again—is finally going to be completed.

In 2017, its developers say, the American Dream will open with “the largest mix of indoor facilities in the world,” according to its slick website, offering millions of visitors “the ultimate family experience.” It will have 400 stores and restaurants, a DreamWorks-themed amusement park and waterpark, an indoor ski slope (that’s the orange snout), an aquarium, mini-golf course, and theater. The 4.8-million-square-foot complex will feature “the world’s first exclusive kosher food hall” and a giant ferris wheel looking onto the New York skyline.

For years, the big question in New Jersey was whether this thing would ever be built. The answer appears to be yes. So the question now is a different one: Does a giant shopping mall represent anyone’s American dream anymore?

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Reimagining Suburbia

What if the world’s greatest architects began looking beyond the city limits?

The American Scholar, Autumn 2015

Renzo Piano may be the most urban, and urbane, of great architects working today. He made his name in Paris in the 1970s, when he and Richard Rogers designed the Pompidou Center, a machine of a museum bristling with exposed steel and pipes. The “inside-out” building provoked howls from Parisians at first, but the Pompidou soon became a beloved landmark and helped revive the then-ailing Marais district. Since that time, the Italian architect has designed a master plan for the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. He has built an airport in Osaka and the tallest skyscraper in London. He has left elegant, precisely crafted museums and galleries in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. So critics did a double take last year when Piano announced that he was designing a new shopping center in San Ramon, California. Renzo Piano—winner of the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel—was designing a suburban mall?

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Del Webb 2.0

The Subtle Shifts in Retirement Community Designs

Del Webb, the country’s biggest builder of “active adult” housing, is changing its formula to appeal to Baby Boomers.

CityLab, Sept. 8, 2015

On January 1, 1960, the Del E. Webb Corporation invited members of the public to see its new community, Sun City, Arizona. Sun City was not just a new development, but a new concept: a place where senior citizens could enjoy a busy, social retirement, playing golf and shuffleboard in year-round sunshine. It was so novel that company executives were not sure anyone would come.

Instead, 100,000 people flocked to the grand opening, touring the model homes, the golf course, the shopping center. By 1970, Sun City had a population of 16,000; it now has 37,000 residents and a sister development next door, Sun City West, with another 25,000.

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Silver Spring Library Review

Silver Spring’s Ho-Hum Library 

The Washington Post, Aug. 2, 2015

The new Silver Spring branch of the Montgomery County library opened to much fanfare. The building is big — five stories, three of which are for the library — and sits on one of the busiest corners downtown. Designed by the Lukmire Partnership, an Arlington architecture firm, this library does much more than house books. It has e-readers at the checkout desk and a large, casual area for teens, public meeting rooms and a digital media lab. Appropriately, the architects chose a contemporary material palette of glass, concrete and steel. The result is a building that fits right into its urban setting and allows readers to bask in the daylight that floods in through glass walls.

The Silver Spring Library anchors the southwest corner of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. It fills a crucial gap in the street edge along Wayne, and the increase in foot traffic will enliven that up-and-coming corridor. The library’s main entrance, on Fenton Street, represents an effort to draw the energy of downtown Silver Spring south into the Fenton Village neighborhood. A nearby apartment building for older adults will help with that once finished.

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Photograph by Brittany Greeson

Don’t Ruin Waffle House

The Underappreciated Architecture of Waffle House

CityLab, May 26, 2015

“Why would you eat your grits anyplace else?” That’s the title of a song on the Waffle House jukebox, and it’s what I think to myself every time I dig into breakfast at the greasy-spoon chain, a personal favorite, which has some 1,500 locations from Delaware to Arizona.

Waffle House is not Chartres Cathedral, admittedly, but it has a certain architectural je ne sais quoi. The classic Waffle House is minimalist in design, with a lemon-yellow strip running around the top, above a wide band of windows and, often, a red or red-striped awning. The interior is outfitted with retro globe lights and red-and-chrome stools. Unlike most fast-food joints, Waffle House has an open kitchen, so you can watch the cooks as they scatter and smother your hash browns.

But the Waffle House experience, little changed since it debuted in Georgia in 1955, may now be in for an overhaul. Earlier this month, the chain revealed the design for a new restaurant it will build on Canal Street in New Orleans. “It’s probably going to be the fanciest Waffle House you will ever see,” a company representative told the New Orleans Board of Zoning Adjustments.

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