A decade after the 1982 opening of the Beverly Center, built by Alfred Taubman, designed by Lou Naidorf of Welton Becket Associates, architecture critic Aaron Betsky wrote in the LA Times that the big, brown blob looming “in isolated splendor over the confluence of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood” was “a strange monument for western Los Angeles, an enigma at the heart of an urban agglomeration without a soul.”
But despite its off-putting appearance, the blob in those days attracted customers, lured by its luxury fashion brands, 13-cinema multiplex and, in those less congested days, ease of access to its multilevel parking.
Now the Beverly Center has fallen from fashion as customers choose to shop online while going to shopping centers for experiences other than shopping — primarily, eating and hanging out with friends, ideally under an open sky.
So the Beverly Center, now helmed by Alfred Taubman’s son William “Billy” Taubman (who did a stint at Oxford University studying moral philosophy) is set to undergo a $500 million makeover, with a redesign by Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas and top-level dining curated by celebrity chef Michael Mina.
Willliam Taubman plans to flood the bunker-like building with light and break up its massive monolithic shape. DnA met him at the unveiling of renderings and talked about his plans and how the changes at BC reflect an evolution in the LA lifestyle.
What will the makeover by Fuksas look like?
Taubman explained that he is going to break down the building into separate parts so it doesn’t seem like such a massive lump, he’s going to wrap it in glittery wavy metal and they are going to insert skylights. What they won’t do, however, is emulate the redo of Santa Monica Place, which removed its roof entirely.
Taubman told DnA, “So we’re not taking the roof off but we are opening it up and creating a massive skylight that will be like a ribbon that runs down the middle of the project. And really uniting it will be the project in the light. So it’ll still be climate controlled for all the different sorts of weather we have in Southern California. But it won’t feel like a closed and dark environment which in many ways it does today.”
He adds: “We’re really breaking down into three sections, completely redoing the streetscape and opening it up so that there will be restaurants all along the first floor… with seats that open up on to the street. The skin along the parking is all being removed and being updated with a sort of curving mesh which is really a very interesting product.”
“It’s never been used in this country but has been used in Europe and it will really sparkle, particularly at night and really sort of open up the sensibility of being when you’re inside the parking deck. It will feel far more open and outside. You won’t have that sense of the solidity of the building. It will almost be as if you can permeate the building. So it’ll break down that sort of obsessive dominance of the building today.”
Massimiliano Fuksas, who told the LA Times, the Bev Center “wasn’t the best building I have seen in my life… it was so concrete and very hard,” has built airports and shopping centers in Europe and China and has grappled with the problem of making something that is vast and monolithic more human in scale.
Why is this especially relevant in LA?
The makeover of its shoppings centers is a big urban story in LA. The roofed-over, climate-controlled retail destinations have defined the car-centered lifestyle of LA for several decades. Two of America’s most influential shopping center designers were based here: Victor Gruen, who is considered the father of the shopping mall (Frank Gehry worked for Gruen in the 1950s along with many LA designers); and Jon Jerde, whose influential designs include Horton Plaza, CityWalk, and Mall of America.
Now shopping center developer Rick Caruso dominates, with The Grove and Americana at Brand in Glendale as prime examples of what are called “lifestyle centers,” that is, “outdoor malls, generally upscale, that place an equal focus to guest amenities and mixed-used development as to the actual retail experience.”
The rise of online shopping coupled with the rise of outdoor eating, farmers markets, and a more pedestrian-oriented lifestyle means that people are gathering in shopping destinations to eat and hang out as much as to shop.
Century City’s Westfield is undergoing a similar change, and, reports the LA Times, is “betting heavily on becoming a dining destination… with about one-fourth of the mall devoted to food when the makeover is complete.”
Pedestrianized shopping neighborhoods like 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica signaled a new direction for malls, and the writing was on the wall when Santa Monica Place took off its roof and introduced a floor of high-end restaurants.
So will the makeover work?
Maybe. Santa Monica Place’s top floor fine dining has not been a huge success. And West Hollywood has a ton of good eateries on its street level. But Taubman is bringing in celebrity chef Michael Mina to program the food.
Is it time to get rid of malls altogether?
There are many people in LA who still remember riding ponies at the site of what became the Beverly Center. It was a statement of its time, and as Angelenos — and Americans generally — become more urban and do so much more of their shopping online, this may be a building type that’s on its way out or changing its form to meet new demands.
Read more about the proposed transformation at Curbed LA. Listen to Frances talk with Steve Chiotakis about the Beverly Center makeover on DnA on ATC: