The Horton Plaza Mall in Downtown San Diego was once vivid and colourful. The bright colours may still be there, but the consumers have gone: it has become a ruin of a mall. The property developer Stockdale now wants to convert it into a high-tech campus with entertainment facilities. A last visit to a remnant of history.
What a shock. One expects an architecture of hysterical fun, bright colours, unusual spatial effects, squealing teenagers. And then this: the icon of postmodern architecture, “Horton Plaza Mall” in Downtown San Diego, is abandoned and deteriorating. Horton Plaza was once a “magnum opus” of the iconic planning office Jon Jerde. The gigantic complex opened its doors in a deteriorating Downtown San Diego in 1985. The outdoor mall, occupying six and a half city blocks, marked the beginning of the district’s regeneration. Today, the Gaslamp Quarter, adjacent to the south-east, comes across as fresh and vibrant. This, however, is no longer the case for Jon Jerde’s mall legend.
A challenging descent
Consumption patterns certainly change. The construction and business species “mall” has generally seen better days. Moreover, the labyrinth-like character of large-scale complexes such as Horton Plaza doesn’t go down too well with modern consumers, who prefer efficient and transparent routing. On top of that, the younger generation tends to order online anyway. Yet I couldn’t help feeling melancholic as I stumbled down the dusty corridors of the five-storey mall ruin this morning: blind windows, fallen off signs, elevators that no longer work. The latter presents a particular problem, as Jerde’s project includes dead ends and confusing paths, like many large-scale constructions from the 1980s. Once you have reached the top floor, the descent becomes quite a challenge.
Frankly, however, I am fascinated by such architectural rough edges. In the future, the location will likely be smoother and easier to use, but definitely less playful. The property developer Stockdale is planning to convert the ensemble into a high-tech campus with entertainment facilities. The architectural office Rios Clementi Hale from Los Angeles has already been commissioned. The reason for existing delays is ironically due to a lawsuit against the conversion initiated by shopping giant Macy’s, who still operates one of the few remaining open stores in Horton Plaza. The objection is unlikely to be successful in the long term, however. Jerde’s delirious consumer temple will soon be history.
So – if you’re going to California sometime soon, I recommend a stopover in Downtown San Diego. The deteriorating, pseudo-Italian piazzas and Latin American temple impressions provide an atmospheric insight into a time in which architecture may not always have been tasteful, but was certainly sustained by a playful grandeur. Nowadays, this bright, cheerful spirit is often sadly missing.