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Thursday, July 6, 2006

When Will We Get Our Koolhaas Prada?

Posted by on July 6 at 9:27 AM

The fabulous Justin Davidson writes on the new (old) architecture of shopping.

What does Seattle have to offer besides the creepy, simulated-leisure atrium of Pacific Place?



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I think that the Bon Marche is an impressive building. Their range of merchandise sucks, but the building has potential. Twenty years ago, when it still had an electronics department, toy department, books, etc as well as a full-service restaurant, it was much more interesting.

But I agree, new retail here is BORING. Nordstrom totally blew it when they redid Frederick's. Old Navy destroyed the severe beauty of I Magnin. Pacific Place is a yawn. And don't get me started on the waste of the old Woolworth's store on Crossdress for Less.

I don't know if it's the Seattle Good Taste Police, who want everything bland, or just the acknowledgment that Seattle isn't worth spending money on that drives this.

I cry for Magnin's, Frederick's, and the Bon too, but Seattle is a bigger shopping destination now than it ever was. The problem is, a very large portion of the tourists came off of ginormous cruise ships. These people have money to burn but the taste of Middle America. So: Old Navy, Barnes and Noble -- the mall stores that low-wattage people recognize and feel comfortable with. Realistically, downtown offers little for shoppers that they can't get in the giant strip malls south of Southcenter (even more so than the mall itself) besides a semi-interesting setting.

What Seattle needs in that regard is a boutique district, one like Newbury Street in Boston, which has a gradiation from wealth and privilege at one end and moderate funkiness at the other. Something like the Ave or Pike/Pine, only with fur stores and Prada at the other end.

I don't really see where that's going to go, though. In Seattle, the little districts of funk, money, and mall are too segregated. I guess it's still downtown, as the money shops migrate up to the south from the traditional area around the Bon and Fredericks.

I really like the University Village and the new construction they've done there in the past few years looks great.

Malls are lame, their products and concessions overpriced, the crowds too large, too lost and too slow.

A better idea is to not build malls at all, instead interweaving store space and new shops with the surrounding community. Leave the malls to the suburbs.

Um, if it's a Barnes and Noble across the street from an Old Navy, and the streets are clogged with fannypack-wearers, how is it not just like a mall, no matter how "interweaved" it is?

Heh, that's a good point.

I don't want to jump on the mixed use housing bandwagon, but....

Oh, aren't you folks just *precious*, with your opinions on "funk" and your comments about "low-wattage" consumers.

I have news for you: shopping is capitalism in action. If anyone actually gave a shit about your opinions, downtown shopping would take a different form.

(Incidentally...I would definitely use the word "funk" to describe the Ave and Pike/Pine....but not in a good way.)

Our Koolhaas library is better than any Koolhaas Prada and it's open to everyone. It is a part of the mix of an evolving downtown Seattle, so, expect to see more in the not too distant future. Capitalism will continue to respond at the appropriate time.

Actually, Mouse, I'm the only one who used the word "funk", so you should be directing your fury at me, not everyone. But your comprehension of "capitalism in action" is belied by the existence of interesting, vibrant shopping in REAL cities all over the world. The action you describe is in Southcenter, not downtown, which is COASTING.

And if you don't think the hordes streaming off the cruise ships towards Old Navy aren't "low wattage", you're the one who's confused, not me. I mean, LOOK at them.

This is a conscious decision to pursue the lowest, or maybe the second-lowest, common denominator market. There is an upscale market, but Seattle has never been very interested in it; which is one reason why we're such a style backwater. Seattle shopping is still at a very low tier for a city of its size and significance.

Maybe it's because our wealth icons dress like Bill Gates and Paul Allen, though it's more likely because our hipsters dress like winos.

Personally, I don't want to see any more Koolhaas anything. I *hate* the new library. I find it a very unpleasant building to spend any time in; the glare in there is migraine-inducing, the bizarro colors and shapes of access tunnels and stairwells are nausea-inducing, and it's just harder than hell to find a) a book and b) a comfortable seat in that hellhole. It might be a showpiece for urban architecture, but I think it is totally dysfunctional as a library.

Then again, I worked in the old building, and it sucked too. And it was *dangerous*, with all the hidden out-of-the-way corners - I saw some things in the stairwell that made me use the staff elevator forevermore after that. Plus I worked in the basement, right across the wall from the only public toilet in the downtown area. I could always tell when 9 a.m. hit - that toilet would start flushing and wouldn't stop until they closed the doors at night. Busiest damn spot in downtown.

Geni, how could you insult our "cathedral of literacy"???? IT'S WORLD CLASS, DAMMITT!!!

isn't it?

Repeat after me:
We're just as good as San Francisco
We're just as good as San Francisco
We're just as good as San Francisco

Geni, the toilets in the new library NEVER flush, because the homeless guys take all the stalls the second the place opens and camp in there until closing time. Seriously, they live in there.

Speaking of the downtown library, has anyone yet posted some exterior signage to identify it as a public building? I've only been there twice, and both times there was no way to recognize its purpose unless you have the address and already know the weird design to expect.

Perhaps the angled dirt-collecting exterior glass is a cash cow for window washers but who else benefits from it? And the gaudy interior colors are headache inducing. If the purpose is to annoy and chase away the homeless, that experiment is a bust at the expense of the general public.

If Koolhaas had designed it for millions of dollars, the godawful sinking ship garage in Pioneer Square would be on the cover of Architectural Digest.

Woo, architecture for rich people! Woo!

It's interesting that many of the great traditional department stores (Fields, Bon Marche, Macy's, F&N, Meier & Frank, Hudsons) did not start out as "architecture for rich people". These stores all catered to a wide range of incomes and taste.

For instance, at Frederick's, you could (if you wanted to) buy a Chanel suit and then head down to the basement to buy a discount girdle. It wasn't until it started to get glam that it stared to get in trouble.

Lots of things combined to kill the traditional department store, but it was a nice setup where people of all classes could mingle in a place that respected its customers.

Bellevue has much better shopping that Seattle, and Bellevue Square used to have an art museum right inside. Maybe someday Seattle can get some real high wattage shopping, so we don't have to drive to Bellevue.

Bellevue is nothing but Omaha with better weather and worse traffic. I'll stick to Seattle, thank you.

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