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The Real Deal Los Angeles

Could one Italian architect have the antidote for America’s dying malls?

Massimiliano Fuksas on his Beverly Center redesign and the meaning of beauty

August 31, 2016 05:48PM
By Cathaleen Chen

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Massimiliano Fuksas and a rendering of the renovated Beverly Center, slated for completion in 2018 (Credit: Alchetron, Business Wire)

Massimiliano Fuksas and a rendering of the renovated Beverly Center, slated for completion in 2018 (Credit: Alchetron, Massimiliano Fuksas)

UPDATED, 2:50 p.m., Sept. 7: The Beverly Center mall, owned by Taubman Centers, may have a $500 million renovation budget, but Massimiliano Fuksas, the architect spearheading the transformation, only has one goal — to make you feel something when you walk in.

“Emotion is everything,” the Italian architect told The Real Deal as he waxed poetic on art, beauty and why indoor shopping malls don’t necessarily have to wither and die.

Utilizing an updated streetscape, open space, an expansive new food hall and lots of natural light, Fuksas intends to transform what many see as a Brutalist eyesore at 8500 Beverly Boulevard.

His first project in Los Angeles, the Beverly Center redevelopment also calls for a perforated steel façade, gigantic windows and technology upgrades for the parking garage.

With offices in Paris, Rome and Shenzhen, Fuksas’ eponymous firm has worked on museums, residential towers and a handful of other retail projects around the world, including New York’s Fifth Avenue Armani and the Bory Mall in Bratislava, Slovakia.

In his chat with TRD, the 72-year-old designer also dishes on his favorite artists and what’s so great about modern architecture.

A rendering of the Beverly Center (credit: Business Wire)

A rendering of the Beverly Center (credit: Business Wire)

What has it been like taking on a renovation of the Beverly Center? 

It’s for me, one of the most important projects. Why? Because it’s something they built in early 1980s and in some way, it’s both a negative and positive icon. Located, of course, between Beverly Hills and Hollywood — it’s in a key part of L.A. We don’t want to kill the building, which is brutalism from the 1970s and 1980s. It’s part of our work to deal with our past, and even what we don’t like can be something positive.

What was the biggest challenge?

We wanted to give it more porosity and [let] light inside — a better view of L.A., a better relationship with a different [floor plan]. Our scope of work was to give it light and a new quality of space. We tried to have a relationship with the sky. L.A. is a complex city.

How do you take an indoor mall and make it less obsolete?

One life of a building is inside, and another is outside. What you can do is give it new life and open the ground floor with food, shopping places. You can create a better relationship with the city. The light is the most important. With the Beverly Center, we changed the material of the façade that made a different light.

What are the most difficult tasks in design?

The real client is the human being. [The goal is to] always give people emotion. You don’t finish after the structure is built, you finish when you [evoke] emotion. When you design a building, you need strategy but more importantly, you need emotion.

How did you come to be involved with this project?

The Taubman family saw my experience in retail. Our firm worked on a big project called the MyZeil shopping mall in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s an indoor [mall] with four or five different levels.

Inside the MyZeil

Inside the MyZeil

Do you see a distinction between art and architecture?

Art is part of our life. Art belongs to everybody.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

We have an opening in Rome, on the 29th of October, for the Rome-Eur Convention Center and Hotel. We are working now on another project in Marseille — a big mixed-use. There’s another private house in Dubai. We’re growing pretty rapidly. In Sardinia, we have the Is Molas Resort, a community of 15 villas. The site is huge, and the landscape and its surroundings work very well together.

What are some recent projects you’re particularly proud of?

I’m not proud at all. In the next life, I’ll be proud.

What do you think of modern design today?

I think it’s a positive thing that we want more and more design today. It’s a great moment in New York now.  Both the clients and the developers now, they want more and more architecture, they want more emotion.

What don’t you like about architecture today?

I don’t like when people copy other people’s ideas. Strategy alone, it is not enough. Only having strategy is too dry. It’s really commercial. We need to give our experience to others. We are better together.

Do you mean that a structure must serve its utilitarian purpose but also retain its style?

Style is nothing. There is no style. There are only emotions. And this is the best you can give to others. It’s possible to create a stylish building, but it’s harder to create a beautiful one.

So what is beauty in a structure?

What is beauty? Beauty is when your heart and your brain are together, they tell you, “today, I am happy.”

Who and what are your favorite artists? Favorite architects?

My favorite artists are Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol. As for architecture, one relationship that is very important was when I was a young student of Jørn Utzon’s. He was a very ethical person.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Fuksas’ age as 76. 

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