Perkowitz + Ruth Architects: ‘Variety is the spice of life’

Tackling urban in-fill; updating an under-utilized mall; giving a power center personality; making entertainment centers more relevant. With a 170-plus staff working out of four offices, Perkowitz + Ruth Architects can do it all.

The Long Beach, Calif.-based firm has turned ho-hum malls like Buena Park Mall into retail and entertainment centers that are bringing back former shoppers and attracting new ones. It has worked Main Street magic in Oregon and found colorful ways to use commonplace materials at Long Beach Towne Center. “It's no secret that in recent years malls have found less favor with consumers,” says Sy Perkowitz, president and CEO of the 22-year-old firm. “By updating the existing mall and adding a large entertainment complex, Buena Park Mall is becoming a place where people will spend more time. There is added outdoor ambiance with a plaza area, and more restaurants are coming.”

Using big, imaginative graphics, the firm remodeled the existing mall inside and out and designed the new entertainment center component. In contrast, Perkowitz + Ruth was given a clean slate on which to develop a grid for a Main Street retail project in Gresham, Oregon. Gresham Station is a 320,000-sq.-ft. Main Street concept in this suburban community, adjacent to City Hall and near the local train station. “We prepared a grid layout like a traditional downtown — not the conventional U-shape or L-shape,” Perkowitz says. “We also designed most of the retail stores on this 40-acre site.”

Stores come right up to the streets; parking is between rather than in front of them. The character is urban yet contemporary, Perkowitz says.

Along with other architecture and design specialists, Perkowitz + Ruth is challenged by evolving community demands. New centers, Perkowitz says, must reflect the standards of the area and contribute to the overall life of the community.

With upscale centers and bigger budgets, the obstacles are less formidable. But when working with national retailers, the cost pressures on one side and community standards on the other put the architect in the middle, like the filling in a sandwich. “Creativity isn't hard, but being creative on a budget may be,” Perkowitz says.

The firm is justifiably proud of its colorful Long Beach Towne Center. This 855,000-sq.-ft. entertainment-retail complex, completed in 1999, was constructed on 100 acres of land that once served as a Naval base. Perkowitz + Ruth used richly colored concrete blocks as affordable, low-maintenance building materials for shops and restaurants. Building clusters form a large, central courtyard accessed by three pedestrian avenues. The 4,000 parking spaces at Towne Center frequently are filled, Perkowitz says: a testimony to its success.

“This is a very good use of reclaimed land in a densely populated area,” he says. “I don't think we realized how popular it would become. It fills a demographic and geographic need.”