Welton Becket and Bullock's Pasadena : quiet icons of mid-century design
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Following the Second World War department stores transitioned from the downtown establishments of the first half of the century to the enclosed shopping malls of the second; however, for a period of about six years, from 1945 to 1951, the standalone department store fulfilled the needs of suburbanites. During this struggle to define the new suburban shopping experience, Welton Becket and Walter Wurdeman designed Bullock's Pasadena--the first embodiment of their research-based "total design" philosophy. Today, Becket is best known for his iconic Capitol Records building and the assembly line efficiency of Welton Becket and Associates, but he devoted much of the late 1940s and 1950s to designing department stores and shopping centers. As store managers and fellow architects strained to build department stores for automobile, Becket emerged with a research-based solution that he later termed "total-design." Similar to the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, Becket's "total-design" was a philosophy that required attention to nuance and detail--in the case of department stores this included furniture, fixtures, carpet, and even price tags and restaurant menus. But he also sought to support his designs with research and study.1 Before Becket designed Bullock's Pasadena, his first department store, he dedicated a year to analyzing the customers, employees, and efficiency of Bullock's. This investigation resulted in an open-plan store with flexible furnishings and a sympathetic approach to the automobile, including parking lots that integrated with the store's layout. Becket was not alone in his exploration of suburban department stores. Architects from around the country, including Raymond Loewy, Victor Gruen, John Graham, and Morris Ketchum, created their own prototypes for this new building typology. But many found it difficult to compete with Becket's extensive research and empirical method. Several stores, such as B. Altman's Miracle Mile branch on Long Island (1947) and Bamberger's branch in Morristown, New Jersey (1949), had to be renovated or relocated within ten years of opening, unable to keep pace with growing storage and parking demands. Becket, by contrast, studied population densities and demographics, freeway connections and traffic congestion to establish the number of parking spaces and their location on site. Instead of utilizing parking space ratios, favored by his peers, he relied on a wider scope of analysis to inform his designs. Bullock's Pasadena provides the basis for this study and demonstrates the evolution of Becket's design process that would come to define one of the world's largest architecture firms.