Horton Plaza was the $140 million centerpiece of a downtown redevelopment project run by The Hahn Company, and is the first example of architect Jon Jerde’s so-called "experience architecture". When it opened in August 1985, it was a risky and radical departure from the standard paradigm of mall design. Its mismatched levels, long one-way ramps, sudden dropoffs, dramatic parapets, shadowy colonnades, cul-de-sacs, and brightly painted facades create an architectural experience in dramatic contrast to the conventional wisdom of mall management. Conventional malls are designed to reduce ambient sources of psychological arousal, so the customers’ attention is directed towards merchandise. By making the mall an attraction in itself, Jerde stood this model on its head.
Jerde’s project was based on Ray Bradbury’s essay "The Aesthetics of Lostness". In it he extolled the virtues of getting "safely lost" as adults inspired by side streets of Paris, London, or New York.