East LA, usually off the city’s cultural radar, gets back on the map with the opening of East Los Angeles College’s new $65-million, 160,000-square-foot Performing and Fine Arts Complex designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica. The project is the second largest in the LA Community College District's $6 billion Sustainable Building Program, which includes 85 new structures and more than 500 total projects. The program came under fire for corruption and mismanagement this spring, leading to the firing of its director, Larry Eisenberg. But controversy notwithstanding, it has produced some impressive architecture.
Situated on the southeast corner of the campus, Arquitectonica’s three-building complex includes two L-shaped buildings separated by a diagonal path, anchored by the four-story 40,000-square-foot Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) on the southeast tip. The buildings were funded by Measure A/AA bonds.
While the ELAC campus mostly consists of aging World War II-era buildings and bungalows, the contemporary complex takes its cue from more organic forms. “They’re almost like rocks, like outcroppings that came out of the hill,” said Bernardo Fort-Brescia, principal at Arquitectonica.
Each chiseled, steel-braced structure has a gently sloping angular roof, sharp upward cutouts for windows, and a large curtain wall of glazing that allows passersby a glimpse into its inner activities. While the exteriors share the same architectural DNA, the interior walls of each building are colored yellow, red, or blue according to discipline. The gesture helps with wayfinding and adds vibrancy and warmth to otherwise imposing gray exteriors.
The abstract forms of the buildings are also flexible enough to adjust to each department’s requirements. The sloping roof surfaces of the 77,000-square-foot Dance, Music, and Visual Arts Building and the 42,000-square-foot Theater Arts Building deftly disguise the fly towers of the stages within, while the well-placed windows of the VPAM allow a generous amount of sunlight to enter without affecting the artwork inside.