Search results for "frederick fisher"

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White Cubes

Frederick Fisher & Partners to expand L.A.’s Natural History Museum
Frederick Fischer & Partners (FFP) and the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum (NHM) have unveiled initial conceptual designs for an ambitious 485,000-square-foot expansion and modernization plan for the museum that aims to reorient the complex amid increased development in Exposition Park. The 104-year-old institution wrapped up a previous modernization plan in 2013 that produced a new wing designed by CO Architects as well as 3.5 acres of updated performative landscape designs by Mia Lehrer + Associates. The FFP-designed addition will boost the museum’s overall square footage by an additional 60,000 square feet over current designs. Initial renderings for the FFP expansion depict a three-story, glass-clad structure rising along the western edge of the historic NHM building. The new addition will be designed with the intent of creating visual porosity between the institution and the surrounding park lands, an increasingly-important aim as the museum and the new expansion will soon be flanked by the forthcoming MAD Architects–designed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. To better connect with Lucas Museum visitors, FFP’s addition will feature a ground floor atrium wrapped in double-height, operable walls that can open and close with the institution’s needs. The building’s uppermost level is depicted in early renderings with a rooftop terrace containing a restaurant that is open on two sides while other areas appear more generic in nature. The addition is wrapped in a grid of square-framed curtain wall sections that give way to the double-height entry lobby along the southern facade. A key component of the expansion includes the addition of new theater facilities to “serve as a meeting space for dialogue about critical issues affecting our natural and cultural worlds, and as a vital gathering place for the community and neighborhoods around Exposition Park,” a press release announcing the expansion states. In the statement, Frederick Fisher, design principal and founder of FFP said, “What I find thrilling about the [NHM], in addition to its amazing collections and wonderful presentations, is the way it serves as a point of focus for the diverse communities that gather there, and as an intersection between these communities and the museum’s activities.” The NHM addition comes amid sweeping change for one of L.A.’s marquee urban parks. Aside from the addition of the Lucas Museum, the park will soon host the new Banc of California soccer stadium designed by Gensler for the Los Angeles Football Club. Development is booming in surrounding areas as well, fueling community displacement amid a regional housing and transportation crisis. Exposition Park is currently in the process soliciting proposals for a new master plan for the park as the Office of Exposition Park Management seeks to prepare the park for the addition of new facilities as well as for the central role it will play in the 2028 Olympic Games. FFP is also currently developing a long-term facilities plan for the museum that will guide further design efforts for the expansion.
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Frederick Fisher Gets Gold in Los Angeles
The AIA Los Angeles has awarded its 2013 Gold Medal to Frederick Fisher. Founder and principal at Frederick Fisher & Partner Architects, Fisher has been practicing architecture in LA for more than 30 years. During the late 1970s he was part of the “L.A. School,” a group of architects including Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry, and Eric Owen Moss who staged exhibitions at Mayne’s in-home architecture gallery.Fisher worked in Gehry’s practice for several years, yet in his own designs Fisher eschews the mind-bending geometry for which Gehry and some of his other contemporaries are known. Instead, Fisher’s work is characterized by a combination of lightness and restraint. Many of Fisher's projects have been art museums or educational buildings. Adaptive-reuse cultural projects include the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, the renovation of A. Quincy Jones’s The Barn, now the home of the Chora Council of Metabolic Studio, and the Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art at Descanso Gardens. Among Fisher's work for educational institutions are the Jane B. Eisner Middle School, housed in a building originally owned by the Southern California Telephone Company, and the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology at Caltech.  Fisher also designed the Sunnylands Center and Gardens at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. Fisher will receive his award at the AIA Los Angeles Design Awards Gala on October 28th. Other presidential award winners include LA mayor Eric Garcetti, LACMA director Michael Govan, and artist James Turrell.

Studio Visit: Frederick Fisher and Partners

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Preparing for the Crowd
Frederick Fisher and Partners' winning scheme.
Courtesy Frederick Fisher and Partners

Since the mid-2000’s Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station Arts Center has been a lightning rod for debate about what the future of the city looks like and who decides. With post-recession rents skyrocketing and the impending arrival of the Expo light rail line in 2016, the city, which owns most of the land on which the center’s galleries sit, has been eager to redevelop the creative zone, which includes the hangar that is home to the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

The project’s official RFQ, released in 2012, asked for designs that would “protect and enhance the area’s arts and creative uses” while bringing a greater mix to serve the anticipated influx of over 3,000 light rail riders per day.

On September 9, after five hours of deliberation and more than one hundred speakers, the Santa Monica City Council selected a redevelopment scheme by Frederick Fisher and Partners. Fisher was the architect for the original Bergamot Station & Galleries project in 1994 after American Appliance had decamped from the sprawling industrial complex.

   
Courtesy Frederick Fisher and Partners
 

Fisher’s proposal begins with the Station’s original DNA, retaining the industrial shed vernacular for most of the new buildings. The new museum, for example, is a playful interpretation of the pre-fab shed typology, lifted up and placed on a glass box for its entry lobby.

The designs show a restraint that respects the scale of the original, making liberal use of corrugated metal and perforated metal screens. There is also a strong emphasis on public space and view corridors, linking building circulation that was pulled to the exterior with landscaped courtyards. Bergamot is seen as a gateway, making connections to the new Expo light rail stop and the surrounding community while holding onto its character as an eclectic enclave.

Under the developer umbrella of Bergamot Station Ltd/Worthe Real Estate, Fisher’s design team includes the landscape architecture firm Office of James Burnett, Community Arts Resources, which is known for art-centered planning, and SBE Hotel Group.

 
   
Rios Clementi Hale’s finalist scheme.
Courtesy Rios Clementi Hale
 

Two other development teams had been vying for the opportunity to transform Bergamot: 26Street TOD Partners/The Lionstone Group with Rios Clementi Hale Studios and Rethink/KOR Group with Michael Maltzen Architecture and David Hertz Architects.

Rios Clementi Hale’s approach utilized a Butler building system, so new buildings would maintain a low-slung profile and complement the local vernacular. They proposed to reuse elements from dismantled buildings in the new construction, all tied together by a monolithic, industrial-style folding roof. For the Rethink/KOR Group proposal, David Hertz and Michael Maltzan formed a “design collaborative”, which also included Hornberger + Worstell, Katherine Spitz Associates for landscape, and John Bela’s Rebar Group known for “user-generated urbanism.” Their concept kept all the original buildings—modifying only one—and enhanced the campus-nature of the area with new landscape elements and amenities.

 

 
The Hertz/Maltzan team’s proposal.
Courtesy MMA
 

Despite the choice of Fisher, who is known for his sensitive reuse work, some surrounding residents and gallery owners are not so convinced. They see the overall plans for Bergamot Station as a way to drive out creative uses and build another Watergarden, a self-contained office complex locals cite as something they do not want again. In May, a citizen-launched referendum spurred city council to reject the mixed-use Hines/Gensler Bergamot Transit Village, just north of the Bergamot Arts Center area.

But with the arts district’s smaller, less-dense scope, things might be looking brighter for Bergamot Station. All the competing teams put forth visions that seemed to reinforce the unique village-like character of the place while adding architectural adventurousness that connects with the arts crowd.

“We know that Bergamot Station is a unique project for Santa Monica and that the ultimate shape for it will come from collaboration and engagement with all stakeholders. We embrace this,” said Fisher.

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Jane B. Eisner Middle School
Takashige Ikawa

The Jane B. Eisner Middle School is the latest chapter in a success story for Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, a community-based association that has combined idealism and a firm grasp of practicalities in educating children in LA’s immigrant communities. Like Green Dot and other non-profits, it offers a free alternative to failing public schools. In 1999, Camino Nuevo hired Daly Genik Architects to create their first school from an empty mini mall in MacArthur Park, and the firm has extended the Burlington Campus three times since then. For their seventh school, Camino Nuevo selected Frederick Fisher and Partners (FFP), which had never before designed a school but offered experience in cost-efficient renovation. The school, named for the Jane Eisner Foundation, is located in Harvard Heights, a historic neighborhood just west of downtown.

 
Exposed bow trusses (left). Circulation space at the new school is bright and airy (right). 
 

FFP is best known for its art spaces, most recently an addition to the Colby Museum in Maine, and college buildings from Otis to Princeton. But they got their start doing low-budget loft conversions for artists who anticipated the recent renaissance of downtown LA by thirty years. So they responded enthusiastically to the challenge of turning a 1920s PacBell service facility into a creative environment, as they had with the Bergamot Station tram depot. The building is an LA Historic-Cultural Monument and its windowless cement plaster walls and cast stone Churrigueresque portals were left untouched. The raw interior, with its concrete floor, exposed brick walls, and bow truss roof vaults was divided with minimal white walls that enclose nine classrooms, an assembly hall, computer library, learning lab, administrative offices and service spaces. The former service yard became a playground.

Seismic reinforcement was a priority, and much of the budget was invested in a structural steel frame that exceeds the usual requirements for historic structures. Roof openings bathe the interior in natural light and are supplemented by industrial light fittings. Broad corridors run around three sides and down the middle, feeding into the assembly hall, which can be separately accessed for community events after hours. Bowed wood slats conceal the insulation inside the roof vault, incorporate sprinklers, and muffle noise. Cable trays are bracketed to corridor walls for easy maintenance of the extensive wiring.

 
Computer-filled classrooms receive indirect natural light (left). The historic Spanish facade, seen from a playing surface from the street (right).
 

The whole job was brought in for the surprisingly low figure of $225 per square foot. But the sensitivity of FFP’s interventions lift the spirits of teachers and students. It helps that this is a solidly built historic structure with interiors far loftier than those of new-built schools. It’s already a local landmark that is well loved by the community. For Fisher, it has the same creative potential as a loft for tech startups in Santa Monica or SOMA. Found materials are accented with tones of red and green, and the whole space is a subtle play of light, shade, and varied textures.

“We believe our buildings should contribute to community pride and support a collective culture of learning,” said Philip Lance, president of Pueblo Nuevo Development, and co-founder of Camino Nuevo. “Hiring talented design architects that embrace this philosophy is essential to a successful partnership.” In contrast to the LAUSD, a Gulliver constrained by a net of bureaucratic procedures and regulations, the charter schools encourage creative freedom for designers and teachers alike. Some have failed, but that is the price of experimentation. Walking around Jane Eisner and watching the attentive faces of its students restores one’s faith in the promise of free education.

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Gallery
Takashige Ikawa

Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art at Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA
Tel: 818.949.4200
Architect: Frederick Fisher & Partners

One of the hidden gems of Los Angeles is the lush Descanso Gardens, located in the small town of La Cañada Flintridge, on the property of former LA Daily News owner E. Manchester Boddy. Contemporary architecture is a rarity in this area full of landscape and history, but a notable exception is the new Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art, an adaptive re-use and expansion of the historic Boddy House garage into art spaces by architects Frederick Fisher & Partners.

Two galleries have been fashioned from the landmarked Boddy space, which had to be “rebuilt from the inside out,” as Fred Fisher put it, maintaining the historic shell but completely updating the rest. A third gallery was built from scratch and then camouflaged with green screen structures and tucked into a hillside with an additional outdoor room added for sculptures and events. “We used plant materials as brush strokes,” explained Fisher. Inside, the new gallery features 12-foot ceilings, a large skylight, and indirect lighting around the perimeter. In the existing spaces skylights could not be installed due to preservation restrictions, so much of their lighting is created through tucking fluorescent lights behind fabric and plastic scrims to establish a uniform illuminated surface.

“We wanted to create these very calm, serene spaces for viewing small scale works of art,” said Fisher, noting that the light helps the spaces feel much larger. “It feels like it’s really expanding because of the quality of light.”

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Meta Guide

Seeing Rome through the eyes of Robert Venturi
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is not an easy book, or so we were told by Vincent Scully in the introduction to Robert Venturi’s seminal 1966 publication. The book’s release is the stuff of modern architectural mythology. When initially published, Venturi’s text signified a daring step away from modern orthodoxy. It encouraged the design community to actively participate in broad architectural discourse, to treat the past as prologue rather than discarding it as merely vestigial. The book was loathed by many. Treated as critical contraband, it was seen as incendiary and vulgar, and was perceived to be a jab to the prevailing momentum of Western architectural progress. However, to a small fraction of midcentury architects, the book was a welcome embrace of architectural inheritance. It was a permissive, if soft, manifesto allowing designers to stretch out, to embrace a messy and nonlinear practice, to get a little weird. Frederick Fisher and Stephen Harby proudly identify with Team Venturi. The first pages of Robert Venturi’s Rome, to which both contribute text and watercolor illustration, celebrate the profound influence Complexity and Contradiction had on the way they practice, teach, and understand the built environment. Reading the book as students proved to be a shared watershed moment. Fisher immediately shifted focus from art and art history to architecture, and has worked in Rome as both an architect and Rome Prize Fellow. Harby received the book from Vincent Scully in a fateful transaction that led to a Rome Prize Fellowship and a recurring teaching position in the Eternal City. Robert Venturi’s Rome is ostensibly a travel book for the architecturally inclined, exploring some, though not all, of the Roman sites referenced in Complexity and Contradiction. Fisher and Harby “propose to take the reader on a journey through time and ideas by visiting and discussing nearly thirty Roman places that exemplify Venturi’s revolutionary ideas,” and they use the Complexity and Contradiction table of contents, and supplemental quotes from the original text, as a framework for ten short tours. Unsurprisingly, by pairing buildings and urban spaces with the tenets of Venturi’s work, including “ambiguity,” “contradiction” (both “adapted” and “juxtaposed”), and the “double-functioning element,” Robert Venturi’s Rome is quickly revealed to be more complex, and yes, more contradictory, than a standard travel guide of the Fodor’s or Rick Steves variety. Fisher and Harby pragmatically outline locations and hours of operation, but eschew detailed photography for their own watercolor illustrations. The images of buildings, architectural elements, and plans are gorgeous, lovingly rendered and evocative, but leave details to be examined solely by text. Accordingly, the text often carries an unevenly distributed burden. Venturi populated Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture with more than 250 images, mixing architectural photographs and drawings with mannerist and abstract paintings, an approach that buttressed his criticism and apologia. Conversely, Fisher and Harby are successful when describing formally familiar work, like the Pantheon or Casa Girasole, but struggle when examining complicated baroque spaces, like Francesco Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.   Vacillating between highlight reel and inside baseball, the tone of the book is inconsistent. It is simultaneously a travelogue for the architecturally curious and a series of esoteric incantations relying on the erudition of the reader to spot the sly relationship between Fisher and Harby’s text and Venturi’s design exegesis. The esteem in which the authors hold Venturi—and his work—and their admiration for Roman architecture is evident. Venerating both theorist and city, Fisher and Harby note, “it is possible that, without acknowledging it, Venturi…is celebrating the fact that in the hands of Borromini and many other architects, classical language is a living, fluid thing, and not the dead language that Venturi’s modernist contemporaries would have considered it.” By design or otherwise, the publication of Robert Venturi’s Rome feels timely and in keeping with a broader revivalist spirit currently underway. It fits easily with the recent Ettore Sottsass show at the Met Breuer, the successful effort to designate Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s Ambassador Grill as a New York City landmark, and the recognition of the glass pyramid–topped Musée Louvre renovation with an AIA 25-year award. Still, it takes a unique kind of architectural navel gazer to appreciate the meta-narrative of a book about a book by an architect designing buildings about architecture. Scully suggested that Complexity and Contradiction might shift our professional perspective from the Champs d’Elysées to Main Street. Through thoughtful analysis and vivid illustration, Fisher and Harby remind us that Rome is a complex city of interwoven Main Streets populated by both historic exemplars and idiosyncratic oddities. Robert Venturi’s Rome “evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus,” write the authors. “Its space and its elements become readable and workable in several ways at once.” Coincidentally, so does Robert Venturi’s Rome. Brian Newman is an architect and university campus planner and has taught at Washington University in St. Louis. Robert Venturi's Rome Frederick Fisher and Stephen Harby, ORO Editions, $25.00
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Block Party

Renderings revealed for Armenian American Museum in L.A.
Renderings have been revealed for the forthcoming Armenian American Museum (AAM) in Glendale, California. The proposed 30,000-square-foot complex is designed by Glendale-based Alajajian Marcoosi Architects (AMA), a local architecture firm known for designing classically-inspired apartment and retail complexes. With their distinctive proposal for the AAM, however, AMA has traded in swept cornices for heroic expressionism. The firm’s chiseled design for the square-shaped museum complex hearkens toward the faceted and craggy faces of Mount Aragat in Armenia as well as toward the Verdugo Mountains that frame the city of Glendale, according to a project website. AMA beat out three other architecture firms for the commission, including Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design, Belzberg Architects, and Frederick Fisher and Partners. The museum is designed to host a variety of cultural exhibitions and educational events while also functioning as a research center aimed at cultivating “Armenian American culture, social justice, and pluralism,” the site explains. The City of Glendale is known locally as the heart of Los Angeles’s thriving Armenian community and is home to the largest number of ethnic Armenians outside of Yerevan, Armenia, that country’s capital city. Renderings for the project depict a bouldered cube punctured by entry portals and slivered windows along its principal facades. The complex contains a generous public entrance on Colorado Street—a main thoroughfare—and is set back from the street along this expanse. The building’s raised first floor caps above- and below- grade parking and is accessed via a broad staircase connecting the building’s entry level with the street below. The eastern end of the building contains a rooftop terrace while the center of the structure is capped by a large skylight. Renderings also depict stone and concrete-clad interior surfaces as well as a mix of interior multi-height spaces punctuated by balconies. The backside of the museum is designed to open onto a new central plaza that connects to arterial pedestrian paths. This central plaza—known as Glendale Central Park—is currently being redeveloped by SWA Group with the aim of creating a symbolic gathering space for the city that will connect the city’s Downtown Central Library with the new AAM, an adult recreation center, and a series of parks, play areas, and pedestrianized streets. The new master plan for the district was approved by the City of Glendale last week, paving the way for community outreach to begin for the project. The city-led project is expected to receive final approval in April 2018. A final construction timeline has not been announced.
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Best Saves

Los Angeles Conservancy announces 2017 preservation awards
The Los Angeles Conservancy has selected eight recipients for the organization’s 2017 Preservation Awards. The annual designations, which celebrate “outstanding achievement in the field of historic preservation,” are culled from across Los Angeles County and include physical structures as well as organizations and preservation-minded programs. This year’s Chairman’s Award was given to SurveyLA: The Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey, a program launched by the City of Los Angeles, Department of City Planning and the J. Paul Getty Trust. It aims to survey the entirety of the City of Los Angeles’s historic heritage. The entities behind the program developed a special app that allows surveyors to digitally record survey information and photograph properties and artifacts through the use of a tablet. The survey examined over 800,000 land parcels and 500 square miles of land; the effort represents the largest survey of its kind ever completed by an American city. The survey, structured in correspondence with the city’s 35 Community Plan Areas, seeks to embed preservation awareness with the city’s planning apparatus. The LA Conservancy also made several project-based recognitions, including the recently completed redevelopment and expansion of the CBS Columbia Square complex by House & Robertson Architects, Inc. and Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH Studios). The Historic Resources Group served as preservation architect and consultant on the project, which sought to restore what was once the West Coast headquarters for radio and television broadcaster CBS. The restoration of the existing office, commercial, and broadcast structures will be supplemented by a large mixed-use addition located at the back of the site. CBS Columbia Square was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009 and it is currently eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (though it has not yet been listed). A Cultural Landscape Report for the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, prepared by the arboretum, was also awarded project-based recognition. The report details an extensive survey and planning mechanism for the long-term maintenance and restoration of the complex which contains important works of architecture from the early 1900s and midcentury modern eras as well as ecologically- and culturally-important landscapes. The restoration of the Kinross Cornerstone building in Westwood was also recognized. The project was originally built in 1930 by noted architect Stiles O. Clements—who also designed the Wiltern building in Los Angeles—in the Spanish Revival Style. However, it suffered incompatible alterations in the 1960s and 1970s. The building also underwent a heavy-handed seismic retrofit in the 1990s. Architects Nadel, Inc. has performed a thorough restoration of the property. Frederick Fisher and Partners’ restoration of Glendale’s Grand Central Air Terminal—Los Angeles’s first commercial airport—received an award for its meticulous attention to detail. The project entailed converting certain existing portions of the complex into an events and business center as well as creating a new visitors center to educate the public on the site’s historic significance.   The Preservation Resource Center at the Shotgun House in Santa Monica was recognized for its dogged perseverance. The building, after having been relocated three times and being threatened with demolition, is Santa Monica’s only intact shotgun house and has been repurposed as the headquarters for the Santa Monica Conservancy. The conservancy also recognized the Los Angeles Public Library’s Valley Times Photograph Collection, a digitized archive of midcentury era photographs of the San Fernando Valley originally kept by The Valley Times newspaper, which ran in print from 1946 to 1970. Lastly, the Conservancy recognized the View Park Historic District National Register Nomination in South Los Angeles, one of the largest National Register historic districts in California, the largest district in the country relating to the history of African Americans, and home to the County’s first local landmark.   The awards will be presented at a luncheon on Wednesday, May 3 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
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Make America Gill Again

Eleven institutions celebrate the works of Irving J. Gill, grandfather of San Diego modernism
Eleven San Diego and Southern California cultural organizations are joining forces this fall to celebrate the life and works of Irving J. Gill. Gill, a famously overlooked San Diego architect who was responsible for introducing the beginnings of modernism to Southern California in the early 1900s. An uneducated migrant from upstate New York, Gill would eventually find himself working in the Chicago offices of Adler & Sullivan, where he worked on the firm’s designs for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Gill left the White City for Southern California in 1893, going on to a prolific career at the helm of the firm Hebbard & Gill. A firm believer in the positive social impacts of proper architecture, Gill took on a variety of clients, providing design services for wealthy, white gentry as well as for several Native American reservations, an African American religious congregation, and the families of migrant Mexican workers. While well-known—if not more renowned—as contemporaries such as Greene and Greene during his lifetime, Gill’s reputation fell off the radar quickly after his death. With a blockbuster lineup of coordinated exhibitions, San Diego institutions are re-elevating Gill as their city’s patron saint of architecture. The San Diego History Center is leading the effort with their exhibition, Irving J. Gill: New Architecture for a Great Country, a survey of Gill’s greatest San Diego works, including many of his influential house designs as well as the La Jolla Women’s Club from 1914, considered to be the first tilt-slab construction building in Southern California. Among other institutions showcasing Gill’s work, The La Jolla Historical Society and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego will team up to showcase an exhibition focused on Gill’s orthographic and perspectival drawings, sketches, and watercolor renderings on loan from Gill archives at University of California, Santa Barbara and the San Diego History Center. The Oceanside Museum of Art, housed in a Gill-designed structure originally used as the town’s City Hall from 1934 to 1994, will present a historical overview of the 5,000 square foot structure. In conjunction, the museum will also showcase the work by Frederick Fisher and Partners, who completed a large expansion to the structure in 2008. Lastly, the Save Our Heritage Organisation will present two exhibitions at the Gill-designed National Historic Landmark, Marston
 House Museum and Gardens. One, Irving J. Gill:
Photographer, will showcase Gill’s previously-unknown architectural photographs as well as pictures of his buildings by other photographers. The second, Gill & the Decorative Arts, will dissect Gill’s interior and garden design philosophies through the lens of regional sustainability. The exhibitions open September 24th and run through March 31, 2017.
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Eavesdrop> Go Art, Go: Who will design Santa Monica Museum of Art’s Downtown Los Angeles move?
After a bitter fight at Bergamot Art Station, the Santa Monica Museum of Art is decamping to Downtown Los Angeles. Reports of an eastward move come with hints of a necessary name change as well a shortlist for its new space in the Arts District. Players are tightlipped, but AN’s sources say Gensler, Zellner Naecker Architects, and wHY (a longtime museum collaborator) have been invited to submit design proposals.
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Desert X to bring the art fair circuit to Coachella Valley
File under “X.” A new happening is coming to California’s high desert. Slated to open in February 2017, Desert X is “three-month site-specific international contemporary art exhibition,” aka, an arid art event timed to align with Palm Spring’s Modernism Week as well as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Writer and curator Neville Wakefield, known for curating site-specific works, will serve as inaugural artistic director. It’s promised that his knack for engaging alternative spaces will be on view as artists install in non-traditional spaces—one might expect landscape interventions a la High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree—as well as more conventional settings such as the Palm Springs Art Museum, a late modern design by architect E. Stewart Williams and A. Quincy Jones’ midcentury Sunnylands Center & Gardens, renovated by Frederick Fisher and Partners in 2012. “The desert has long exercised its fascination over the minds of artists, architects, musicians, writers and other explorers of landscape and soul,” noted Wakefield. He sets a high bar for the commissioned art works, asking that they simultaneously reflect the ideals and politics of the contemporary art world and respond to the desert context. The press release suggests that the pieces will “amplify and cast a gimlet eye on the geographies, ethnic/social and historical/geologic layers that exist in the southern California desert, while also looking to major movements in contemporary art world-wide.” The exact hows and whos of Desert X remain a vast and unknowable mystery, to borrow the evocative language of the press materials. “The landscape of harsh desert, high mountains, lush golf courses and a vanishing sea, holds a rich history and maintains mythical proportions in the narrative of the American West—one that includes ancient Indian tribes, prospectors, pioneers, and cowboys,” explained Susan Davis, Desert X founder and board president. “We see Desert X as unique in shining a spotlight on the rich preexisting architectural, natural and cultural legacies of the area, while offering the public a way to explore, activate and interrogate current, timely and historic issues through contemporary, creative practices.” However, Desert X’s board is well connected to the regional, national, and international arts organizations, including major arts institutions, such as Whitney Museum of American Art, the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy, the New Museum, the Hammer Museum, the Serpentine Galleries, and Creative Time. The truth is out there: Wakefield will share his vision and plans for the inaugural exhibition on January 29, 2016 as part of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2016.