Search results for "Richard Meier"

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(Updated!) A Call to Free Ai Weiwei, Artist, Architect, Activist

(Updated 4-6-2011) As details emerge, be sure to track the comments on this post for the latest on Ai Weiwei. We have learned that the US State Department called for his release on Monday. According to VOA News, Mark Toner, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman saud, "The detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei is inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens, including China's commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we urge the Chinese government to release him immediately." Today, the Guardian reported that Ai Weiwei is under investigation for "suspected economic crimes" according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua which has since deleted the statement.

AN also received the following note of support for Ai Weiwei from Richard Meier. Please feel free to voice your messages of support in the comments.

Ai Weiwei deserves all of our support in his efforts to communicate with the world community of architects about the conditions that currently exist in China. We all hope that his immediate release will happen quickly in response to comments from all of us that support him in his cause.

Sincerely yours,

Richard Meier

(Original Report 4-4-2011) News that Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai Wei Wei has been detained and disappeared as of April 3, 2011 broke yesterday in the International media.  As reported by Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times, and more recently today by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, his detention and police closure of his Beijing studio coincides with what is known as the "Jasmine Revolution," a protest movement in the People's Republic of China that was inspired by the 2011 Tunisian Revolution and has prompted the Communist Party’s six-week crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, with many of those detained still not released, and others, such as pro-democracy writer Liu Xianbin, sentenced to 10 years in jail for subversion.

While his arrest is not unexpected, and indeed was anticipated by Wei Wei and others in his community, it is a devastating and saddening blow that follows upon the forced demolition of his Shanghai studio in January of this year, his recent house arrest in the wake of Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, and his beating by Chinese police in August 2009, with emergency brain surgery required.

Wei Wei, the son of revered Chinese poet Ai Qing (regarded as one of the finest modern Chinese poets and himself imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party), is internationally recognized for his cultural and architectural practice as well as his tireless activism on behalf of social justice and political reform in China.

His many projects include the Bird's Nest (2008), a landmark design for the Beijing Olympic National Stadium (together with Herzog and De Meuron); Fairytale (2007), in which he sent 1001 Chinese citizens to Kassel, Germany as a cross-cultural exchange; and the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, which sought to uncover the names of the thousands of schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, many as a result of poor maintenance of school buildings.

His 2010 "Sunflower Seeds" exhibition, currently on display at Tate Modern, features 100 million porcelain seeds made in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen and forms a seemingly infinite landscape in the museum's Turbine Hall.  As a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses, the project explores the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange and, as curator Juliet Bingham has remarked, invites us to consider such questions as "What does it mean to be an individual in today's society?"

We urge the Chinese government to respect Wei Wei's health and to insure his safety, and to release him immediately.  His detainment and disappearance is a great tragedy and devastating blow to the international community.  Wei Wei is an artist that feels a great love and compassion for China and her people, and we urge the Chinese government to recognize this fact and allow him and his family the freedom if not to speak freely, then to at least leave.

We strongly encourage you to raise your voice and to contact your elected representatives, government contacts, and civic institutions, to advocate for official statements and positions on his behalf as well as all of those that have been detained these last weeks in response to the Jasmine Revolution.

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California Court Appeal
AECOM's Long Beach Courthouse.
Courtesy AECOM

Across California many county seats are marked by historic courthouses, graced with stately domes, columns, and other references to ancient times. But a wave of new construction is bringing new courthouses of some contemporary distinction to more than half of the counties in California, from one-courtroom buildings high in the Sierras to a 71-courtroom facility in San Diego. The selection of architects is equally wide-ranging, with 36 firms ranging from established names like HOK, Richard Meier + Partners, and SOM, to small but well-regarded offices like San Francisco’s Mark Cavagnero Associates and San Diego’s Safdie Rabines Architects. In February the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), which is running the $6.7 billion modernization program, announced the commission of the last 13 projects for a total of 59.

“We’re not trying to make palaces, but we have an unparalleled opportunity to make a significant addition to 50 civic centers and downtowns,” said Clifford Ham, principal architect for the state’s Office of Court Construction and Management. “We’re going to be changing the context of a lot of communities.”

The wave of court building was prompted by legislation in 2002, which transferred responsibility for court facilities from the counties to the state, an arrangement that about half the states in the U.S. have arrived at. The funding comes from a bond measure passed in 2008 (Senate Bill 1407). To date, seven courthouses have been completed, with the remainder anticipated by 2016.

Contra Costa Courthouse by HOK.
Courtesy HOK
 

Judging by the designs revealed so far, there will be great variation in what the courthouse of the 21st century looks like: it could be a modern office tower or an updated lodge. Breaking ground this spring, AECOM’s Long Beach courthouse is a five-story glass-and-steel building with a large courtyard and naturally-lit courtrooms. Contra Costa County’s courthouse, designed by HOK, has a handsome limestone facade and a green roof. The more modest one-story, single-courtroom Plumas-Sierra courthouse by Nacht & Lewis has a pitched roof and wood-beamed ceiling. “We made a conscious effort to employ architects that may not have done court buildings before, instead of just the six or eight usual suspects,” said Ham.

New design guidelines emphasize functionality, durability, and ease of maintenance, as well as sustainability and energy efficiency (LEED Silver is currently prescribed). Each wave of projects has also brought the architects together for a design excellence forum. “You can sense the holistic attention they’re giving to the program, which is quite different from the usual project-by-project focus,” said Mallory Cusenbery of the Sonoma firm RossDrulisCusenbery, which is working on courthouses in Plumas and Sutter Counties. “I think it will help create a consistently high level of performance where the quality of all the projects are raised by the quality of the others.”

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Arts & Letters Announces 2011 Winners
The venerable American Academy of Arts and Letters announced the winners of their various prizes in architecture to an impressive array of writers and practitioners. The judges were Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, Hugh Hardy, Richard Meier, James Polshek, Billie Tsien (chair), and Tod Williams. The Bruner Memorial prize emphasizes the artistic aspect of the trade and the jury selected Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam of Atlanta. The couple has been practicing architecture for more than 25 years. Tod Williams called out the "simultaneously humane and bold" aspects of their work which conveys an "optimistic and joyous" spirit. The award for Arts and Letters, which focuses on a "strong personal direction", went to William E. Massie of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and Julie VandenBerg Snow of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  James Polshek calls Massie a "free spirited constructivist inventor" and Billie Tsien noted the "invention within convention" in VandenBerg Snow's buildings. The winners for expressing architectural ideas though any medium were LA based Sylvia Lavin and NYC based Anthony Vidler. Peter Eisenman cited Lavin's "intelligence in a battle with mediocrity," while Richard Meier admired Vidler's "extraordinary contributions to the academic and architectural community through teaching and writings."
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Code Orange: You, Too, Can Be a Zoning Expert
You can’t miss the New York Department of City Planning’s 2011 Zoning Handbook—it’s bright orange. Clear and navigable, the book reads like an intermediate level foreign language textbook. The latest edition, like the 2006 version, includes user-friendly line drawings of buildings connected to cartoon balloons providing detailed information. The new handbook hit the agency's bookstore yesterday. A color coded map of NYC zoning ditricts. Recently, AN reported that a large chunk of Hell's Kitchen may revert from an M1-5 designation to an M2-4 designation. While that's not quite how we put it (our article noted that the proposed Hell's Kitchen commercial district would place height limits at 135 feet) a quick glance at the manual outlines the detailed regulations in surprisingly plain language. The manual goes deep but without getting bogged down in legalese or minutia, offering up the nitty-gritty on everything from parking regulations (none) to setbacks (starting at 85'). The illustration accompanying the M2-4 explanation features info bubbles that point at two parts of the building: the street wall and the set back, explaining that the building "cannot penetrate sky exposure plane, which begins 85' above the street line." Pretty clear. As expected, new zoning changes and an update of the Special Purpose Districts were added to the book. But it's the inclusion of recent initiatives that makes it worth checking out.  A press release from the agency noted that during the Bloomberg Administration 9,400 blocks have been rezoned. Much of this activity took place when the city prepared for a bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The release touts that smart growth and sustainable principles that took to the fore in the past nine years. New waterfront design guidelines make it into the text, as do incentives for buildings to provide bicycle parking. A couple of pages are devoted to explaining the FRESH Food Stores Program, a zoning incentive that encourages grocery stores to provide fresh food stores in underserved neighborhoods. A glossary of planning terms assumes the reader is completely new to the subject without being condescending. The book even goes so far as to define the term "building" (a structure that has one or more floors and a roof), but then the elaborates by defining detached, semi-detached, and zero lot line buildings. One section explains how to read zoning maps and another summarizes the NYC Zoning Resolution. There are explanations of the Inclusionary Housing Program, an update on Privately Owned Public Spaces (a.k.a. "POPS"), and a diagram for proper tree planting in parking lots. Public libraries, government officials, and community boards will get copies of the book, which can be bought at the agency's book store at 22 Reade Street for $35.
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Partying for the World Architectural Festival
The 2011 World Architecture Festival was in town beating the drum for their international competition at the Van Alen Institute last night. Paul Finch, the festival's program director, was joined by AN Editor-in-Chief William Menking and Van Alen Chair Abbey Hamlin in hosting the star-studded event. The frigid weather did not deter a distinguished crowd—white maned Richard Meier, red scarved Bernard Tschumi, man of the hour Thomas Leeser, Parks Commish Adrian Benepe—from celebrating what promises to be a hot ticket this November in Barcelona. With his English lilt Finch thanked the crowd for coming and promised his remarks would steer clear of Ricky Gervais territory. He briefly outlined some of the goals for this year's program, which included a bigger tent to incorporate interior architecture as well. While no hat was passed, Finch did say that the organization would be happy to take donations in any denomination. Jan Berman of MechoShade promptly offered to make a donation in lira.
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Mega-Church Meltdown
Major architecture for the mega-industry, from left to right, by Johnson, Johnson, Neutra, and Meier.
Scott Frances / Esto

Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the gleaming Southern California mega-church conglomerate, has filed for bankruptcy, citing pressures from creditors and deep shortfalls in donations to its Hour of Power television appeals.

Once a pioneer in media ministries, thanks to the gentle charisma and entrepreneurial fervor of its founder, Reverend Robert Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral defined destination architecture in its era, with glass-sheathed buildings that pushed upward from the flat landscape by Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson, and a later addition to the Garden Grove campus by Richard Meier.

Those improbable architect-client combinations were rare cases where modern and postmodern design could be compatible with Evangelical Christianity. Who knew? As debts mount, could those structures have been part of the problem, and could they now be sold and put to other use, or seized by angry creditors?

Philip Johnson's Bell Tower to the left of the International Center for Possibility Thinking by Richard Meier.

The ministry’s future did not always look so grim. In 1955, the Iowa-born Schuller of the Reformed Church of America found a religious dimension in suburbia’s motor culture, before Orange County became a suburb. He turned a local drive-in movie theater into the country’s first drive-in church on Sunday mornings when he preached from the roof of a concession stand, and his wife Arvella played the organ by his side. Transforming a place that the movie industry categorized as a teenage “passion pit” into a sacred place required an act of faith and $10 rent every Sunday. The wager paid off.

 
The Crystal Cathedral by Johnson with Neutra's tower of Hope in the background.
 

Schuller also bet that commissioning Richard Neutra in 1958 to build a glass drive-in/walk-in church one mile away from Disneyland would give the ministry a unique profile. It did. Worshippers drove to the church with the high steeple and to the parking lots with terraced sight lines, and televised services began in 1970. Even with the church in bankruptcy, the Hour of Power still airs globally every Sunday. Only Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and 60 Minutes have been on the air longer. Schuller’s program has had a longer life than many buildings.

Neutra’s airy design—with a reflecting pool, walls that slid open, and a cross atop the Tower of Hope that could be seen for miles—established an affinity with Schuller’s message of love, light, and “possibility thinking” (his new, improved version of “positive thinking” from Norman Vincent Peale). The Jewish architect’s notions of bio-realism and therapy through architecture seemed a world away from Schuller’s Midwestern Calvinism that judged individuals by the “bottom line” of their achievements, yet the bond between the two was strong.

While graceful, the Neutra designs could only be called pioneering in Orange County. By 1964 Neutra’s Tower of Hope and Disneyland’s Matterhorn nearby were the two tallest points in the county. Neutra’s memorial service in 1970 was held at Garden Grove.

As the ministry grew, another act of faith sought to differentiate the campus from the sea of concrete around it. Arvella Schuller was inspired by Philip Johnson’s Fort Worth Water Gardens (1974) and Johnson was hired to design a new glass church that would be larger than the Neutra structure, where TV had taken over much of the space in the same way that residential subdivisions and commercial sprawl displaced the old drive-in theaters. Client and architect found a kinship again.

Johnson, an atheist who called himself “an artist and a whore,” became Schuller’s architect, and in 1980 the preacher got a new $21 million silvery glass house, the Crystal Cathedral, one of Orange County’s major tourist attractions. Worshippers sat in Johnson’s radiant space during the Hour of Power, or listened in parked cars, or watched it all as television panned from his stage set to fountains outside. The cathedral’s corporate sheen was reminiscent of Johnson’s Pennzoil building in Houston, and upscale enough to convince the congregants that they were the Episcopalians of Revivalism.

By 1990, Johnson added The Bell Tower or Campanile, including melodramatic life-sized sculptures that reminded you that the man who loved modernism also shared cultural roots with the Liberace Museum.

Richard Meier's International Center for Possibility Thinking built in 2003.

Thanks to Armand Hammer (providing introductions to Mikhail Gorbachev) and Rupert Murdoch (satellite access to the former Soviet Union), Schuller’s global reach widened. The architecture made for better television, according to Erica Robles, author of a forthcoming book on the Crystal Cathedral, architecture, and the media.

In 2003, the Crystal Cathedral campus expanded even further, and at greater cost, with a $40 million International Center for Possibility Thinking, a generic visitors center in embossed curved steel and glass designed by Richard Meier.

The dream-team campus’ financial collapse defies familiar tales of greedy right-wing evangelists enriching themselves and spending lavishly on homes and luxuries. The Hour of Power had no strong right-wing political agenda. Crystal Cathedral leaders were paid reasonable salaries and most of the construction, albeit by celebrity architects, was funded by contributions. In the past two years, as Robert Schuller’s children miscalculated on internet expansion and funded a lavish, money-losing production called Creation, those contributions fell 24 percent. (Most creditors are media firms or vendors, not builders.)

There’s no clear prophetic element to the Schuller fall from grace besides the inherent risk in passing the reins of an empire to one’s children. Charisma isn’t transferable, nor is it always genetic, as the Schullers have learned to their chagrin. Another lesson is that the risk to any mega-church depends on how leveraged it is, and on its dependency on the personal appeal of a single pastor.

So far, none of Schuller’s wealthy patrons has risen to ease the debt, although one might have found the money if Schuller’s message echoed Tea Party rhetoric. A revenue trickle comes from opening its parking lots to the public, yet a worsening crisis could force the Crystal Cathedral back to its roots. “A lot of those drive-ins didn’t make money showing feature films,” said Erica Robles. Possibilities range from flea markets to biker shows, to mergers with Christians who have capital. If I were choosing, the Meier building would be the first on the block. Jim Coleman, the Crystal Cathedral’s creative director and Robert Schuller’s son-in-law, swears that there are no plans to sell any of the campus architecture. “We are faithful people. Remember, the Israelites had their backs against the Red Sea when Moses took them there,” he said.

Where on the dark side might the Schuller empire end up if things don’t work out the way they did for Moses? What if they scheduled an apocalypse, and no cars drove in? Surely, icons for sale wouldn’t be a sin. God knows.

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AN′s Twelfth-Hour Gift Grab 2010
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The Reign of TV in Spain
A recent trip to Barcelona for the World Architecture Festival (WAF) made clear to me just how well the nations of the European Union do at updating their historic centers. American tourists, of course, go to places like Spain to see medieval or Renaissance urbanism not contemporary cities. And that’s a shame because we could learn a great deal about how to build today and add intelligently to our own 19th and 20th century cities. The WAF takes place in a totally new city near the 2004 Herzog and deMeuron-designed Barcelona Forum, but even in the old city the Richard Meier-designed Macba Museum boldly asserts itself in the medieval core. Down La Ramblas from the quarter where the white Macba sits is another contemporary museum, the Santa Monica Museum, which is a kunsthalle. The museum does not collect art, but serves as a multidisciplinary center for art, science, thought, and communication. Even here Americans could learn a thing or two about contemporary culture, in this case, one of our favorites: television. The exhibition, "TV/Arts/TV" details the history of video art and includes all the pioneers of the movement including Dan Graham, Muntadas, Chris Marker, Gary Hill and Wolf Vostell. The exhibition is comprised almost entirely of spatially compelling installations that should be of interest to architects for its content and power to communicate with an audience. One piece, "From Receiver to Remote control... channeling Spain 2010", by New Yorkers Judith Barry and Ken Saylor with Project Projects, cork screwed through a dead end hallway with 91 photographs and 10 flat screens with audio that trace how television "transforms the social space of the home and family relations" (though the show closed on Saturday this piece has been extended through January). Based on an earlier version of the installation that focused on American television and the home, this piece compares some of the differences and similarities in television history between Spain and the U.S. in relationship  to the  'participatory.' It makes the point that "while television is often considered a monolithic entity, it differs from culture to culture. Tele-visual space produces personal and collective identities across 'national' and global boundaries where the viewer is implicated in questions of how media is democratized" and invites spectator participation. The narrowness of the hallway exhibition space and the displays on all the surrounding surfaces envelope museum-goers bringing us literally inside television as much as when we view a TV screen from a comfy chair at home.  With so many American artists involved, it's only a shame that I had to go Spain to see this thought-provoking work.
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The Meier Menorah

Starchitect Richard Meier is now in the Judaica business, sort of. He recently designed a limited edition menorah and series of mezuzahs for The Jewish Museum in New York. The menorah is based on the Meier Lamp, a piece that was originally commissioned by the Israel Museum in 1985. And just in time for Hanukkah (which begins December 1st), this limited edition menorah can be purchased through The Jewish Museum Shop. Meier's menorah is part of Design Edition JM, the first curated collection of modern Judaica by contemporary artists and designers. And he isn't alone wading into the (holy) waters of the Judaica market - Daniel Libeskind, Karim Rashid, and Jonathan Adler have also designed menorahs for that were available at Jewish museum shops. What inspired Meier (who himself is a member of the tribe) in his design? A collective memory of suffering and anti-Semitism. "In the design of the Hanukkah Menorah I was trying to express the collective memory of the Jewish people," explains Meier. "Each candleholder is an abstracted representation of an architectural style from significant moments of persecution in the history of Jews."  Together they serve as "reminders of the common past and struggles that Jewish people have suffered and their resilience and strength that is so wonderfully captured by the Hanukkah story." But wait, there's more... If your still want to own a little Meier and the $1,000 menorah is out of your price range, think smaller and think lintels - the architect also designed three pewter mezuzahs based on the English, Spanish, and Vienna towers found on the menorah. Retailing for around $125, they will be available for purchase exclusively through all three brick-and-mortar Jewish Museum Shops in New York City as well as online.

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Day for Light
Earl's Gourmet Grub in Mar Vista, designed by FreelandBuck, uses light scoops and fluorescent tubes to illuminate and define the space.
Lawrence Anderson/Esto

Good lighting doesn’t only contribute to space. Sometimes it becomes the defining element. Such is the case with these West Coast restaurants and bars, blessed with good architecture, but really distinguished by lighting schemes that achieve an artistry all their own. LA firm FreelandBuck was inspired by the work of James Turrell in creating large artificial light scoops, while Gulla Jonsdottir created what she called a pyramid of light from over 500 old-fashioned Edison lightbulbs that dominate her Hollywood nightclub My Studio. The combination of artificial and natural light is another mainstay of these projects, blurring the line between inside and out to create a sense of intricacy and ambiguity, playing a vital role in the “layering” of light that architect Peter Bentel, designer of Craft restaurant in Century City, said differentiates a flat surface from one with dimensionality and texture.


Earl's Gourmet Grub by Freelandbuck.   Earl's Gourmet Grub by Freelandbuck.
the light scoops, using both natural and artificial light, offer dramatic focal points for the upscale deli. a series of plywood baffles (right) helps modulate light from fluorescent tubes.
lawrence anderson/esto
 

Earl's Gourmet Grub
Mar Vista
Freelandbuck

Architects David Freeland and Brennan Buck were faced with the dilemma of how to create a space for a gourmet deli that had a contemporary architectural identity but also evoked the rustic appeal of the food. They were commissioned to carry this out inside a 1,000-square-foot storefront in Mar Vista.

Earl’s Gourmet Grub, opened in May, had only a single overhead source of natural light, its skylight. Freeland and Buck set out to devise a way to reproduce that sense of natural light throughout the market, as well as add color and warmth. Inspired by the work of artist James Turrell, they designed two additional light “scoops” with 5-foot by 3-foot apertures alongside the real one, providing both artificial light and greater spatial definition.

Along the wall are secondary light sources, 18 linear fluorescent tubes divided into three sequences mounted against a colorful and intricate wall. “We wanted to bring warmer light into the space. That can be hard to do with fluorescents,” said Freeland. “We wanted to paint the adjacent surfaces to reflect the light and create color.” They also created an undulating corridor of plywood “baffles” to further modulate the light and cast an ambient glow through the shop. The rhythmic baffles also produce a spatial continuity from the front to the back of the space. The firm was able to work within a fairly constrained budget, as well. According to Freeland, Earl’s spent about $4,000 total on lighting.


Backlighting helps emphasize the spaces between Craft's fabric walls.
Blended incandescent and led backlighting accentuates craft's curving fabric walls.
Mark Darley

Craft
Century City
Mark Horton Design, Bentel and Bentel

Lighting plays the lead role in defining the textured and varied architectural elements of this restaurant, an outpost of chef Tom Colicchio’s fast-growing empire of eateries. The 300-seat space was built into a small pavilion in Century City, just adjacent to the CAA Building and the Century Plaza hotel. A floor-to-ceiling storefront allows natural light to flood the area during the day, supplemented with warm artificial light. At night, the lighting takes over, creating a dazzling interplay of surfaces, patterns, and baffling through the storefront.

While San Francisco architect Mark Horton worked with Bentel and Bentel on the design—based largely on craft expressions—he deferred to Bentel on the lighting. The latter devised a strategy that highlights the restaurant’s surfaces, creates an intimate atmosphere and, of course, accentuates the presentation. “It’s dimmed, but it’s very important that you see the food on your plate. It’s one of the reasons you’re eating there,” said Peter Bentel.

Warm strips of blended incandescent and LED backlighting accentuate the restaurant’s large curving fabric walls, which extend to the ceiling; perpendicular strips of recessed lighting offset these walls, creating a textured grid that extends to the ends of the restaurant and adds depth, drawing your eye upward. “We want to create layers of light,” said Bentel. “You can’t just light everything from above or below.” Thin glowing Tesla exposed-filament chandeliers hanging from the ceiling bring added depth and a bit of orange sparkle to the composition. The intimate interaction between lighting, craftsmanship, and architecture is exhibited as well in the large coiled-wire curtains that are dramatically uplit by incandescents, differentiating spaces and changing the mood. Even more atmospheric are the glass wine storage units and a bar back; both are lit from behind by LEDs to reveal glowing colors and textures.


Inside My Studio in Hollywood.
Backlit metallic walls and clusters of perforated hanging lamps provide an appropriately sultry aesthetic.
Skott snider

My Studio
Hollywood
G Plus Design

SCI-Arc grad Gulla Jonsdottir spent years as the deputy to well-known LA interior designer Dodd Mitchell. She’s also worked for Richard Meier and Disney Imagineering, where she was a set designer for Euro and Tokyo Disneyland. Now with her own firm, G Plus Design, she designed My Studio nightclub in Los Angeles. With her penchant for dramatic scene-setting and a knack for the strategic use of unusual lighting, the pairing was a natural.

Jonsdottir’s inspiration, she said, was the idea of an artists’ studio open for a party where the mood is retro, bohemian, and sexy. The key lighting move was the use of large old Edison light bulbs with their exposed filaments. Their orange light casts a warm glow on the models and hipsters who check out the club and provides more old-school character than the usual Hollywood hotspot. As a centerpiece, a pyramid-like cluster of over 500 of these bulbs forms an appealing and flattering light sculpture. Elsewhere, two lines of the bulbs create a “runway of light.”

This being a nightclub, the light plays coy here; its presence is subtle behind columns and perforated metal. The effect is a knowing glamour evocative of a boudoir or somewhere else you’re not supposed to be. Jonsdottir went to flea markets to find old photographers’ lamps—that still work—to mix in with other found items, from antique fans to fabric-strewn columns. In a good way, it feels like a party gone really wild.

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Neutra Nightmare Shakes Westwood
A massing study of the proposed project.
Courtesy PPC Landventures

At a rambunctious and disjointed meeting of the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission last night, neighbors, architects, and others made a final effort to halt a large student housing development across the street from Richard Neutra’s famed Strathmore Apartments in Westwood. Opponents have been trying to stop the project for over a year, and this time they failed again.

The scheme, called Grandmarc Westwood, would be located on the corner of Strathmore Drive and Levering Avenue, next to the UCLA campus. Developed by Dallas-based PPC Landventures, and designed by LA-based Togawa Smith Martin, the rectilinear project will contain 31 multibedroom residential units on six floors, arranged in a triangular plan.

Despite a rejection six times by the Westwood Design Review Board (DRB) on the grounds that its bulk, massing, and character were incompatible with the Westwood Community Plan, the project was approved by the LA City Planning Commission on August 12. The vote last night upheld the commission’s ruling, rejecting an appeal by opponents, who call themselves the Friends of Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments.

“It was a deeply disappointing decision,” said Steven Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, and an outspoken opponent of the project. “For architects this is a very dangerous precedent. It basically nullifies the power of the Design Review Board,” he said. Such review boards generally do not have final say on development decisions, but their recommendations are often upheld. Sann further argued that the project had been altered after the final DRB rejection, a breach of procedure precipitated by private negotiations between the developer and the city.

Dale Goldsmith, a lawyer for PPC Landventures, considers the case closed. “The planning director determined it was fully compliant,” he said. “This is not about changing the rules.” Thanks largely to input from the DRB, the developer did make some concessions, removing a floor of the project, stepping the building in places, adding more landscape and open space, and breaking it down into two pieces instead of a continuous street wall. Supporters at the meeting praised the project’s LEED aspirations and its ability to fill student housing and affordable housing needs. 

But Sann called the changes “woefully inadequate.” He and other opponents insist the building is still far too large for the neighborhood, that it will box in, overwhelm, and cast shadows on the Strathmore Apartments, and that its wall-like frontages will discourage pedestrian connection. Opponents, who also include architects like Richard Meier, Hitoshi Abe, and Craig Hodgetts, also asserted that the building was an example of “mediocre” design and would cause traffic and parking problems and that the large amount of students in the building would tip the delicate balance of occupants in the area.

“They pulled a bait and switch,” said Michael Webb, an occupant of the Strathmore Apartments (and regular contributor to AN). “It looks slightly different but it still has the same amount of units and it still destroys the scale of the neighborhood.” The planning commission ruled that the building’s bulk is allowable under SB1818, which permits increased density when coupled with affordable housing units. There will be only three units of affordable housing at the Grandmarc.

“Shared housing isn’t the issue; the development isn’t compatible with local plans,” said Stephen Resnick, president of the Westwood Homeowners Association. “It’s just a monster project.” It remains undecided if opponents will be pursuing further legal action to try to derail the project.

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Map Quest
Piazza San Marco, Venice.
Courtesy W.W. Norton

Great Public Spaces
Robert F. Gatje
W.W. Norton & Company
$65.00

Robert Gatje has written a book that makes you want to get on a plane and revisit every historic square you have ever seen—and then go to the ones you’ve missed in slightly out-of-the-way places like Rhodes, Nancy, and Halifax.

Wonderful colored maps, inspired by the Nolli Map of Rome, help you understand solid and void, distinguish parterres from pavement, grasp street patterns, and, in some cases, identify significant works of architecture. Clusters of photographs and occasional monochromatic historic prints enable you to experience the squares (which are rarely square) in elevation. Measurements let you sense the size and scale of each square described and compare them to one another. Brief, clear, and informative text provides just enough historical information for context.

Piazza Campidoglio, RomePiazza Camidoglio, Rome.
Courtesy W.W. Norton

Gatje is a New York architect, a former partner of Marcel Breuer and Richard Meier, and author of Marcel Breuer: A Memoir (Monacelli Press, 2000). This is a book only an architect could have written—with careful observations, measurements, materials, orientation, and alterations emphasized. And though at roughly 11 by 11 inches and 224 pages it is a big, beautiful coffee table book likely to stimulate conversation with visitors, it would be great to have in some small portable form as well. I wish maps like Gatje’s existed for all squares.

The only thing missing—and adding it would have obscured its argument—is use, or what goes on inside these urban spaces. Most of the wonderful Italian piazzas in the book are surrounded by some combination of institutions and residences, or have people living on nearby streets. Many have hotels in the vicinity or tourists wandering around. Also, of course, Italians pass through their piazzas, stop for drinks, and dine there. This is the behavior American planners overlooked (or wished for) in the 1960s and ‘70s, when they tried to plant plazas in city centers devoted solely to commerce.

The effort is still underway, as shown in the last project covered, Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon, begun in 1981. Although it is a good example of its type in a reasonably pedestrian-friendly city, it is surrounded by office towers, department stores, and a courthouse, so it is a very different kind of place than an Italian piazza—or New York City’s Union, Washington, and Madison squares. It is an anomaly in a book with inhabited urban spaces as, frankly, is the one local example included—the dazzling Rockefeller Center Plaza. I understand completely why he chose these squares, as they bring some geographical and temporal balance to the book. But surrounded by tall buildings in commercial areas, they don’t quite fit. Their inclusion, though, makes me think he should now write a book on American public spaces from New England greens to recent urban interventions of the Portland type, because the American story is a very different one. American cities, except maybe our own, have been designed “to make cars happy,” as Andrés Duany has so aptly put it. And squares need people on foot, as Gatje points out time and again when assessing squares like the Place Vendôme in Paris, where cars have been allowed to intrude.

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain   Piazza Spagna, Rome
Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain (left), and Piazza Spagna, Rome (right).  
Courtesy W.W. Norton

Without quite saying so, I think he proves that a successful urban public space needs people who live around it—or at least stay around it in apartments, villas, and hotels, as is the case in Venice. Union Square has been remarkably transformed in the last 30 years, not only by the much-touted Greenmarket but by the significant increase in the number of people who live on it or its edges, and the shops and restaurants that serve them.

Besides inspiring wanderlust, this book, which concentrates on European plazas (only four of the 40 are in the U.S.), has made me think more critically about what can be done to make American cities more livable. That is no mean accomplishment.