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The New Green Zone
Courtesy CRA

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) have big, green-tinted development dreams for a 20-acre property bordering the Los Angeles River. On September 23, the city announced the formation of a clean technology manufacturing center in downtown LA, and began seeking “green” firms to populate the CRA/LA-owned site.

According to Alex Paxton, the agency’s manager of policy analysis, the city hopes to tap into a rapidly growing economic sector to drive new job creation, revitalize a former polluted brownfield site, and help inspire other such green tech zones across Los Angeles.

“This is where everyone sees how the U.S. can revitalize its manufacturing economy,” Paxton told AN.

Among the businesses being courted are firms engaged in creating products in clean energy generation, sustainable building materials and furnishings, clean water technology, reduced emissions vehicle technology, manufactured products using recycled or organic materials, and similar clean tech initiatives. According to Paxton, the agency envisions a campus-type environment with a large anchor tenant, a cluster of firms that would manufacture related products, and a clean tech incubator. The project is intended to create not just an industrial zone, said Paxton, but a place where ideas can be shared.

The CRA’s Request For Interest (RFI), due by December 1, explicitly favors larger companies that require between 40,000 and 400,000 square feet, and will participate as owner/users in build-to-suit development or as tenants in developer-owned buildings. The CRA, which will retain ownership of the property, intends to issue RFPs in early 2009, with occupancy expected as early as 2011.

Qualifying companies will receive ample financial and development assistance, such as infrastructure grants, low interest CRA/LA loans, and permit expediting, in addition to access to city, state, and federal financial incentives. Tenants will also need to brush up on their green building guidelines: At minimum, all development must target a LEED Silver rating.

The project was originated by agency CEO Cecilia Estolano, who was exploring the highest and best use in terms of job creation for the 20-acre site, which lies downtown between 12th Street and Washington Blvd., and between Santa Fe Avenue and the Los Angeles River.

But the center promises to do much more. Given Los Angeles’ and California’s mandates for sustainability, Paxton said the CRA/LA sees Los Angeles as not only providing middle-class employees for the project but, also, a steady stream of customers in need of sustainable components and elements. For example, the city itself has a goal of generating 20 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2010 and 35 percent by 2020. The Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest container port, also has ambitious goals to decrease carbon-dioxide emissions.

The CRA said that construction and operation of the center would mesh with the goals of the LA River Revitalization Master Plan, which largely preserves industrial zoning along the river. But that has led some observers to wonder whether there might be even greener uses for the site. “The CRA’s goals and our goals can work together,” said Lewis MacAdam, founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River, a group that has worked since 1986 to bring back natural river habitat in Los Angeles, “but I have not seen anything yet about how this project works with the river.”

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The $6,000 House
A completed 10X10 house (right), with another under construction.
Courtesy UK College of Design

The Pritzker Prize has often been called, or at least explained as, the Nobel Prize of Architecture. If that is the case, then the Curry Stone Design Prize could be considered architecture’s Peace Prize. Established this year by the University of Kentucky College of Design through a generous gift from architect Clifford Curry and his wife H. Delight Stone, the prize honors innovative achievements in humanitarian architecture and design.

MMA Architects of South Africa took the top prize of $100,000, which was announced today by the school. The firm, based in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Berlin, won for their 10X10 house, an extremely affordable structure built using sandbags and timber. It requires no tools or advanced construction knowledge and can be built for slightly more than $6,000, while still presenting a striking, modern design.

“We feel it’s important to give back to the community we come from,” Luyanda Mpahlwa said in a telephone interview. “Most black people in South Africa come from the projects, and the shantytowns are actually growing. No one should be living in shantytowns. So anything we can do to help that, we will.”

Mpahlwa, who shares the firm with Mphethi Morojele, said that a key component of the house was to provide not only shelter but also social justice and pride. The house was originally designed for an affordable housing competition last year that required architects to devise a house for 50,000 rand ($6,200), which required some very unusual thinking. “My view is that there is no way you can use conventional materials and methods if you want to resolve the housing crisis that plagues the world,” Mpahlwa said.

In addition to utilizing inexpensive and locally accessible building materials, which required not even a single electrical outlet to put together, the designers turned to the community to build the houses, the first of which was recently completed, with nine more planned for a community in Cape Town. Mpahlwa said that this approach not only saves on labor costs but gives an added sense of ownership to the occupants and work for those in a community that is riven with unemployment.

Other finalists included Shawn Frayne, who designed the world’s first non-turbine wind-powered generator; Wes Janz, an architect and professor at Ball State University who builds “leftover places” with scavenged material; Marjetica Potrc, an artist who has designed a number of clever devices for impoverished communities, including a “dry toilet” in Caracas and rainwater harvesting system in New Orleans; and Antonio Scarponi, a Venetian architect who constructed a “Dreaming Wall” in Milan that allowed people to text social messages onto it. Each runner-up receives a $10,000 prize.

“From the jury’s point of view, it was both a conventional and unconventional firm doing conventional and unconventional work,” David Mohney, secretary for the prize, said. “They saw it as an inspiration to other conventional firms that they could start doing unconventional work themselves, that they can bring a high level of design and comfort to a project that doesn’t usually have access to it.”

To call MMA unconventional could be considered an understatement. As one of only a handful of black firms in the country, they have long struggled to get work. “Old prejudices die hard,” Mphahlwa said. “Some people take one look at me and do not believe I can build them a house.” The firm took a number of government commissions out of a sense of civic pride and duty but also because they had little choice. Thanks to the success of those projects, including embassies in Berlin and Adis Ababa, they have been able to afford more humanitarian work.

As a testament to MMA’s commitment to that work, when asked what he would do with his share of the money, Mpahlwa said he would probably buy a few more 10X10 houses and send some underprivileged kids to architecture school. On top of the two he has already sent.

Matt Chaban


sandbags HELP FORM THE STRUCTURAL CORE OF THE HOUSE.
 
 

MMA has plans for ten houses in a housing project in cape town, arranged somewhat like in this model, where some houses have been combined into double-wide units.
 
 

Mphahlwa admires his work...
 
 

As do a group of local boys.

Viguier’s Victory

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Q&A: Jane Ellison Usher
Downtown LA at night
Courtesy LACVB

In the heady first days of his administration in 2005, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa handpicked Jane Ellison Usher, a legal adviser to former Mayor Tom Bradley and counsel to the 1984 Olympics, to be president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. He also selected the well-respected Gail Goldberg to be director of the Los Angeles City Planning Department. The two women set out on a course to deliver a great urban city to the mayor by adopting a manifesto entitled “Do Real Planning.” The rich but brief document represented a change in perspective for City Hall: create a beautiful, livable, and walkable city by upholding overall planning strategies rather than allowing city council members to negotiate political favors with developers in individual districts. More than two years later, that vision is taking hits. Not only did the council cast off Goldberg’s policy to protect lots currently zoned for industrial uses citywide, but Councilman Ed Reyes said that each councilperson should be free to determine planning policy in his own district.

Then came the council’s adoption in February of SB 1818, a state bill that provides developers with density bonuses and other incentives in return for constructing affordable housing. When the city council passed an ordinance exempting certain SB 1818 developments from environmental review processes (CEQA), Usher not only opposed the city and its planning department, but she suggested that neighborhood groups sue the city. With insiders wondering whether she would be removed from her position, Tibby Rothman sat down to talk to her about the state of planning in Los Angeles.

The Architect’s Newspaper: Given the events of the last few months, is the era of “Do Real Planning” over before it has begun?

Jane Ellison Usher: There are some foundational activities occurring in the city of Los Angeles that keep “Do Real Planning” alive certainly for me, and hopefully into perpetuity for the rest of the city. But here’s what we’re facing:


COURTESY J.E. USHER
 

One, a planning department that culturally has not been as excited and aggressive as they needed to be to do real planning. There’s a lot of leadership now at the top that’s encouraging them to be more aggressive, to think out of the box, to behave and act differently, but I don’t think there’s a magic bullet.

I would add to that that there’s quite a legacy of absence of planning in Los Angeles. There is some sense of entitlement on the part of the development community to live in a city where planning principals are secondary or perhaps tertiary. It will take us more time than we’ve had to turn that thinking around.

The third piece is the regular practice of the city council to defer to the home district whenever a planning issue is on the table. This practice has caused the city council to forget to think holistically about the city and about a vision that can be achieved if we’re focusing on all the moving pieces at the same time.

You openly invited neighborhood groups to sue the city over its implementation of SB 1818.

I did.

What’s wrong with it?

Part of my dissatisfaction was that my commission wasn’t updated until the day the ordinance took effect. And on that score, I have to say that the planning department did its commission a disservice. But the other part of my dissatisfaction was when I read the final ordinance that day, I saw such departures from all of the “Do Real Planning” conversations that the commission had been having for the last two-and-a-half years. I was taken by surprise by the final product.

An awful lot of work went into [the ordinance] on the council floor and I will confess to you that I don’t think that that’s the optimal place for that volume of change to occur.

Then my eye falls, almost immediately, on language that I had never seen discussed and it does this because I’m a lawyer. I saw a word in the ordinance that means an awful lot to a land-use lawyer and that word is “ministerial.” To a land-use lawyer, anything that is ministerial, by definition, doesn’t require CEQA [environmental impact] review. The ultimate payday for a developer is something that is ministerial, and the ordinance was defining a large set of projects as ministerial. That surprised me.

I went back and looked at the CEQA clearance for the ordinance itself. In January, the planning director had offered the council CEQA: a categorical exemption for the ordinance. And the basis for its being exempt from CEQA was her description of how the ordinance would work, namely, every project using the ordinance’s provision would have its own independent, individualized CEQA clearance. 

So here you find an ordinance that’s categorizing a large class of projects as ministerial and exempt from CEQA and the ordinance saying: Each project will have its own CEQA clearance. The two are inconsistent. 

I took it a step further. In a brochure that the California APA had written for cities as they worked on implementing SB 1818 ordinances, the California APA said that implementing ordinances must have an environmental clearance; they must go through CEQA.

So I stitched all of those pieces together and came to my own conclusion, which was that the city’s implementing ordinance insufficiently attended to CEQA. Whether a court would agree with me remains to be seen, and may never be known. But it absolutely did bother me.

In your opinion, which group hinders Los Angeles from being a great city: those developers who don’t respect the envelope or use mandates, or NIMBYs who fight structures in their neighborhood that could alleviate chronic problems such as affordable housing or mass transit projects?

Well, it’s funny. I don’t think of anybody as being a NIMBY. Somebody coined that less-than-gracious phrase and it stuck. I was thinking about this, and I like to call these people WIMBYs in the city of LA. It’s not “Not In My Backyard.” I’ve met with countless members of residents and homeowners and neighborhood associations and neighborhood councils. Their question is: “What’s In My Backyard?” I find them to be largely very responsible. They simply want to know: What’s going to be in their backyard and have we provided the support and the infrastructure for whatever it is that is going to be located near them?

Those questions are smart questions, the right questions. So if I’m supportive and in league with those kinds of questions, what is it that I have to say to developers? Well, there again, I find the developers to be largely very reasonable. They just want to know what the rules are. So I don’t blame the developers and I don’t blame the homeowners. I find that the most blameworthy place is the department of city planning, which I think has let down both sides of the equation by not defining for them with sufficient specificity what our vision is for land use.

But doesn’t that go to the city council and not the planning department?

I think we should delineate—if you have a department that’s insufficiently staffed and not directed to do real planning, you’re going to have an unhappy outcome. Here we are at a crossroads, where we’re asking the right questions, we’re staffing up the department, we’re focusing on rewriting all of the community plans with an eye to do real planning. If these plans arrive at the city council and as a consensus-building matter become adopted, we should see a different kind of city in the future, one with lots of predictability and much less uncertainty. If these plans arrive at the city council a year, two years, three years from now and are eviscerated—then you’ll have your answer. 

The word on the street is that the mayor will quietly remove you because of the email you sent out on SB 1818. What’s your response? 

I work in my role as the president of the commission at the pleasure of the mayor and on any day, at any time, it is absolutely his prerogative to remove me and that’s a power unique to him and he should exercise it whenever he thinks the time is right. 

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Charles Warren Callister, 1917-2008
CHARLES CALLISTER

Charles Warren Callister died in Novato, California on April 3. Although he grew up in New York, Florida, Ohio, and Texas, he finally settled in San Francisco, making a name for himself as a preeminent postwar California architect. As a teenager, Callister studied art at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, leading to the formal study of architecture, art, and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1941, drafted into the Army, he helped build the Alcan Highway in Alaska with the Corps of Engineers and later served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps.

After World War II, Callister, his wife Mary Frances, and their two sons moved to Northern California, where he and his former Texas classmate Jack Hillmer (1918-2007) established an architectural practice. They were both active in Telesis, an organization of architects, planners, and artists charged with optimism, idealism, and an ambition to take part in creating a better world. Their first project, the Hall House in Kentfield (1947), was designed with rough redwood recycled from a stable and built on a post-tensioned concrete slab, considered to be the first residential application of that new technology in the United States. The house attracted national recognition in both the professional and popular press.

In 1950, Callister established an independent practice just across the Golden Gate in Tiburon, which expanded to an east coast office in Amherst, Massachusetts in the 1960s. The firm designed custom houses, churches, and entire communities, winning many awards, including the National Lumberman’s 1965 Wood Structure Design Award. In 1983, Callister received the prestigious San Francisco Art Commission Award of Honor. His most recognized designs are the Christian Science churches in Belvedere (1952) and Mill Valley (1955), California; the Mills College Chapel (1958) in Oakland, California; and the UC Santa Cruz Field House (1955). Rossmoor (1964), a retirement community in Walnut Creek, California, gained the firm national attention. Warren was an early pioneer among architects, bringing high-level design into major housing developments and new communities. Callister’s design partners included Jack Hillmer, Jack Payne, Jim Bischoff; David Gately, Michael Heckmann. Most recently, he worked with Barry Peterson on a church in Capitola, California, now under construction.

Callister’s design process depended on walking the site and listening, a technique he learned from the photographer Minor White, who had chronicled the Hall House extensively in 1947. “You leave yourself open and it all starts flooding in. You’re listening for more than superficial things. The most powerful things come in when you listen. You have to find the architecture, you don’t come to it preconceived,” Callister once said, later writing: “From the beginning, the really great interest for me has been in the development of an architecture that is as free of style and trends as I can possibly achieve. The great lesson to be discovered in the Bay region lies in the shared response of clients and associates to the social, spiritual, and natural environment in creating together appropriate designs that belong to the natural environment and that are rooted in the nature of the clients. I believe, even more so now than in the beginning, that unique and appropriate architectural design is inherent in the process of working and designing and building with others, in actually generating the architecture wherever it is.” 

Private Greens

With the passage of a new sustainability ordinance on Earth Day (April 22) Los Angeles joined the small list of cities in the United States that require green building in private development.

The ordinance would require all buildings at or over 50,000 square feet or 50 units, or residential buildings over 6 stories tall, to attain the equivalent of LEED-Certified standards under the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. 

The City chose the 50,000 square foot threshold, said Claire Bowin, project manager for the LA City Planning Department, to help encourage more applications. She said the city should receive about 200 projects per year under the ordinance, and that every seventh project in the program would be audited to insure compliance. “We feel like we built a lot of flexibility into the ordinance and we really didn’t strive for more stringent standards because we wanted to get out of the gate,” she said.

The measure, whose first major milestone was its passage through the City Council’s Energy and Environment and Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committees last February, was initiated last year, when City Planning director Gail Goldberg, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made the development of a private green building program for the City a priority in a July 2007 decree. 

While the ordinance does not require buildings to go through LEED certification, a sometimes costly enterprise, the USGBC’s LEED program was used for several reasons. “LEED is an outstanding program that consistently evolves, it is run by a non-profit organization, it is a national standard, and the City already adopted it to regulate its own building activity,” Bowin explained. 

Dr. Lance Williams, executive director of the LA Chapter of the USGBC, said, “For a city this size, this is certainly a very progressive step.” He also noted that LA has emerged as a leader in green building, citing that his organization voted the LA Chapter number one in the nation for advocacy and training of LEED-Accredited Professionals (LEED-APs). 

Local jurisdictions with existing green building ordinances for private development throughout the country include Santa Monica and West Hollywood, and San Mateo County, California; Boulder, Colorado; Chicago, and Boston. Los Angeles County is also in the process of adopting its own green building ordinances. These ordinances, including one for green building, one for drought tolerant landscaping, and one for Low Impact Development, are expected to begin the public review and approval process this summer. Currently in Los Angeles County all new County buildings or projects that receive County funding over 10,000 square feet must attain LEED Silver or comparable standards. And in the City of Los Angeles, government buildings over 7,500 square feet must attain LEED-certified standards. 

With this new ordinance, projects that voluntarily achieve a LEED Silver or higher rating will be expedited through the City’s often-onerous permitting process. The law also establishes criteria for the City to certify staff members as LEED-AP. In order to track the progress of the program, the ordinance will create the Green Building Team, a group of elected officials and city staff that are experts in the development process including planners, architects, engineers, and safety personnel, which will be charged with encouraging innovation, removing the obstacles to green building, and to facilitate the city’s green building objectives. The team will offer annual reports to the City Council on the progress of the program as well as recommendations for its amendment in the future. 

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Eavesdrop

 
T-SHIRTS DON’T TALK THE TALK
We weren’t walking the floor during the AIA convention, but instead were here chained to our cubicle and relishing the thought of the juicy stories that would undoubtedly come back with our colleagues. Granted, San Antonio is no Vegas, but we thought that there were sure to be open bars, flaring tempers, overweening egos, and cutting remarks. But we have waited in vain, friends, in vain! Not a peep from Texas, unless you count the grumblers who sniffed that the free Guayabera shirts they received were made out of polyester and thus not very sustainable, and that the free guidebooks were tough to find and thus not very helpful. But there is a hope for redemption, and its name is the ICFF. During New York Design Week, the heady mixture of springtime, curvy organic forms, and free cocktails will surely produce some good stories. We’re counting on you!

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
No one ever became an architect for the money, but even so, when you hear that the average salary of a practitioner with 10 years of experience hovers in the mid-60s, it makes you wish you’d considered banking or writing pulp mystery novels or being a curator…Yes, a curator! Our old pals Aaron Betsky andTerence Riley, directors of the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Miami Art Museum, respectively, are both relatively new to their jobs but got packages worth over $300,000. Not bad, gentlemen! In their May issue, the diligent researchers at The Art Newspaper (no relation, though we do like it quite a bit) compiled a list of the earnings of the directors of some major art museums, and it makes for good reading. Close to home, Paul Warwick Thompson of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum collects a tidy $250,000 for his labors there. The jaw-dropper in the list is Glen Lowry at MoMA, who gets $1.4 million a year, when you figure in his various perks and benefits. To their great credit (and our great delight), the editors at The Art Newspaper headlined the piece with: “Highest-paid US Director gets 31x salary of Uffizi director”, which puts things into perspective. However, we seem to recall hearing that Lowry had written his thesis on Islamic architecture, so there may be hope for us yet.

IN THE PINK
And lastly, to make up for all of the gossip we didn’t hear from the AIA convention: Which ubiquitous designer is said to have left his wife for his male lover? He has never been one to keep quiet about anything, as far as we can tell, and has been quoted as saying “Guilt is a buzzkill.” 

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OVER BOOKED

Archi-Tours
Architecture Now!
Philip Jodidio
Taschen, $39.99

Architecture in Japan
Architecture in the Netherlands
Architecture in Switzerland
Architecture in the United Kingdom

Philip Jodidio
Taschen, $24.95 each




Following the success of the first three titles of its Architecture Now! series, Taschen is introducing a fourth installment this summer, as well as a new collection of books that survey contemporary architecture organized by country. The new series, written by the publishing house's go-to architectural historian Philip Jodidio (who, besides authoring the Architecture Now! books, has written several monographs for Taschen), is kicking off with books on Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Each volume opens with a brief essay summarizing the national architecture culture (all texts are offered in English, French, and German), followed by presentations of recent work by 15 to 20 architects, organized alphabetically by firm. Though the selection of firms and projects might seem obvious to those who follow the international design scene closely, they accurately reflect the mixture of regional and international influences that pervade architecture today. While Jodidio looks to an international array of architects working in each countryyArchitecture in Switzerland in particular has a number of non-native architectssin general, he privileges local talent. For example, the Japan volume includes stores in Tokyo by Toyo Ito and Jun Aoki, while the famous Prada Store by Herzog & de Meuron is left out. This focus allows the character of each country to emerge and makes the idea of national surveys feel worthwhile.
jaffer kolb is an editor at AN.



EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Here is Tiajuana!
Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta, Heriberto Yepez
Black Dog Publishing, $29.95




In the days following 9/11, a spontaneous, self-curated show called Here Is New York appeared in a SoHo storefront. A collection of photographs related to the World Trade Center tragedy taken by anyone who wanted to submit their work, the show was included in its entirety in the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Life of the City, nine months later. The show borrowed its name from E. B. White's essay, a title that has levitated over Manhattan's literary world since the original was published in 1949. It is the perpetual present tense of White's title that the exhibition revised and that captured the instant change in life in New York at 9/11. The most startling thing about the exhibition was how it cast a state of crisis as a continual present tense.

Here Is Tijuana! offers another perpetual present-tense emergency, though one that has persisted for a far longer period of time. Written and edited by anthropologist Fiamma Montezemolo, architect Rene Peralta, and philosopher Heriberto Yepez, who all teach and practice in Tijuana and San Diego, Here Is Tijuana! fits in the genre of books that in the last 20 years have embarked on a urban reconnaissance mission. Mixing images, texts, data, and interviews from a range of sources, the book maps everyday life in Tijuana against a broad backdrop of social and economic data. As a form of urban theory, its referent is most clearly Mike Davis' City of Quartz (Vintage, 1992) and Albert Pope's Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press, 1997), but its graphic design and visual content place it closer to The Contemporary City (Zone Books, 1987) and The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (Taschen, 2002).

All these books invented new forms of urban research but are by and large set in a somber lull, unable to harness indignation or fear to overcome outright predation. Here is Tijuana! is not as carefully constructed as any of these books, though its urgency is more vivid, documenting a daily reality that's of direct concern to the book's authors. After emergingg for the last 50 years, Tijuana is still perceived as what the authors describe as a transaction without another transaction,, a place that operates on the continual verge of something. But this is not the same Tijuana of 30 years agoothen understood as a kind of urban dam of people pressed against the U.S. border. Tijuana is inequity, defined to a large degree by its proximity to the U.S., but it is also now a teaming and centerless milieu that expands east and south, as much as it presses north.

Here Is Tijuana! captures the city's present but also shows its future potentials. It is no longer defined as a failed transaction with San Diego; it is also the largest zone of electronics-assembly plants in Mexico, for example, and has many self-sustaining industries.

Here Is Tijuana! presents a place and a condition, both begging to be understood. The book is filled with latent questions: How do we constitute the depiction of social emergencies today? How do we see them and respond to them, and what is the recourse for those who live under crisis conditions when the processes that would allow change are perpetually out of reach? It's obvious the book's authors love the city, and are not demonstrating social need as much as human potential.
Michael Bell is a New Yorkkbased architect and associate professor at Columbia University's GSAPP.



GRAND PRIX
Get Off My Cloud: Wolf D. Prix,
Coop Himmelb(l)au, Texts 196882005
Edited by Martina Kandelerf-Fritsch
and Thomas Kramer Hatje Cantz, $50.00



Courtesy hatje cantz
A rendering of the BMW Welt, the automaker's distribution center by Coop Himmelb(l)au, which began construction in 2004.

Wolf Prix, who cofounded Coop Himmelb(l)au with Helmut Swiczinsky in 1968, is one of the few to come out of the experimental architecture groups of the 1960s still designing at a very high level. In fact, unlike other radicall survivors of the 1960s (Peter Cook of Archigram is another), Prix has moved from paper architecture to important built works. Get Off My Cloud, a compilation of Prix's writings, spans his career, from 1968 to 2005. In the book's foreword, Christian Reder, an author and art professor, notes that Prix confronts an almost compulsively paralyzed public and its leading exponents with a staccato tempo of model-like solutions, only his are expanded by the freedom of no longer having to believe in a revolution.. His writings show that he is still a believer.

Over the 26 years covered in the book, Prix's writings have gone from poetic manifesto to drier, academic-speak, but he remains critical of consumerism, ephemeral e-commerce, conceptual minimalism, and media hyped renderings.. To his credit, he maintains that architects must confront background contexts, programs, and new technologiess and recognize that architecture is a social portrait..

Prix argues, Only star architects, who have developed a potential for resistance, are able to influence what's happening in building..Coop Himmelb(l)au's recent commissions like the BMW project in Munich have moved Prix into the celebrity stratosphere, but can he translate his visionary thoughts into visionary construction? It will take more than words, but he appears to be well on his way.
WM
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THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Cedric Price: Retriever: Annotations 7
Edited by Eleanor Bron and Samantha Hardingham
Institute of International Visual Arts Publishers, 9.99


Cedric Price was a wonderfully iconoclastic public figure, a left-wing radical until he died in 2003. Though many famous anecdotes about his antics are in circulationnlike the time he refused to give a lecture at the Architectural Association until Alvin Boyarksy, then head of the school, brought a snifter of cognac to the lecternnstill very little is known about him. A definitive biography of Price has yet to be written. But this loose-leaf catalogue offers a beginning toward understanding the man, by providing a look into his private library.

The publication is a list of every book, magazine, newspaper, bulletin, and map in Price's library, along with a key describing the personal inscriptions and enigmatic markings littered throughout them. Samantha Hardingham, a research fellow at the University of Westminster, and Price's long-time partner, actress Eleanor Bron, began cataloguing his library in 2004.

One example of something that appears in the key is an ink stamp of a pig with hoofs draped over the edge of a page, which shows up repeatedly. In one instance, it comes with Price's obscure note, Bath chaps + cooked pig cheeks.. The editors add the helpful annotation, reference to Bath, Somerset. CP loathed the place, like the chaps..

Price's books range from childhood mementos to scholarly tomes on architecture and city planning. A 1943 book Narrow Streets was given to him as a school prize and the editors remark, At the age of 9 CP was invited to choose his own prize. He chose this book. Having spotted it in the window of the local bookshop, he assumed it had to do with town planning. Are you sure this is what you want?' his teacher asked. It turned out to be a novel about a blue-blooded East End girl adopted by a wealthy society woman, set during the war in London.. We also learn that in 1960 Buckminister Fuller gave Price a copy of his unpublished text How Little I Know and it is inscribed with uncharacteristic modesty to Cedric & Liz who is well aware of how little I know. With affectionate regard Bucky Fuller..

The catalogue is a quick read and a cryptic introduction to Price. It also reminds us how much more we want to know about him. WM



HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
Nearest Thing to Heaven:
The Empire State Building and American Dreams,
Mark Kingwell,
Yale University Press, $26.00


For architects, the Empire State Building seems somewhat beyond the pale, its very perfection or essential embodiment of a categoryy the skyscraperrmakes it, strangely, uninteresting. As the Mona Lisa must be to art historians, or Casablanca to cinnastes, there's something vaguely embarrassing about the topic, despite or because of its popular acclaim. Compounding the matter for a provincial architectural profession enamored with narratives about the power of individual architects and the grace of individual clients, the Empire State Building, like Casablanca, was a strange and deeply fortuitous convergence: a perfect storm of narrow talents and experienced hacks who together made the best thing any of them ever did. They aimed for pic- turesque and got sublime. Even Rem Koolhaas, expert in recycling local color into pedigreed architectural rhetoric, focuses in Delirious New York not on the Empire State but on the building it replaced when it began construction in 1929, the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

But architects aren't the only ones with this blind spot. The Empire State Building's uncanny visible invisiblity is the main and best theme developed in Nearest Thing to Heaven by Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. One dramatic feature of the Empire State Building,, he observes, is its tendency to disappearrthat is, as Wittgenstein said of language, to lie hidden in its obviousness.'' Elsewhere, Kingwell aptly applies Hegel's comment, The known, just because it is known, is the unknown.. At their best, Kingwell's diverse musings about movies, landscapes, and keepsakes accumulate into a new way of knowing and unknowing the familiar building. These culminate in an entertaining episode of visibility, mechanical reproduction, and anxiety in which the author is detained, lining up to visit the Empire State observation deck, because x-rays of his bag reveal the weapon-like profile of a miniature souvenir of the building itself. Much of the book is similarly sharp, only occasionally veering into the anodyne assertions ((Though we long to scrape it, the sky always retreats from our touchh) we might fear from an author whose other titles include Catch and Release Trout Fishing and the Meaning of Life (Penguin, 2005).

More alarming is to see an accredited philosopher so easily bamboozled by the quasi-philosophizing of architects. This is not theoretical fancy,, Kingwell solemnly concludes after a long quote from Koolhaas, which was of course just that. This crudeness of his architectural understanding begins to seem willful when Kingwell blurs Antonio Sant'Elia with Le Corbusier, Mies with Loos, and Walter Gropius with Bruno Taut, in ways that serve his argument but not the historical record. The latter's name is spelled Tout,, perhaps to better rhyme with trout..

It's tempting to excuse Kingwell as he excuses the muddle-headed scholarship in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead: Rand's concern wasn't really with architecture, of course. It was a practice she did not really understand.. But the stakes are too high. Any new book about a New York skyscraper is tacitly about those other disappearing skyscrapers, the late, great Twin Towers. Kingwell doesn't flinch from the reference: Since the last days of 2001, the [Empire State] building has assumed a new brightness, a more resonant luster. [I]f such a thing is possible, it has somehow become more visible than before. That mysterious dynamic between longing and visibility is the subject of this book,, throughout which we get sideways glances downtown, sentences like the one that begins Skyscrapers, like airplaness? and continuous retroactive foreshadowing.

But Kingwell's trivial treatment of the World Trade Center's architecture diminishes, or is diminished by, his rhetorical use of its destruction. In contrast to his polymorphous readings of Empire State, his interpretation of the Trade Center is direly narrow. He writes, The aesthetics of the World Trade Centerrrather, the lack of themmare again significant here. Yamasaki was afraid of heights, and perhaps as a result the twin towers exhibited none of the soaring quality found even in the earliest skyscrapers.. Forgiving the odd use of soaring,, that breezy clause between the dashes requires an entire book. Elsewhere, Kingwell describes its absolute refusal not only of decoration [[] but of any suggestion of grace or style.. And yet what Yamasaki brought to International Style modernism with the Twin Towers was precisely a stylish new interest in decoration and the fussily graceful detail, all the way down to those gothic arches decorating their base. Kingwell's assertion that New York without the Empire State Building is unimaginable, far more so than without the World Trade Centerr suggests an alarming relativism of unimaginabilities, and prompts one to wonder whose New York he's imagining.

At best, Kingwell is merely mistaking his own impressions for architectural intentions, and in philosophical terms, hypothetical imperatives for categorical ones. At worst, one worries that he's looking to find in the World Trade Center the solemnity that would give some grounding to this otherwise pleasantly airy book. But because all the spooky hints and feints don't add up with the same care Kingwell elsewhere applies, he veers into the bathetic. An early description of Empire State concludes, There was, inevitably, another facet, or shard of meaning [[]: a thought of fatal conjunction, airplane and skyscraper surfaces touching farther downtown, destruction of the still missing towers.. The problem is that word inevitably.. The destruction of the Twin Towers is an easy point of reference, reliably adding depth or resonance or borrowed poignancy to arguments that haven't necessarily earned it. The very ease with which 9/11 can, and has been, deployed in critical and political discourse, demands that it be engaged with ever more precision and accuracyylest that day's own causes and consequences suffer the same fate Kingwell suggests has befallen the Empire State Building: knownn and thus unknown, invisible behind apparent visibility.
Thomas de Monchaux is a New Yorkkbased writer and architect.



JUNK CULTURE
Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America
Giles Slade, Harvard University Press, $27.95




With the Al Goreenarrated An Inconvenient Truth in movie theaters and Brad Pittt voice-overed series Design:e22The Economies of Being Environmentally Conscious now airing on PBS, the specter of environmental disaster is on everybody's mind (as if you needed to be reminded). But despite the rise in public consciousness, there appears to be a growing, even frenzied, consumer interest in the next new thinggthe new cell phone, computer, car, and iPoddall destined for an ever-shortening product life and the inevitable landfill.

In Made to Break, Giles Slade, an independent scholar, charts the history of this essentially American phenomenon and, some might say, the country's greatest cultural export. Architects and designers concerned about their own contributions to this trend should pay attention to the story he tells, if only to see what they're up against.

Slade's highly readable book is not an academic history but a collection of revealing and deftly organized anecdotes. For instance, we learn in the span of just a few pages how single men and women, recently transplanted to the country's growing metropolises, first spurred the demand for disposable products in the late 19th century. Without the time (or mothers nearby) to do laundry regularly, single men, Slade tells us, began to buy throw-away paper collars and cuffs en masse. Soon after, disposable razors were invented and then cheaply made wristwatches and so on. For women, the invention of a new absorbent material made from celluloiddoriginally used in military bandages in World War IIled to the creation of sanitary napkinss in 1920; this was followed by disposable kerchiefss (named Kleenex) and, later, nylon tights.

Slade's ability to tell an entertaining story, however, does not prevent him from supporting it with meaningful analysis. For instance, it's not lost on him that these early, revolutionary products mostly had to do with hygiene. Personal hygiene has always had deep moral associations, so it should come as no surprise that advertisers and social progressives alike began to vilify what they called thriftt and economyy as miserly and morally dirty.. These campaigns were decisive, Slade argues, in shaping early consumer habits and value judgments, acclimating the public to a culture of repetitive consumption and paving the way for the manufacturing practice known as planned obsolescence.

This brings us to the focus of the book. Slade carefully distinguishes between different categories of obsolescence and builds up to a powerful critique of the practice by, among other things, recounting the many dubious arguments made on its behalf. An early proponent was the mid-century industrial designer Brooks Stevens, famous for his Edmilton Petipoint clothes iron and car designs for Alfa Romeo. We make good products,, he wrote in 1958, induce people to buy them, and then next year deliberately introduce something that will make those products old-fashioned, out of date, obsolete. We do that for the soundest reason: to make money.. What Stevens is really describing is psychological obsolescence, or the feeling that what one owns is hopelessly old-fashioneddnot broken, mind you, or even inefficient, just out of date. Psychological obsolescence is one kind of planned obsolescence; another is sometimes called death-datingg and is usually achieved through product manipulation. General Electric has been accused of doing the latter with their light bulbs, and General Motors, according to Slade, pioneered the former in 1927 when it began to introduce new models on a yearly basis. It would surprise more than a few to discover that Henry Ford was an early champion of products that will last foreverr and that it was he, not those he dominated in the market, who lost this fight.

It is harder these days to get away with death-dating but clearly, psychological obsolescence through annual (even biannual) design modification is ubiquitous. Many in the 1950s, like industrial designer George Nelson, saw it as a prodigious tool for social betterment,, stimulating economic growth, generating new technologies, and steadily reducing prices to the advantage of the less fortunate. This is still a deeply engrained way of thinking, but most of us today are aware of its limitations. We are less likely now than we once were to take the increasing number of households with large screen TVs (to pick a common example in the economic literature) as evidence of social progress, as if it implied that such people were benefiting meaningfully from an apparent increase in purchasing power. These days we're careful to weigh more heavily the value of the environment, healthcare, and education.

The book that Made to Break brings most immediately to mind is Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Like that book, Slade's is a page-turner with a purpose, but it is also less a revelation than a mine of useful information. Like all good histories, it makes the obvious facts seem a little less pre-determined, like they might just be something we have the power to change. David Giles is an editorial intern at AN.



UNMIXED GREENS
Ecological Architecture: A Critical History
James Steele, Thames & Hudson, $55.00

Ten Shades of Green:
Architecture and the Natural World

Peter Buchanan,
Architectural League of New York (distributed by W.W. Norton), $24.95



christian richters / courtesy architectural league
Renzo Piano's Fondation Beyeler (Riehen, 1997) combines stone walls and steel panels to achieve low-cost heating and cooling and to fit in with its surroundings.

With an oilman in the White House who only reluctantly acknowledges that global warming is a threat, the environmental movement clearly needs all the protagonists it can get. Two lavishly illustrated new books offer architects tips for building a more sustainable future. Peter Buchanan's Ten Shades of Green, based on an exhibition he curated at the Architectural League of New York in 2000, identifies ten green principles or attributes from a range of contemporary work that, according to the author, any design can embody. Meanwhile, James Steele's Ecological Architecture: A Critical History showcases two centuries of exemplary green architecture from around the world. While Steele guides us through evolving ecological thought, Buchanan provides a vocabulary for scoring a design's greenness. Both books show how insightful design has always respected local tradition and responded to its settings, taking advantage of natural light and wind.

Of the two books, Steele's offers a clearer prescription for dealing with future challenges. Steele presents capsule portraits of influential architects, from Ebenezer Howard through Buckminster Fuller to Paolo Soleri and Tadao Ando, and maintains an intellectual thread that thematically links chapters on subjects from new urbanism to digital design. With carefully chosen drawings and photos, and a dose of purple prose, he captures the heady ambition that propels innovation. In addressing postmodernism's interest in history, Steele writes that designers like Robert Venturi and Michael Graves began to suggest that all platonic solids had subliminal linguistic meaning.. Steele's portraits remind us that great green architecture can be transporting as well as comfortable.

London-based author and architect Buchanan relies on categories, or shades,, that make design sustainable, followed by concise analyses of nine large-scale projects and four houses. One shade is Embedded in Place,, which acknowledges the need for continuity with local conditions and traditions. He cites Clare Design's Cotton Tree Pilot Housing in South Queensland, Australia, as an example that preserves local trees and taps into local vernacular for forms that will enhance energy efficiency. Another category, Health and Happiness,, addresses not only physical issues (like the threat of exposure to toxic materials) but psychological ones as well: Providing access to natural light and air and bringing nature indoors is not just good for the planet, he argues, but also beneficial to people's emotional health.

The categories are comprehensive and offer a generous framework to consider green strategies. Still, the terms' grammatical awkwardness sometimes makes their application seem off or stretched. We can admire Sir Norman Foster's Commerzbank for wrapping around a vertical garden that keeps tenants cool. But do we appreciate its lessons more because it matches five of ten shades,, compared to projects that meet only one or two? Architects might come away from the book still fuzzy about the materials and technologies that would earn similar results in different context. Moreover, he uses terms we would never hear in conversation, making projects hard to latch onto. Foster's Commerzbank, he argues, achieves a whole hierarchy of foci.. What to do with this knowledge? Reject a partial hierarchy of foci?

Steele, who teaches in Los Angeles, also succumbs to hyperbole. He closes with a look at a masterplan of a two-square mile patch of open space along the Los Angeles River called Baldwin Hills. Designed by Mia Lehrer, Conservancy International, and Hood Design, the project earns Steele's praise for delivering natural amenity to all ethnic groups,, thus relating ecological benefits to social justice. The designers' choices changed the entire concept of an urban park.. Big words and claims gain credence when we see their individual components as well as their intellectual heritage.
Alec Appelbaum is a New Yorkkbased writer specializing in urban issues.




































 

 

PRODUCTS



NEW DESIGN CITIES
Edited by Marie-Josse Lacroix
Editions Infopresse, $32.00

This book is the result of a colloquium that took place during the 2002 International Design Biennial in Saint-Etienne, France, which debated cities' different strategies for positioning and growth through design.. While the book does not actually engage in any debate regarding strategies, the authors describe various design projects that contribute to the competitiveness of cities..

The book considers seven different cities: Antwerp, Glasgow, Lisbon, Montreal, Saint-Etienne, Stockholm, and New York. The New York case study focuses on Times Square and there is nothing new here for New York readers. The Glasgow section, on the other hand, has a great deal to offer. Stuart Macdonald, director the city's famous Lighthouse Center for Architecture, Design and the City, offers a concise telling of Glasgow's postindustrial transformation out of the gloom of its industrial pastt through design and cultural regeneration starting in 1990 when it was a European City of Culture. But he is able to sift hype from reality: He notes that the City of Culture design initiatives in fact had little effectt on the city, generating only temporary work and attention for the city; more influential in his mind is the raised consciousness and participation of designers and artists in an increasingly open urban regeneration process.

Many of the essayists, including Stockholm's Claes Britton and American sociologist Saskia Sassen, emphasizes the importance of integrating design initiatives in urban policy. In many respects, this book should be read by politicians more than designers. William Menking





MIAMI BEACH:
BLUEPRINT OF AN EDEN

Michele Oka Doner
and Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.
Feierabend Unique Books, $95.00

Past times on Miami Beach are for me vague images at best. How little I recognize, how much I want to revisit it all. Sometimes I hardly feel I was really there,, writes Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., founder of the Wolfsonian Museum, in a letter to his old friend, artist Michele Oka Doner. The letter opens this sumptuous book and is the first of many to appear, along with photographs, blueprints, maps, news clippings, and other ephemera, all drawn from each's family archives. Wolfson's and Oka Doner's archives are unique, however; most people don't have snapshots of their parents with Ava Gardner and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The two are Miami blueblooddhis father was the city's mayor in the 1930s and hers in the 1950s and 60s. Their memoir of Miami Beach is intensely personal while offering unique perspectives on the place's cultural formation.
Cathy Lang ho





DREAM WORLDS:
ARCHITECTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT

Oliver Herwig and Florian Holzherr
Prestel Verlag, $60.00

In Dream Worlds, Munich-based journalist Oliver Herwig examines theme parks, shopping malls, housing developments, and other highly controlled environments that use architecture in the service of mass entertainment. Herwig sees these removed fantasy spaces as the heirs of ideal cities and ancient coliseums. From the Mall of America to the island developments of Dubai, he argues that each reflects the fantasies and desires of their respective societies. The author's critical voice is strong throughout; the book reads not as a history or social study but as highly personal observation. With a case like the Munich Oktoberfest, the effect is comparable to having a family road trip ruined by the sarcastic teenager in the backseat. However, in locations like Las Vegas and Disneyworld, Herwig's commentary transcends cynicism and provides meaningful insight into the cultural forces that created these artificial environments. Herwig is conscious of previous analyses of his case studies, and his comparison between the Las Vegas of today with the one studied by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown is particularly enlightening. The accompanying photographs by Florian Holzherr capture the uncanny atmosphere of these dream worlds.
Nathan Landers





Le Corbusier's Hands
Andrr Wogenscky
MIT Press, $14.95

Published in France in the 1980s but only recently translated, this short volume is a Proustian remembrance of Le Corbusier written by Andrr Wogenscky, who had a close relationship with Corb for 30 years as his draftsman, assistant, and later, colleague and friend. The book is a collection of brief observations, statements, and anecdotes that together reveal an intimate picture of the modernist master. No matter how close a friendship he had with anyone, even during the course of a conversation or at a work meeting, Corbusier seemed to leave,, writes Wogenscky. He would retreat into his inner life, more populated than the world of men.. The author touchingly captures Corbusier's solitary nature, politesse, candidness, literary taste, and more, and in doing so, illuminates the many sources of influence on his works. Andrew Yang





The Stirling Prize
Ten Years of Architecture and Innovation

Tony Chapman
Merrell/RIBA Trust, $59.95

When the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) conceived of the Stirling Prize in 1996, the U.K. was in the middle of what author Tony Chapman calls architectural dark ages.. He and the other contributors to the bookka monograph commemorating the 10th anniversary of the prize, which recognizes the building that has contributed most to British architectureeargue that it has encouraged the creation of good architecture in the U.K. and beyond. Organized chronologically, the book presents each year's winner, runners-up, and an accompanying essay by critics including Hugh Pearman, Deyan Sudjic, and Tom Dyckhoff.Jaffer kolb







Source Books On
Landscape Architecture
Volume 1:
Michael Van Valkenburgh
Associates: Allegheny Park
Volume 2:
Ken Smith Landscape
Architecture: URBAN PROJECTS

Edited by Jane Amidon,
Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95 each

Princeton Architectural Press' new Source Book in Landscape Architecture Series is meant to parallel the publisher's architectural series edited by Jeffrey Kipnis and Robert Livesey. According to the new series' editor Jane Amidon, its goal is to provide a glimpse into the processes of emerging and established designers as they mature from tentative trial to definitive technique..

The first volume focuses on Michael van Valkenburgh's designs for Pittsburgh's Allegheny Riverfront Park. Detailed images are complemented by an interview and various essays that probe van Valkenburgh's design process for this specific project and his overall design philosophy.

Volume two, on Ken Smith, is identical in format, but includes several projects, including his design of MoMA's roof garden, East River Landing, and P.S. 19 in Queens. Like the first volume, the compact paperback includes an interview, critical essay, chronology of projects, as well as exhaustive project documentation, including photographs, plans, sections, and models.

A third volume, due out later this summer, will focus on Peter Walker's plans for the Nasher Sculpture Garden in Dallas, Texas. Future books planned for the series will be devoted to the work of Grant Jones and Paoli Burgess. DG





The Donnell and Eckbo Gardens: Modern California Masterworks
Marc Treib
William Stout Publishers, $45.00

Modernism reached its apogee in landscape architecture in California, emblematized by two works: Thomas Church's Donnell Garden (Sonoma County, 1948) and Garrett Eckbo's Alcoa Forecast Garden (Los Angeles, 1959). Historian and U.C. Berkeley professor Marc Treib offers a deep analyses of these iconic projects, sharing almost every piece of documentation that exists (Church's and Eckbo's archives are housed at Berkeley). He places the gardens in the context of their designers' broader careers, detailing their collaboration with clients and colleagues, and painting a picture of cultural life in mid-century California. CLH





Landscape Urbanism Reader
Edited by Charles Waldheim
Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95

New York's High Line is hard to categorizeeit will be a landscaped park but it is also a highly programmed architectural space, while its origins as infrastructure are still a huge part of its appeal. The emerging field of landscape urbanism is one way to define such a project and the growing numbers of likeminded proposals around the country. After a 1997 conference of the same name held at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the school formally launched the discipline with a degree program, which in this book has its its first theorists. Contributors including James Corner, Alan Berger, and Linda Pollak argue that we should understand landscape as a crucial part of urban infrastructure.Anne Guiney





Lexicon of Landscape Architecture
Meto J. Vroom
Birkhauser (distributed by
Princeton Architectural Press), $50.00

One of the great pleasures of dictionaries is getting distracted by a strange new word while looking up another. For those curious about the history of gardens and landscapes, Lexicon will prove full of interesting diversions. The landscape architect Meto Vroom defines more than 250 words, from abstractt to wind,, as it figures in landscape history and practice. Each entry begins with a traditional dictionary definition, and then turns into a short essay full of examples and citations for further reading. Vroom is catholic in his tastes, and sources range from Simon Schama to Richard Neutra and Charles Darwin.AG


NOTABLE
MONOGRAPHS



Norman Foster: Reflections
Norman Foster
Prestel, $70.00



Louis I Kahn
Robert McCarter
Phaidon, $85.00



Kevin Kennon: Architecture Tailored
DAMDI Design Document Series, $67.95



Koning Eizenberg Architecture:
Architecture Isn't Just for Special Occasions
Monacelli Press, $50.00



Fresh Morphosis 199882004
Essays by Peter Cook, Steven Holl,
Jeffrey Kipnis, Sylvia Lavin, et al. Rizzoli, $75.00



KM3: Excursions on Capacities
MVRDV
Actar, $80.00



Patkau Architects
Essay by Kenneth Frampton
Monacelli Press, $50.00



Richard Rogers:
Complete Works Volume 3

Kenneth Powell
Phaidon, $95



Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa SANAA
Yuko Hasegawa
Electa Architecture, $69.95
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LOOKING AND BUILDING IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES
Downtown Los Angeles is thriving in unexpected places. It`s not the new, multi-billion dollar projects and sweeping conversions of old bank buildings into posh lofts that are invigorating the famously sleepy city core. It`s the old, scruffy 1920`s streets and the life that fills them. Greg Goldin interprets the scene..



Olivo barbieri / courtesy yancey richardson gallery
Italian photographer Olivio Barbien`s site specific_LOS ANGELES (2005)

Downtown Los Angeles is misunderstood. To most observers, there is no there there. Like the rest of the great metropolis, downtown is amorphous, indecipherable, a suburb in reverse that is occupied by day and empty by night. Yes, we`ve got the Frank Gehryydesigned Walt Disney Concert Hallla crown jewel to rival any city`s crown jewel. (And, don`t forget, ours was designed first, before Bilbao!) But the concert hall stands in singular aloneness, surrounded by parking lots, drab government behemoths, and piles of granite and glass tombstones occupied by elite bankers and law firms. What L.A. needs now is some big-time infill.

To an extent, this is underway. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation estimated in February that there has been $12.2 billion worth of built and planned construction in the downtown area since 1999. Lofts and condos are hot. More than 26,000 new residential units have been added since 2000. Thanks to an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance that eased the city`s regulations for restoring older buildings, historic properties are being converted at an unprecedented rate. The city has a new cathedral by Rafael Moneo and a new state transit building by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, while an arts school by Wolf Prix is the works. Meanwhile, local firm Rios Clemente Hale is designing a 40,000-square-foot plaza to anchor a 3.8-million-square-foot hotel-cum-mall-cum-residential-complex, known as L.A. Live!, adjoining the Staples Center, home court of the Lakers. The arena, which follows the nationwide trend of stadiums returning to cities` downtowns, is credited with a spurt of big-box growth at the south end of downtown since its opening in 1999.

Still, the view of a neglected and empty downtown persists because the city`s civic leaders, their developer patrons, and their acolytes in the press remain committed to transforming the admittedly grim but prominent civic center, which sits relatively removed from the rest of downtown, at the top of Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill has suffered more from the misguided attention of city bigwigs and planners than perhaps any neighborhood in Los Angeles. In 1961, bulldozers began clearing hundreds of flophouses, SROs, fine Victorian homes, and small shopssthe very things that made it a genuine, lively community. More than 10,000 residents were displaced. In one way or another, the city has been trying to get them back ever since, but 50 years of urban renewal has produced an eyesore and an international embarrassment. This is the downtownn that gets all the attention, and is frequently mistaken for the city`s real, other, downtown.


olivio barbieri/coutesy yancey richardson gallery
Italian photographer Olivio Barbieri`s site specific_LOS ANGELES (2005)

Unfortunately, this predicament is perpetuated by relentless efforts to pour more capital into Bunker Hill. The latest, a $1.8 billion scheme, was given the official seal of approval in late April when, after nearly two years of anticipation, Gehry unveiled a design for what is called the Grand Avenue Project. The private-public development, headed by New Yorkkbased The Related Companies, aims to transform Grand Avenue into a destination not only for downtown but for the entire region,, in the words of one leading public official. When it`s all completed, we`re going to have Gehry in stereo,, he boasted.

Whether Gehry in stereo can convert a 9-to-5 bureaucratic stronghold into a 24/7 boomtown is anyone`s guess. Still, the mistake is one of interpretation. Downtown Los Angeles has several centers. Bunker Hill, which is cut off from the rest of downtown by geography and freeways, is a hilltop governmental-cultural ghetto. The action, as a more sober Frank Gehry used to admit, is elsewhere. (Gehry once famously said that if the choice had been his own, he would have built Disney Hall somewhere along Wilshire Boulevard. That street, which connects downtown to the beaches in Santa Monica, is, as Gehry said, our true downtown, only it`s vertical..)

Downslope from Bunker Hill is Broadway, L.A.`s oldest main street. You can`t find a stronger contrast to the arid altiplano rising several blocks to the west. Broadway is teeming. You can get your shoes shined on the street. You can pop into the Grand Central Market and stand at a counter to snack on marinated cabbage and gorditas. You can stroll the wide, bustling sidewalks, in search of a fedora or a wedding gown. You can get married on Broadway, and pick-pocketed, too. You can buy bootlegged Mexican movies and tiny packets of Chiclets chewing gum.

Broadway bustles because it has hundreds of ground-floor shops, tightly spaceddlike any good main drag. And as John Kamp, a local city planner points out, Broadway is also successful because it has so many bus stops. People come to Broadway because it is part of their everyday trajectory through the city, not a special trip to an unlikely destination.. The crowds justify high rents, which in some cases are higher per square foot than on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

A bit further south and east is another area on the rise, the Fashion District, which borders Skid Row. In the past several years, the neighborhood has sprung to life with none of the fanfare or money heaped on Grand Avenue. The district has, in fact, benefited by being overlooked. A vestigial industrial zone where building owners are not required to have front yards, rear yards, or other setbacks, it contains a large stock of urban-friendly buildings. Buildings typically have multiple entrances. One, on the 800 block of South Main Street, has 14. Others might have a dozen small storefronts in the span of 150 feet of sidewalk frontage. The pedestrian-friendly scale allowed wholesalers to open their doors to retail. While garment workers sew upstairs, fashionistas ply the streets below, hunting for cheap knock-offs and bargain trendy buys. Here, too, rents rival those on Broadway. Buildings are selling for as much as $570 a square foot.

These are but two examples of other downtowns. There are still others, such as Little Tokyo and the nearby Arts District, Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights. These parts are thriving not because someone has managed to give them a theme but because visually interesting, authentic, aurally stimulating businesses are pressed hard against the sidewalks. These are the parts of downtown Los Angeles that have never been relieved of the compression that brings urban life to the surface. Check them out, and you will see that Los Angeles has a downtown. It`s just not where you`re told to find it.
Greg Goldin is the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine and a regular contributor to the L.A. Weekly. He guest-edited this issue of AN.


FRANK GEHRY, KING OF THE HILL
In 1980, Frank Gehry was one of the more modest members of the "L.A. Dream Team" assembled to develop a visionary, but ultimately unrealized scheme to redevelop what remained of Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles, whose decaying Victorian mansions had been bulldozed 20 years before in the name of urban renewal. He was still regarded as an outsider seven years later when he won the competition to design Walt Disney Concert Hall in the same Grand Avenue area. Now he`s back as king of this particular hill, with schematic designs for the site he tried to reshape two decades ago.


bart bartholomew
Gehry Partners` proposal for Grand Avenue.

The popular and critical success of Disney Hall has endeared Gehry to the suits who run downtown, and their new bad boy is Thom Mayne, whose Caltrans building and iconoclastic approach to urban planning they consider dangerously radical. It`s their loss, and they`ll probably catch up, even if it takes 20 yearssjust as they did with Gehry, who has finally gained acceptance in his hometown.

The current iteration of the Grand Avenue Project attempts the same lively mix of uses and attractions as proposed by the original developer, the Maguire Partners and their Dream Team in 1980. Defying all the conventions of urban development, they wove together contributions by different architects, including a plaza by Gehry, a highrise residential tower by Barton Myer, an office tower by Cesar Pelli, a hotel-condo block by Ricardo Legorreta, fanciful pavilions by Charles Moore, a modern art museum by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, and landscaping by Lawrence Halprin. The plan included contrasting buildings surrounded by walkways, fountains, and greenery.

The proposal was widely acclaimed by the public and in the architecture press, but the Community Redevelopment Agency, a hapless band of amateurs, preferred Arthur Erickson`s sleek office towers. His scheme was a series of isolated objects with no connective tissue, and which failed to engage the street. The featured public amenity was Arata Isozaki`s Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), but this was pushed below the street so as not to block the view of a shopping center on the site beyonddan element that was never built.

Twenty-five years later, Gehry is back, and has released a preliminary design that includes two L-plan towerssone of offices, the other for a hotel and condossthat act as frames for Disney Hall and a 250,000-square-foot retail-restaurant complex. This is the first of three phases in the $1.8 billion project, which will eventually comprise eight towers and a 16-acre park, to be designed by a team including the firms Rios Clementi Hale Studios and Levin & Associates. (Mayne was part of that team but was dropped by the developer, New Yorkkbased The Related Companies, in April 2005 for artistic differences. He was later replaced by Gehry, one of the initial competitors.)

Gehry`s May presentation at Disney Hall consisted of little more than a massing diagram. As it stands, there are no expressive gestures, and he offered few hints of how the scheme would be fleshed out. Skeptics wondered how great an influence The Related Companies would have on the design, and the extent to which it would be driven by retail imperatives. The ongoing fiasco at Ground Zero has undoubtedly reinforced a widespread cynicism about the contest between architecture and profit. (Gehry famously refused to submit a proposal for the original planning competition for the World Trade Center site, a decision that now looks incredibly prescient.) There is also the issue of whether one architect, however brilliant, can achieve unity and diversity through such an ambitious development, or whether parts should be delegated to other designers as in the old Maguire scheme.

The largest question, and one that will not be answered for at least a decade, is whether the Grand Avenue Project will animate the neighborhood as most downtown improvements have failed to do. In the wake of its loss on Bunker Hill, the developer, now called Maguire-Thomas Partners, spurred a redesign of Pershing Square, which had become as blighted as New York`s Tompkins Square Park. Legorreta understood how Mexican plazas work and landscape designer Laurie Olin drew on Rittenhouse Square, a lively oasis in his native Philadelphia. The block-sized park was opened to the street, colorful structures beckon pedestrians, but few enter except to retrieve their cars from the underground garage. As Robert Venturi once observed, Americans are reluctant to sit in outdoor public places except to eat and be entertained, and the city authorities failed to provide concession stands or programming. Even the crowds of shoppers a block east on Broadway ignored this one patch of greenery in east-central L.A. What does that say for the chances of the new park included in Gehry`s scheme?

Grand Avenue links some of the city`s most cherished public buildings, including the classic Central Library, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Disney Hall, as well as the Colburn Music School and the aloof citadels of the Music Center and Rafael Moneo`s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Even Disney Hall, everyone`s favorite new civic icon, hasn`t noticeably boosted foot traffic on the street, and most concertgoers arrive by escalator from the underground parking garage. The residential population of downtown has boomed over the last decade, and there has been a flurry of loft conversions and new apartment blocks. Urban homesteaders need shopping and services, but will they find those in the new retail center? For the newly crowned Gehry, this may be the toughest challenge of his 50-year career.
Michael Webb is a Los Angeles-based architecture critic whose most recent book is Adventurous Wine Architecture (Images Publishing, 2005).


IF YOU ADAPT IT, WILL THEY COME?
For more than 20 years, downtown Los Angeles has been the exclusive playground of bohemian artist-types who perferred cheap rents to Trauslen refrigerators and anonymity to swank eateries. not anymore. Downtown L.A. is slowly evolving into a collection of distinct neighborhoods each touting new high-end condominium and apartment conversion projects complete with rooftop swimming pools and fitness centers. You can even find an occassional cup of concrete-floored, skylit loft to your glass-enclosed office tower.

Newly minted lawyers, businessmen, and accountants, raking in mega starting salaries, think downtown will be a hot real estate market for years to come. Maybe it`s a chicken-and-egg situation, but they`re signing on to long waiting lists or pre-purchasing units before construction has even started. When the historic Douglas Building Lofts, renovated by Rockefeller Partners Architects, went on the market in 20044nearly 18 months before the Spring Street property was completeddall 50 units sold within a week. At the Flower Street Lofts, one of the first residential developments in the South Park district, several of the original buyers took advantage of the appreciating market and flipped their units within a year of purchase.

Emboldened by what appears to be an insatiable appetite for urban living, developers continue to increase unit prices, even as the rest of the L.A. market begins to flatten out. According to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID), in the first quarter of 2006 the average cost per square foot was $547.80, an astonishing 18.8 percent increase from last year at the same time. The market, in other words, is booming. Since 1999 nearly 7,000 new condominiums and apartments have been created in downtown Los Angeles. If all goes as projected by the DCBID, there will be nearly 20,000 more by 2015.

But, as the residents and workers in downtown Vancouver have learned, a thriving community won`t necessarily emerge just because you`ve built and occupied thousands of new units. Although one is in the works, up to now, there hasn`t been a grocery store downtown for decadessand Citarella or Whole Foods are far from the drawing boards. And no such thing as Sarabeth`s Kitchen or Frette is even imagined. Add to this a lack of community and no green space and downtown had little more to offer than lofty spaces with skyline views. Developers have worked to remedy this by enticing cafes and small businesses to open in the ground floors of residential developments, while others are creating courtyards and rooftop recreation areas. The uncertain promise is that there`s more to comeeenough to lure buyers out of the suburbs and into the core.

Clearly, an influx of new homeowners and businesses in downtown will be an economic boon for the city, but for the thousands of poor and homeless living in the area`s shelters and low-cost residential hotels, gentrification means one thing: eviction. Already, developers have converted several of the 240 hotels (many of them functioning as SROs) into market-rate apartments and condominiums. Fearful that more of the downtown poor will be displaced, the Los Angeles City Council recently approved a one-year moratorium on the conversion or demolition of low-cost hotels citywide, with the option for an extension. In an effort to further help the transient poor, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a $1 billion bond measure to pay for subsidized apartments. The funds would cover housing as well as social services. And other plans to bring improvements downtown are in the works. In March, L.A. County officials unveiled a $100 million campaign that would house the estimated 14,000 homeless concentrated on downtown`s Skid Row by expanding much needed countywide programs and providing more emergency and transitional housing, and health services. The campaign is part of a $12 billion investment plan to build 50,000 housing units countywide over a ten-year span.

Ten years ago nobody would have believed any of this was possible. And had it not been for the new public icons, Disney Concert Hall, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Staples Center, it might not have been. And while major cultural and entertainment projects are no doubt paramount in a successful urban environment, the most important ingredient of all is the local population, be they new condo owners, low-income transients, factory workers, or artists. Finding a way for all income levels to thrive in the new downtown will be the challenge of city officials and developers.
Allison Milionis is a freelance writer living and working in Downtown Los Angeles.

mill street lofts
1820 Industrial Street
The Los Angeles office of German firm Behnisch Architects has designed one of the first ground-up, loft-style buildings in an area filled with adaptive re-use projects. We realized early on that because of the low scale of the surrounding buildings, if you built up you could offer amazing views of downtown,, said project architect Christof Jantzen. The building, developed by local firm LinearCity, stands 16 stories high and contains what Jantzen describes as eight different unit types,, ranging from 650 to 2,100 square feet and including single-, double-, and triple-story condos, some following the inverted L-shaped configurations that Le Corbusier used in his L`Unitt d`habitation in Marseilles.


Behnisch Architects

In keeping with the spirit of the industrial loft conversions that surround the project, the project has a concrete structure with exposed concrete floors, tall ceilings, and large windows. The materials and fixtures used throughout will be sheet metal, fiber cement, and pre-cast concrete panelssall sustainable materials. In addition, operable windows, indirect sun-orientation, a gray-water treatment system, and a passive-cooling ventilation system might just earn the developer the LEED-rating it seeks. Adjacent to the 16-story highrise, a smaller set of townhousess shares the same material vocabulary as the loft building, though with more privacy.

I think the developers need to be highly praised for what they`re doing,, said Jantzen. They have a vision for the area that will transform it into a great neighborhood.. In 2004, LinearCity also developed and sold lofts in an adjacent building, the ToY Factory, and is engaged in another adaptive reuse project across the street, the Biscuit Company Lofts by Aleks Istanbullu Architects.

Biscuit company lofts
673 Mateo Street
When Paul Solomon, founder of the development group LinearCity, called Los Angeles- based Aleks Istanbullu Architects to transform a pre-existing factory into residential condos, the architect knew immediately that he wanted to do something different from a standard conversion. He wanted to design loft spaces that vary in size, plan, and character throughout the boxy building, a 1925 biscuit-baking factory formerly owned by the manufacturer Nabisco.


courtesy aleks istanbullu architects

The site comprises the 110,000 square-foot, seven-story main structure and a single-story annex; Istanbullu will add an additional floor to each, increasing the total square footage to 153,000 square feet. On the main building, Istanbullu created a large penthouse with extensive outdoor space. He transformed the existing annex into a set of three-story row houses by carving out a mezzanine and adding a floor.

According to Istanbullu, the architects decided to use the contrast approachh on the additions, by which he means making clear the distinction between old and new. The penthouse and the top floor of the annex are constructed out of steel, stone, and glass, though the colors were chosen to complement the brick building below. It will remain largely intact, though Istanbullu adjusted the circulation to create irregular interior spaces. I really wanted variety, to find and create unique units,, said Istanbullu. Although the building is a box, by shaping the hallways in an odd configuration, I could get a lot of plan varieties.. New structural walls in the core of the building were installed to bring it up to building code, while some pre-existing, non-load-bearing walls were removed to keep a feeling of openness.

The interiors will be minimally outfitteddmost won`t even include a refrigeratorrdominated by the pre-existing inch-thick maple floors, brick walls, and copper details. Like luxury loft-style condominiumns in New York City, prices will likely attract a wealthy clientele.

vibinia lofts
114 East 2nd Street
In 1996, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles initiated demolition of the 17,000-square-foot St. Vibiana Cathedral, its home since 1876, sparking a heated preservation battle that ultimately left it untouched and now the cornerstone of a major $120 million, 468,000 square-foot mixed-use development project by Los Angeles developer Tom Gilmore.


Courtesy Tom Gilmore

According to Gilmore, the Los Angeles Conservancy, a local preservation organization, approached him in 1997 and asked for assistance in purchasing the property, which includes a 2.5-acre lotta full city block. With money lent (somewhat ironically) by the Archdiocese itself, Gilmore bought the property for $4.6 million, pledging to restore the cathedral and ensure an active future for it.

Gilmore came to an agreement with the California State University to convert the cathedral into a performing arts space downtown, a plan that earned $4 million from the state toward the cost of restoration and seismic retrofitting.

I am an adamant urbanist,, said Gilmore, adding, I`m not a fan of little disconnected venues; I am all for density.. By transferring air rights from the cathedral and its connected refectory, Gilmore could plan a series of small mixed-use buildings and a 41-story residential highrise spread out throughout the site. We`re staggering the buildings and utilizing setbacks in order to create a pedestrian-friendly environment,, said Gilmore. Gilmore and his partner, Richard Weintraub, hired local architecture firm Nadel Architects to design the project, who began with massing diagrams to plan the site. The bottom line is that the skin and profile are less important than massing in a project of this scale,, Gilmore pointed out.

The $8 million restoration of the cathedral was completed last year, overseen by local preservation experts Levin & Associates Architects. The rest of the project is still in designnGilmore notes that the preliminary renderings are more flashy than I`d like to see themm?as the project goes through planning and zoning. Gilmore hopes the tower, which will have 2,200 square feet of ground-level retail fronting a parking garage, will break ground in the beginning of 2007 and be completed in 2009.

Fuller Lofts
210 North San Fernando Road
One of the more notable adaptive-reuse conversions downtown is Santa Monicaabased Pugh + Scarpa Architects` restoration of the 1927 Fuller Pink Company, a former office building and a relic of L.A.`s art deco moment. Though not an official landmark, it sports stunning details, including pilasters, sculpted floral bas reliefs, and according to principal architect Gwen Pugh, a wonderfully preserved lobby..


courtesy pugh + scarpa architect

Pugh + Scarpa has restored the five-floor, 151,000-square-foot building and added two additional floors, creating a total of 102 units. The architects cored out the center of the concrete building in order to create a 40-foot-wide lightwell and room for a small interior courtyard. The rooftop addition has its own identity, clad in glass and corrugated metal. On the building`s north side, the metal cladding undulates in plan, contrasting with the cube on which it is perchedda gesture that, according to Pugh, is intended to divorce the skin from the boxx and make the original building`s undecorated north facade more interesting.. On all sides, irregularly placed balconies, resembling constructivist boxes, further disrupt the original building`s simple planarity.

The Lincoln Heights district is roughly 2 miles from downtown, in an area that`s still largely undeveloped (parking lots and empty plots far outnumber supermarkets). According to Pugh, the Fuller Lofts is the only project in the immediate vicinity that has been motivated by the city`s new Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which the city adopted in 1999 (and greatly expanded in 2003) in order to lure businesses downtown.


CIVICS LESSON
Frank Gehry`s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Rafael Moneo`s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Thom Mayne`s Caltrans headquarters have changed the way Angelenos understand their downtown. Spectacular, freewheeling, and deeply moving, these buildings have drawn crowds and made architecture relevant, and perhaps essential. So why haven`t more of the new public buildings followed suit? In the preceding decades, John Portman`s Bonaventure Hotel epitomized L.A.`s style, which typically meant being walled off from the street, virtually impenetrable, and wrapped in a one-way mirror. Now public buildings are increasingly incorporating plazas, street-level portals, and transparent facades. Though many public buildings still embrace the bunker mentality, it might reflect bad planning and site selection as much as architectural design: The city still has the habit of plopping security-conscious buildings cheek-by-jowl to public-conscious ones. Whole street elevations are permitted to go unarticulated and turn a barren carapace to neighbors. Several new public projects reveal how far L.A. has come, and how far it has to go.

central los angeles area
High School #9

450 North Grand Avenue


armin heiss / isochrom / courtesy coop himmelb(l)au

After the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Coop Himmelb(l)au`s High School for the Visual and Performing Arts may be one of the most dramatic structures to be completed in downtown L.A. The new structure, which began construction in March and is scheduled to openin 2008, will feature a dramatic glass and steel lobby and house 1,728 music, dance, visual and performing arts students. Estimated to cost $208 million, the signature feature of the school will be a 140-foot-tall tower that will give students a clear view of the adjacent Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

los angeles united states
Courthouse

First Street and Broadway


courtesy perkins and will
In 2001, Perkins + Will won a commission from the General Services Administration to design a 1,000,000-square-foot couthouse in downtown L.A. The 16-story building features approximately 40 courtrooms with floor-to-floor heights of 19 feet, along with some administrative office space and an expansive ground-floor atrium. Sustainability was crucial for the client and designers: Photovoltaic panels comprise about 50 percent of the large curving glass facade, under-floor circulation systems minimize heating and cooling costs, and clerestory windows throughout the courtrooms bring in natural daylight. The building is in still in design and construction should begin in mid to late 2007.

Los angeles police department headquarters
First and Main Streets


courtesy dmjm

Filling most of the block across from City Hall, the L.A.P.D.`s new headquarters went through an extensive public review process while it was under design, and ultimately incorporated the lessons of over 30 community meetings. The architects, DMJM/Roth-Shepard Design, incorporated necessarily strong security requirements such as 75-foot setbacks to surround the building with public spaces. The 500,000-square-foot building`s two above-ground volumes form an L-shape around a large plaza along First Street. The budget is set for $303 million, and construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2008.
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Looking and Building in All the Right Places

Italian photographer Olivio Barbien's site specific_LOS ANGELES (2005)

Downtown Los Angeles is misunderstood. To most observers, there is no there there. Like the rest of the great metropolis, downtown is amorphous, indecipherable, a suburb in reverse that is occupied by day and empty by night. Yes, weeve got the Frank Gehryydesigned Walt Disney Concert Hallla crown jewel to rival any cityys crown jewel. (And, donnt forget, ours was designed first, before Bilbao!) But the concert hall stands in singular aloneness, surrounded by parking lots, drab government behemoths, and piles of granite and glass tombstones occupied by elite bankers and law firms. What L.A. needs now is some big-time infill.

To an extent, this is underway. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation estimated in February that there has been $12.2 billion worth of built and planned construction in the downtown area since 1999. Lofts and condos are hot. More than 26,000 new residential units have been added since 2000. Thanks to an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance that eased the cityys regulations for restoring older buildings, historic properties are being converted at an unprecedented rate. The city has a new cathedral by Rafael Moneo and a new state transit building by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, while an arts school by Wolf Prix is the works. Meanwhile, local firm Rios Clemente Hale is designing a 40,000-square-foot plaza to anchor a 3.8-million-square-foot hotel-cum-mall-cum-residential-complex, known as L.A. Live!, adjoining the Staples Center, home court of the Lakers. The arena, which follows the nationwide trend of stadiums returning to citiess downtowns, is credited with a spurt of big-box growth at the south end of downtown since its opening in 1999.

Still, the view of a neglected and empty downtown persists because the cityys civic leaders, their developer patrons, and their acolytes in the press remain committed to transforming the admittedly grim but prominent civic center, which sits relatively removed from the rest of downtown, at the top of Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill has suffered more from the misguided attention of city bigwigs and planners than perhaps any neighborhood in Los Angeles. In 1961, bulldozers began clearing hundreds of flophouses, SROs, fine Victorian homes, and small shopssthe very things that made it a genuine, lively community. More than 10,000 residents were displaced. In one way or another, the city has been trying to get them back ever since, but 50 years of urban renewal has produced an eyesore and an international embarrassment. This is the downtownn that gets all the attention, and is frequently mistaken for the cityys real, other, downtown.


olivio barbieri/coutesy yancey richardson gallery
Italian photographer Olivio Barbieri's site specific_LOS ANGELES (2005)

Unfortunately, this predicament is perpetuated by relentless efforts to pour more capital into Bunker Hill. The latest, a $1.8 billion scheme, was given the official seal of approval in late April when, after nearly two years of anticipation, Gehry unveiled a design for what is called the Grand Avenue Project. The private-public development, headed by New Yorkkbased The Related Companies, aims to transform Grand Avenue into a destination not only for downtown but for the entire region,, in the words of one leading public official. When itts all completed, weere going to have Gehry in stereo,, he boasted.

Whether Gehry in stereo can convert a 9-to-5 bureaucratic stronghold into a 24/7 boomtown is anyonees guess. Still, the mistake is one of interpretation. Downtown Los Angeles has several centers. Bunker Hill, which is cut off from the rest of downtown by geography and freeways, is a hilltop governmental-cultural ghetto. The action, as a more sober Frank Gehry used to admit, is elsewhere. (Gehry once famously said that if the choice had been his own, he would have built Disney Hall somewhere along Wilshire Boulevard. That street, which connects downtown to the beaches in Santa Monica, is, as Gehry said, our true downtown, only itts vertical..)

Downslope from Bunker Hill is Broadway, L.A..s oldest main street. You cannt find a stronger contrast to the arid altiplano rising several blocks to the west. Broadway is teeming. You can get your shoes shined on the street. You can pop into the Grand Central Market and stand at a counter to snack on marinated cabbage and gorditas. You can stroll the wide, bustling sidewalks, in search of a fedora or a wedding gown. You can get married on Broadway, and pick-pocketed, too. You can buy bootlegged Mexican movies and tiny packets of Chiclets chewing gum.

Broadway bustles because it has hundreds of ground-floor shops, tightly spaceddlike any good main drag. And as John Kamp, a local city planner points out, Broadway is also successful because it has so many bus stops. People come to Broadway because it is part of their everyday trajectory through the city, not a special trip to an unlikely destination.. The crowds justify high rents, which in some cases are higher per square foot than on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

A bit further south and east is another area on the rise, the Fashion District, which borders Skid Row. In the past several years, the neighborhood has sprung to life with none of the fanfare or money heaped on Grand Avenue. The district has, in fact, benefited by being overlooked. A vestigial industrial zone where building owners are not required to have front yards, rear yards, or other setbacks, it contains a large stock of urban-friendly buildings. Buildings typically have multiple entrances. One, on the 800 block of South Main Street, has 14. Others might have a dozen small storefronts in the span of 150 feet of sidewalk frontage. The pedestrian-friendly scale allowed wholesalers to open their doors to retail. While garment workers sew upstairs, fashionistas ply the streets below, hunting for cheap knock-offs and bargain trendy buys. Here, too, rents rival those on Broadway. Buildings are selling for as much as $570 a square foot.

These are but two examples of other downtowns. There are still others, such as Little Tokyo and the nearby Arts District, Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights. These parts are thriving not because someone has managed to give them a theme but because visually interesting, authentic, aurally stimulating businesses are pressed hard against the sidewalks. These are the parts of downtown Los Angeles that have never been relieved of the compression that brings urban life to the surface. Check them out, and you will see that Los Angeles has a downtown. Itts just not where youure told to find it.
Greg Goldin is the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine and a regular contributor to the L.A. Weekly. He guest-edited this issue of AN.


FRANK GEHRY, KING OF THE HILL
In 1980, Frank Gehry was one of the more modest members of the "L.A. Dream Team" assembled to develop a visionary, but ultimately unrealized scheme to redevelop what remained of Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles, whose decaying Victorian mansions had been bulldozed 20 years before in the name of urban renewal. He was still regarded as an outsider seven years later when he won the competition to design Walt Disney Concert Hall in the same Grand Avenue area. Now he's back as king of this particular hill, with schematic designs for the site he tried to reshape two decades ago.


bart bartholomew
Gehry Partners' proposal for Grand Avenue.

The popular and critical success of Disney Hall has endeared Gehry to the suits who run downtown, and their new bad boy is Thom Mayne, whose Caltrans building and iconoclastic approach to urban planning they consider dangerously radical. Itts their loss, and theyyll probably catch up, even if it takes 20 yearssjust as they did with Gehry, who has finally gained acceptance in his hometown.

The current iteration of the Grand Avenue Project attempts the same lively mix of uses and attractions as proposed by the original developer, the Maguire Partners and their Dream Team in 1980. Defying all the conventions of urban development, they wove together contributions by different architects, including a plaza by Gehry, a highrise residential tower by Barton Myer, an office tower by Cesar Pelli, a hotel-condo block by Ricardo Legorreta, fanciful pavilions by Charles Moore, a modern art museum by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, and landscaping by Lawrence Halprin. The plan included contrasting buildings surrounded by walkways, fountains, and greenery.

The proposal was widely acclaimed by the public and in the architecture press, but the Community Redevelopment Agency, a hapless band of amateurs, preferred Arthur Ericksonns sleek office towers. His scheme was a series of isolated objects with no connective tissue, and which failed to engage the street. The featured public amenity was Arata Isozakiis Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), but this was pushed below the street so as not to block the view of a shopping center on the site beyonddan element that was never built.

Twenty-five years later, Gehry is back, and has released a preliminary design that includes two L-plan towerssone of offices, the other for a hotel and condossthat act as frames for Disney Hall and a 250,000-square-foot retail-restaurant complex. This is the first of three phases in the $1.8 billion project, which will eventually comprise eight towers and a 16-acre park, to be designed by a team including the firms Rios Clementi Hale Studios and Levin & Associates. (Mayne was part of that team but was dropped by the developer, New Yorkkbased The Related Companies, in April 2005 for artistic differences. He was later replaced by Gehry, one of the initial competitors.)

Gehryys May presentation at Disney Hall consisted of little more than a massing diagram. As it stands, there are no expressive gestures, and he offered few hints of how the scheme would be fleshed out. Skeptics wondered how great an influence The Related Companies would have on the design, and the extent to which it would be driven by retail imperatives. The ongoing fiasco at Ground Zero has undoubtedly reinforced a widespread cynicism about the contest between architecture and profit. (Gehry famously refused to submit a proposal for the original planning competition for the World Trade Center site, a decision that now looks incredibly prescient.) There is also the issue of whether one architect, however brilliant, can achieve unity and diversity through such an ambitious development, or whether parts should be delegated to other designers as in the old Maguire scheme.

The largest question, and one that will not be answered for at least a decade, is whether the Grand Avenue Project will animate the neighborhood as most downtown improvements have failed to do. In the wake of its loss on Bunker Hill, the developer, now called Maguire-Thomas Partners, spurred a redesign of Pershing Square, which had become as blighted as New Yorkks Tompkins Square Park. Legorreta understood how Mexican plazas work and landscape designer Laurie Olin drew on Rittenhouse Square, a lively oasis in his native Philadelphia. The block-sized park was opened to the street, colorful structures beckon pedestrians, but few enter except to retrieve their cars from the underground garage. As Robert Venturi once observed, Americans are reluctant to sit in outdoor public places except to eat and be entertained, and the city authorities failed to provide concession stands or programming. Even the crowds of shoppers a block east on Broadway ignored this one patch of greenery in east-central L.A. What does that say for the chances of the new park included in Gehryys scheme?

Grand Avenue links some of the cityys most cherished public buildings, including the classic Central Library, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Disney Hall, as well as the Colburn Music School and the aloof citadels of the Music Center and Rafael Moneoos Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Even Disney Hall, everyonees favorite new civic icon, hasnnt noticeably boosted foot traffic on the street, and most concertgoers arrive by escalator from the underground parking garage. The residential population of downtown has boomed over the last decade, and there has been a flurry of loft conversions and new apartment blocks. Urban homesteaders need shopping and services, but will they find those in the new retail center? For the newly crowned Gehry, this may be the toughest challenge of his 50-year career.
Michael Webb is a Los Angeles-based architecture critic whose most recent book is Adventurous Wine Architecture (Images Publishing, 2005).


IF YOU ADAPT IT, WILL THEY COME?
For more than 20 years, downtown Los Angeles has been the exclusive playground of bohemian artist-types who perferred cheap rents to Trauslen refrigerators and anonymity to swank eateries. not anymore. Downtown L.A. is slowly evolving into a collection of distinct neighborhoods each touting new high-end condominium and apartment conversion projects complete with rooftop swimming pools and fitness centers. You can even find an occassional cup of concrete-floored, skylit loft to your glass-enclosed office tower.

Newly minted lawyers, businessmen, and accountants, raking in mega starting salaries, think downtown will be a hot real estate market for years to come. Maybe itts a chicken-and-egg situation, but theyyre signing on to long waiting lists or pre-purchasing units before construction has even started. When the historic Douglas Building Lofts, renovated by Rockefeller Partners Architects, went on the market in 20044nearly 18 months before the Spring Street property was completeddall 50 units sold within a week. At the Flower Street Lofts, one of the first residential developments in the South Park district, several of the original buyers took advantage of the appreciating market and flipped their units within a year of purchase.

Emboldened by what appears to be an insatiable appetite for urban living, developers continue to increase unit prices, even as the rest of the L.A. market begins to flatten out. According to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID), in the first quarter of 2006 the average cost per square foot was $547.80, an astonishing 18.8 percent increase from last year at the same time. The market, in other words, is booming. Since 1999 nearly 7,000 new condominiums and apartments have been created in downtown Los Angeles. If all goes as projected by the DCBID, there will be nearly 20,000 more by 2015.

But, as the residents and workers in downtown Vancouver have learned, a thriving community wonnt necessarily emerge just because youuve built and occupied thousands of new units. Although one is in the works, up to now, there hasnnt been a grocery store downtown for decadessand Citarella or Whole Foods are far from the drawing boards. And no such thing as Sarabethhs Kitchen or Frette is even imagined. Add to this a lack of community and no green space and downtown had little more to offer than lofty spaces with skyline views. Developers have worked to remedy this by enticing cafes and small businesses to open in the ground floors of residential developments, while others are creating courtyards and rooftop recreation areas. The uncertain promise is that therees more to comeeenough to lure buyers out of the suburbs and into the core.

Clearly, an influx of new homeowners and businesses in downtown will be an economic boon for the city, but for the thousands of poor and homeless living in the areaas shelters and low-cost residential hotels, gentrification means one thing: eviction. Already, developers have converted several of the 240 hotels (many of them functioning as SROs) into market-rate apartments and condominiums. Fearful that more of the downtown poor will be displaced, the Los Angeles City Council recently approved a one-year moratorium on the conversion or demolition of low-cost hotels citywide, with the option for an extension. In an effort to further help the transient poor, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a $1 billion bond measure to pay for subsidized apartments. The funds would cover housing as well as social services. And other plans to bring improvements downtown are in the works. In March, L.A. County officials unveiled a $100 million campaign that would house the estimated 14,000 homeless concentrated on downtownns Skid Row by expanding much needed countywide programs and providing more emergency and transitional housing, and health services. The campaign is part of a $12 billion investment plan to build 50,000 housing units countywide over a ten-year span.

Ten years ago nobody would have believed any of this was possible. And had it not been for the new public icons, Disney Concert Hall, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Staples Center, it might not have been. And while major cultural and entertainment projects are no doubt paramount in a successful urban environment, the most important ingredient of all is the local population, be they new condo owners, low-income transients, factory workers, or artists. Finding a way for all income levels to thrive in the new downtown will be the challenge of city officials and developers.
Allison Milionis is a freelance writer living and working in Downtown Los Angeles.

mill street lofts
1820 Industrial Street
The Los Angeles office of German firm Behnisch Architects has designed one of the first ground-up, loft-style buildings in an area filled with adaptive re-use projects. We realized early on that because of the low scale of the surrounding buildings, if you built up you could offer amazing views of downtown,, said project architect Christof Jantzen. The building, developed by local firm LinearCity, stands 16 stories high and contains what Jantzen describes as eight different unit types,, ranging from 650 to 2,100 square feet and including single-, double-, and triple-story condos, some following the inverted L-shaped configurations that Le Corbusier used in his LLUnitt ddhabitation in Marseilles.


Behnisch Architects

In keeping with the spirit of the industrial loft conversions that surround the project, the project has a concrete structure with exposed concrete floors, tall ceilings, and large windows. The materials and fixtures used throughout will be sheet metal, fiber cement, and pre-cast concrete panelssall sustainable materials. In addition, operable windows, indirect sun-orientation, a gray-water treatment system, and a passive-cooling ventilation system might just earn the developer the LEED-rating it seeks. Adjacent to the 16-story highrise, a smaller set of townhousess shares the same material vocabulary as the loft building, though with more privacy.

I think the developers need to be highly praised for what theyyre doing,, said Jantzen. They have a vision for the area that will transform it into a great neighborhood.. In 2004, LinearCity also developed and sold lofts in an adjacent building, the ToY Factory, and is engaged in another adaptive reuse project across the street, the Biscuit Company Lofts by Aleks Istanbullu Architects.

Biscuit company lofts
673 Mateo Street
When Paul Solomon, founder of the development group LinearCity, called Los Angeles- based Aleks Istanbullu Architects to transform a pre-existing factory into residential condos, the architect knew immediately that he wanted to do something different from a standard conversion. He wanted to design loft spaces that vary in size, plan, and character throughout the boxy building, a 1925 biscuit-baking factory formerly owned by the manufacturer Nabisco.


courtesy aleks istanbullu architects

The site comprises the 110,000 square-foot, seven-story main structure and a single-story annex; Istanbullu will add an additional floor to each, increasing the total square footage to 153,000 square feet. On the main building, Istanbullu created a large penthouse with extensive outdoor space. He transformed the existing annex into a set of three-story row houses by carving out a mezzanine and adding a floor.

According to Istanbullu, the architects decided to use the contrast approachh on the additions, by which he means making clear the distinction between old and new. The penthouse and the top floor of the annex are constructed out of steel, stone, and glass, though the colors were chosen to complement the brick building below. It will remain largely intact, though Istanbullu adjusted the circulation to create irregular interior spaces. I really wanted variety, to find and create unique units,, said Istanbullu. Although the building is a box, by shaping the hallways in an odd configuration, I could get a lot of plan varieties.. New structural walls in the core of the building were installed to bring it up to building code, while some pre-existing, non-load-bearing walls were removed to keep a feeling of openness.

The interiors will be minimally outfitteddmost wonnt even include a refrigeratorrdominated by the pre-existing inch-thick maple floors, brick walls, and copper details. Like luxury loft-style condominiumns in New York City, prices will likely attract a wealthy clientele.

vibinia lofts
114 East 2nd Street
In 1996, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles initiated demolition of the 17,000-square-foot St. Vibiana Cathedral, its home since 1876, sparking a heated preservation battle that ultimately left it untouched and now the cornerstone of a major $120 million, 468,000 square-foot mixed-use development project by Los Angeles developer Tom Gilmore.


Courtesy Tom Gilmore

According to Gilmore, the Los Angeles Conservancy, a local preservation organization, approached him in 1997 and asked for assistance in purchasing the property, which includes a 2.5-acre lotta full city block. With money lent (somewhat ironically) by the Archdiocese itself, Gilmore bought the property for $4.6 million, pledging to restore the cathedral and ensure an active future for it.

Gilmore came to an agreement with the California State University to convert the cathedral into a performing arts space downtown, a plan that earned $4 million from the state toward the cost of restoration and seismic retrofitting.

I am an adamant urbanist,, said Gilmore, adding, IIm not a fan of little disconnected venues; I am all for density.. By transferring air rights from the cathedral and its connected refectory, Gilmore could plan a series of small mixed-use buildings and a 41-story residential highrise spread out throughout the site. Weere staggering the buildings and utilizing setbacks in order to create a pedestrian-friendly environment,, said Gilmore. Gilmore and his partner, Richard Weintraub, hired local architecture firm Nadel Architects to design the project, who began with massing diagrams to plan the site. The bottom line is that the skin and profile are less important than massing in a project of this scale,, Gilmore pointed out.

The $8 million restoration of the cathedral was completed last year, overseen by local preservation experts Levin & Associates Architects. The rest of the project is still in designnGilmore notes that the preliminary renderings are more flashy than IId like to see themm?as the project goes through planning and zoning. Gilmore hopes the tower, which will have 2,200 square feet of ground-level retail fronting a parking garage, will break ground in the beginning of 2007 and be completed in 2009.

Fuller Lofts
210 North San Fernando Road
One of the more notable adaptive-reuse conversions downtown is Santa Monicaabased Pugh + Scarpa Architectss restoration of the 1927 Fuller Pink Company, a former office building and a relic of L.A..s art deco moment. Though not an official landmark, it sports stunning details, including pilasters, sculpted floral bas reliefs, and according to principal architect Gwen Pugh, a wonderfully preserved lobby..


courtesy pugh + scarpa architect

Pugh + Scarpa has restored the five-floor, 151,000-square-foot building and added two additional floors, creating a total of 102 units. The architects cored out the center of the concrete building in order to create a 40-foot-wide lightwell and room for a small interior courtyard. The rooftop addition has its own identity, clad in glass and corrugated metal. On the buildinggs north side, the metal cladding undulates in plan, contrasting with the cube on which it is perchedda gesture that, according to Pugh, is intended to divorce the skin from the boxx and make the original buildinggs undecorated north facade more interesting.. On all sides, irregularly placed balconies, resembling constructivist boxes, further disrupt the original buildinggs simple planarity.

The Lincoln Heights district is roughly 2 miles from downtown, in an area thatts still largely undeveloped (parking lots and empty plots far outnumber supermarkets). According to Pugh, the Fuller Lofts is the only project in the immediate vicinity that has been motivated by the cityys new Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which the city adopted in 1999 (and greatly expanded in 2003) in order to lure businesses downtown.


CIVICS LESSON
Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, Rafael Moneoos Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Thom Maynees Caltrans headquarters have changed the way Angelenos understand their downtown. Spectacular, freewheeling, and deeply moving, these buildings have drawn crowds and made architecture relevant, and perhaps essential. So why havennt more of the new public buildings followed suit? In the preceding decades, John Portmanns Bonaventure Hotel epitomized L.A..s style, which typically meant being walled off from the street, virtually impenetrable, and wrapped in a one-way mirror. Now public buildings are increasingly incorporating plazas, street-level portals, and transparent facades. Though many public buildings still embrace the bunker mentality, it might reflect bad planning and site selection as much as architectural design: The city still has the habit of plopping security-conscious buildings cheek-by-jowl to public-conscious ones. Whole street elevations are permitted to go unarticulated and turn a barren carapace to neighbors. Several new public projects reveal how far L.A. has come, and how far it has to go.

central los angeles area
High School #9

450 North Grand Avenue


armin heiss / isochrom / courtesy coop himmelb(l)au

After the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Coop Himmelb(l)auus High School for the Visual and Performing Arts may be one of the most dramatic structures to be completed in downtown L.A. The new structure, which began construction in March and is scheduled to openin 2008, will feature a dramatic glass and steel lobby and house 1,728 music, dance, visual and performing arts students. Estimated to cost $208 million, the signature feature of the school will be a 140-foot-tall tower that will give students a clear view of the adjacent Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

los angeles united states
Courthouse

First Street and Broadway


courtesy perkins and will
In 2001, Perkins + Will won a commission from the General Services Administration to design a 1,000,000-square-foot couthouse in downtown L.A. The 16-story building features approximately 40 courtrooms with floor-to-floor heights of 19 feet, along with some administrative office space and an expansive ground-floor atrium. Sustainability was crucial for the client and designers: Photovoltaic panels comprise about 50 percent of the large curving glass facade, under-floor circulation systems minimize heating and cooling costs, and clerestory windows throughout the courtrooms bring in natural daylight. The building is in still in design and construction should begin in mid to late 2007.

Los angeles police department headquarters
First and Main Streets


courtesy dmjm

Filling most of the block across from City Hall, the L.A.P.D..s new headquarters went through an extensive public review process while it was under design, and ultimately incorporated the lessons of over 30 community meetings. The architects, DMJM/Roth-Shepard Design, incorporated necessarily strong security requirements such as 75-foot setbacks to surround the building with public spaces. The 500,000-square-foot buildinggs two above-ground volumes form an L-shape around a large plaza along First Street. The budget is set for $303 million, and construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2008.

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From The Belly of the Whale

With the theme Metamorph,the 9th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is an aquarium of exotic architectural creatures. Richard Ingersoll attempts to make sense of the mmlange.

Asymptote conceived of the environmental design for the Metamorph exhibition, which occupies the Corderie dell'Arsenale (left).
Renzo Piano Building Workshop's 2002 Parco della Musica in Rome (below right) resembles three beetles. Foster and Partner's The Sage
Gateshead in Northern England (below left), slated to open in December, looks like a giant sea slug.

It probably all began with a fish. Not GGnter Grass' tale of the world-weary flounder, but Frank O. Gehry's love of wiggly marine life. The hundreds of models that recently washed up for the central exhibition of the 9th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, installed in the half-kilometer-long Corderie dell'Arsenale, appear like partially digested morsels of underwater creatures clinging to a series of colossal, stark white plaster ribs. Snack food for the Leviathan. The trend in architecture, privileged by the Biennale's mercurial director, Kurt Forster, oscillates between the desire to represent natural forms that have metamorphosed from the conventional notion of building and the desire not to represent at all, but to create random shapes through the accidents of computer morphing.. Thus the exhibition's syncretic theme, Metamorph. The ribbed installation, designed by the digitally endowed New York office Asymptote, breaks down the interminable axis of the column-lined hall by placing each exhibition platform laterally, forcing the visitor to meander in picturesque circuits. Each of the three dozen podia has an irregular streamlined shape that is different from but related to the ones nearest it. These sinuous ribbons are fascinating as sculpture, work fairly well for exhibiting the displays (though the flat bases of each of the models had to be adjusted to the platforms' irregular surfaces), and invest the space with a resounding metaphoric unity. Like most of the projects in the show, however, Asymptote's ribs demonstrate a lack of interest in constructional or structural determinants, approaching form as something that could be grown rather than built.

As Hani Rashid, principal of Asymptote and spokesman for a new generation of digital designers put it, With the aid of computing a newly evolved architecture is emerging. It is within the grasp of architects and artists today to discover and evoke a digitally induced spatial delirium, where a merging of simulation and effect with physical reality creates the possibility of a sublime morphing from thought to actualization.. Let us agree that the Vitruvian categories of commodity and firmness have no place in this hallucinogenic purview. And even the third canonical objective, delight, is much abused. Those who visit the main exhibition of the Biennale will come away with a clear sense of a styleevaguely organic, neo-picturesque, and sublimely homely. Most of the projects also seem technically dubious and extremely expensive to build because of their awkward geometries. While there is an undercurrent of concern for the environment and many designs consciously simulate natural forms, there is no attempt to justify the works from a social, technical, or ecological point of view. Thus the show concentrates almost completely on a current tasteea new version of expressionismmthat appeals to some of the cultural elite of advanced capitalism. Forster, a Swiss-born art historian, the founding director of the Getty Center, and for two years the director of the Canadian Center for Architecture, came to the job with a formidable intellectual and institutional background. While one may take issue with the content of the Biennale, its concept has been convincingly displayed and given an excellent pedagogical armature in the three-volume catalogue. In some ways, the basis of the show was prepared by writer Marina Warner, who curated an art exhibition with a similar theme at the Science Museum in London in 2002. In her view, the taste for metamorphosis accompanies the anxious desire for self-transformation in an advanced technological society. Historian Juan Antonio Ramirez sees the trend in a more political light, especially after the events of September 11 in New York and March 11 in Madrid, declaring that the nascent 21st century's love affair with pulverized ruins, relies on the demolition of democratic institutions. Any analysis of our social political reality would define the sides of the triangle in which we move as: lies, usurpation, and ruin..

Unfortunately the critical and skeptical insights of the catalogue are unable to shape the experience of the exhibition, which is by nature an endorsement of style. Forster has pursued a personal theoretical agenda that revolves around two of his close friends: Peter Eisenman, with whom he founded Oppositions magazine in the 1970s and commissioned a project for an unbuilt house, Eleven-A, and Frank O. Gehry, for whom he has often acted as an intermediary or glossator. While recently the architectural styles of Eisenman and Gehry seem to be converging toward an organicist mode, their approaches to architecture are diametrically opposed. Eisenman's methods celebrate the autonomous capacity of geometry and computation to signify, while Gehry relies on artistic intuition and metaphor. Eisenman's line of thought has led to computer morphing, while Gehry's has led to an appreciation of zoomorphic and crystalline iconography requiring computer modeling to be realized. The formal results of each are intentionally monstrous with respect to architectural conventions and urban contexts, appealing to the aesthetic theory of the sublime.

Gehry is well represented at the Biennale with the show's largest model, of the recently completed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, a stainless steellclad sibling of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Eisenman, meanwhile, was given an entire room to make an installation about his work. The most interesting projects, both currently under construction, seem like ventures into land art: the City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. In addition, Eisenman was honored with the Biennale's Lifetime Achievement Award. His built works, so often instant ruins, such as House VI or the Wexner Center at Ohio State, should serve as a parable for the Metamorph style: You can fantasize and digitize all you like, but that won't stop a building from leaking.

(Abobe) Stavanger Concert Hall by PLOT; (Left) Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry; and (Below) Peter Eisenman's City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela.

To give substance to the trend toward a new expressionist taste, Forster assembled a separate exhibition on contemporary concert halls. The peculiar demands of acoustical engineering and the monumental imagery often attached to these projects give them a particular iconic power in an urban setting. Like the museum, concert halls serve as a kind of scapegoat for the demise of civic life. To see so many together, one has little doubt that they adhere to the underlying taste of Metamorph. Starting with JJrn Utzon's Sydney Opera House and Hans Scharoun's Berlin Philharmonic, both designed in the 1950s, the 40 models of recent solutions demonstrate that the type has yielded some of the weirdest forms in architectural history. Acoustical engineering seems to have bestowed a functionalist precept for irregular forms that struggle against the orthogonality of most urban contexts. The prize-winner in this part of the show, an unbuilt project for a two part concert hall in Stavanger, Norway, by the Danish office PLOT, is an ingenious solution that unites two monolithic parallelipeds with steps that wrap around the base of the buildings and then continue as a louvered facade to the roof. The risers are translucent, allowing slats of daylight into the structure and at night creating a magical light box effect, like a Noguchi lantern. One can still recognize a humanist bias in the approach, especially when compared to other projects such as the Dutch office NOX's recently completed installation Son-O-House, which looks like guts spilled on a sidewalk. The trend in zoomorphic transformations and picturesque planning is evident even among the most technologically astute offices. Norman Foster's The Sage Gateshead music hall rests like a giant sea slug on the banks of the River Tyne and Renzo Piano's Parco della Musica in Rome resembles three beetles. Despite being the largest international exhibition for architecture, the Biennale this year cannot be said to represent the world's architecture. And while there is no hierarchy or singling out of any particular nation, the curatorial concentration on the quirks of a particular aspect of high style is unavoidably discriminatory. The Biennale has always compensated for its elitism in the dozens of national pavilions, where each country assigns a curator to assemble a show. The pavilion prize went to Belgium, which presented an artist's and anthropologist's vision of Kinshasha, a mod- est consideration of Congolese vernacular adaptations in a situation far removed from the patronage necessary for the projects of Metamorph. A work of postcolonial guilt, it stood out from the rest of the Biennale as a reminder of architecture's misplaced priorities.

The Japanese pavilion was exceptional in its conceptualism, bringing together a myriad of images from pop culture surrounding the figure of the eternally adolescent and aimless computer nerd, christened Otaku. The chaotic but repetitious assembly of plastic toys and bright colored posters creates a convincing idea of how the trivial products, games, and junk of consumerism have become elements of contemporary urbanism. The other pavilion that caught my attention was Germany's, a fascinating photomontage mural that undulated from room to room, seamlessly blending 37 contemporary works of architecture into the landscape of sprawl. Has sprawl finally become beautiful? Finally, the U.S. pavilion, which relies on private sponsors, showed the work of six offices, three of which are very morphy and three that are not. The Biennale's juried prizes went to SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa) for two works, the Contemporary Art Museum in Kanazawa, Japan, and the Valencia Institute of Modern Art in Valencia. Other awards were given to Foreign Office Architects (Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Farshid Moussavi) for its terraced, undulating hanging garden scheme for a car park at the Novartis campus in Basel, and Marttnez-Lapeea and Torres for its design of an exhibition platform and photovoltaic tower at the new convention center area of Forum 2004, which covers Barcelona's water treatment plant. The new expressionism of Metamorph opens a perennial problem, not just of technique and social program but of aesthetics. Hybrid works such as many of those presented in the Biennale are misfitsslinguistically closed, impractical to construct, and difficult to adapt to. Their meaning is circumscribed by their uniqueness of form, which greatly limits their chances to be understood. They are doomed to extinction as they are unable to cooperate with reality. Will we someday find ourselves rallying to save the architectural whales? Richard Ingersoll is a critic based in Italy. His latest book is Sprawltown (Meltemi, 2004).