Search results for "michael maltzan"

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La Brea Affordable Housing
The client wanted the building to have a strong presence. The architects achieved that by wrapping the exposed corner with looped ribbons of white lacquered steel.
Art Gray

Patrick Tighe Architecture teamed with John V. Mutlow Architecture to design La Brea Affordable Housing—a newly completed sequel to the Sierra Bonita Apartments, which Tighe built four years ago for the same client, the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC). The first was a pilot project for the City of West Hollywood’s Green Building Ordinance, and it launched a plan to upgrade and densify the scruffy east end of a city whose west side, bordering on Beverly Hills, is choking on its success.

Tighe made his reputation with a succession of dramatically skewed houses and studios that drew on his experience at Morphosis. Sierra Bonita was his first affordable housing project, and he and Mutlow have applied the lessons they’ve learned on past jobs to this latest effort. It’s a five-story block with 32 wood-frame studios and one-bedroom apartments sitting atop a concrete and glass podium. Located a mile south of Hollywood Boulevard, the new facility provides a humane refuge for homeless LGBT youth and people living with HIV. More than a hundred such blocks are needed to meet the current demand: there were about 3,500 applications for these few accommodations.

 
 

At street level, there is parking and a narrow garden for residents to the rear, and a storefront office for the non-profit AIDS Project Los Angeles. The client wanted the building to have a strong street presence, and the architects have achieved that by wrapping the building’s exposed corner with looped ribbons of white lacquered steel. Assembled from short sections of flanged plate, they enclose the lobby, give the block a distinctive signature, and mask wire-mesh balustrades. Their sweeping curves mediate between the rectilinear storefront and the fretted aluminum plates that clad the upper stories along La Brea Boulevard. Comprising ten custom patterns cut with water jets and randomly arranged, they also serve as a decorative sunscreen that frames inset balconies. The balcony reveals are painted aqua, in tones that lighten as they ascend.

 
 

The facades demonstrate the architects’ skill in exploiting a budget of $160/square foot, employing durable materials and imaginative design to better effect than most market-rate apartment blocks. The interior is even more imaginative. The corner lobby soars five stories to the roof and the openings between the steel ribbons pull in light, cooling breezes, and glimpses of sky. When it rains, the furnishings can be sheltered and water drains from the concrete floor. At the upper levels, apartments open onto a densely landscaped courtyard, which is oriented north-south and gives every apartment natural light and cross ventilation. It provides a sheltered gathering place in winter, and a cool, shady retreat in summer. Bamboo plants rise to the height of the building from sinuous concrete planters, which incorporate benches. A communal room, warmed by millwork and armchairs of reclaimed wood, opens off the second level, beside a laundry and social services. Solar panels, a gray water system, and a white vinyl roof membrane combine with passive strategies to achieve a high level of sustainability.

To reduce costs, the living units are stacked, but each has a full bathroom and kitchen, plus storage and an 80 square-foot outdoor space. The WHCHC is funded from different sources, and each lender has a different set of requirements for access, materials, and open space, challenging the architects to reconcile conflicting demands. Large cities, from LA and San Francisco to New York, are notoriously over-regulated and that constraint, combined with a shortage of Federal and State funding, slows construction of affordable housing to a trickle. Many architects, from Rob Quigley in San Diego, to David Baker in San Francisco are eager to contribute more. In LA, Tighe and Mutlow join Michael Maltzan, Koning Eizenberg, Kevin Daly, Frederick Fisher, and others in reaching out to the needy only to find themselves frustrated by inflexible rules and a dearth of funding.

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

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

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

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

   
Courtesy Frederick Fisher and Partners
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
The Hertz/Maltzan team’s proposal.
Courtesy MMA
 

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

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

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

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Want an Original Steven Holl On Your Wall? Drawing Center Hosting Architecture Auction
The Drawing Center, along with the online auction house, Paddle 8, is hosting an auction of architectural drawings in conjunction with its current exhibition, Lebbeus Woods, Architect. The auction is meant to support future exhibitions of drawings at the center, including ones on architecture and by architects. The auction ends on May 9th, so place your bids right away. Up for bid are drawings by Thom Mayne, Michael Bell, Steven Holl, Stan Allen, WXY/Claire Weisz & Mark Yoes, Neil Denari, Eric Owen Moss, Brad Cloepfil, Michael Maltzan, Annabelle Selldorf, Pablo Castro/OBRA, and James Newton Wines. The drawings all represent important architecture projects and ideas.
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Kick the Architectural Competition Habit
Voluntary Prisoners: Navy Pier competitors at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Courtesy Terry Surjan

“There is an incredible amount of wasted effort in the profession. A fair amount of it is kind of generated through the procedure of competitions, which is really like a complete drain of intelligence. I don’t know any other profession that would, kind of, tolerate this…‘You are important. We invite your thinking. But we also announce that there is a kind of 80 percent chance that we will throw away your thinking and make sure that it is completely wasted.’”
-Rem Koolhaas in Urbanized

 
Marshall Brown.
Courtesy Marshall Brown Projects
 

As our team moved steadily forward to the final round of the Navy Pier redevelopment competition in 2011, I began to question why any architects, landscape architects, or engineers would put up with such an arduous ordeal for the limited promise of somewhat uncertain rewards. These words come with all due respect to my collaborators, colleagues, and the competition organizers. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I also admit that my newly founded practice benefited from the public exposure, and even somewhat financially. The experience left me with lingering concerns about how not just emergent practices, but also the leaders of our profession have become captive to the systematic exploitation of design competitions. This is not a critique of the small-scale ideas competitions that young architects enter with the hope of a small prize or perhaps even a boost to their careers. This is about the high-end contests reserved for prestigious and large-scale projects, which tend to require substantial qualifications just for the privilege of entry.

My concern grew into alarm after viewing presentation videos from last year’s competition for 425 Park Avenue with Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, and Norman Foster. The schemes they presented were unremarkable by their own lofty standards. OMA’s project was particularly disappointing given Koolhaas’ status as the preeminent living theorist of the Manhattan skyscraper. Based on three stacked and rotated cubes, their proposal retreated to a simplistic formalism that lacked any of the challenging narrative or internal programmatic complexity we have come to expect from the best of OMA. One could counter that the constraints of the office building type limited the architects’ ability to innovate. Perhaps. But if that were the case, then why stage the competition at all? The recent competition for the Prentice Hospital site in Chicago also produced less than compelling results and should raise similar concerns, even without the imported celebrities.

Navy Pier competition entry by Marshall Brown Projects, Davis Brody Bond, Martha Schwartz Partners, and Halcrow Yolles.
Courtesy Marshall Brown Projects
 

The New BIGness.

OMA’s entry for 425 Park Avenue may be symptomatic of an increasingly common condition. The bluntly stacked and rotated cubes seemed reminiscent of some of the recent production of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Of course, Ingels is an OMA alumnus, and this is not an accusation of plagiarism. But it seems that BIG’s success in several U.S. competitions, including the Kimball Art Center (winner), Brooklyn Bridge Pier 6 (winner), Navy Pier (finalist), and St. Petersberg Pier (finalist), seems to be effecting the broader field even when they are not in the game. The simple diagrams, surreal formal effects, and easy imageability of their work has forced some of their more established competitors to enter an arms race of gigantic object-scapes. For example, Michael Maltzan Architects, a practice known for works of wonderful subtlety, actually trumped BIG’s looping “Wave” with its own gigantic bowl shaped “Lens” in the St. Petersberg Pier competition. Maltzan’s proposal has since then fallen victim to an unsurprising combination of budget cuts and local politics. Coincidentally, BIG’s winning proposal for the Kimball in Utah seems to be heading in a similar direction. Monumental victories easily turn into monumental targets after the high of the competition has faded. Hindsight suggests that those of us who competed against BIG at Navy Pier may be fortunate that none of our monumental proposals enticed the jury, which chose James Corner Field Operations’ more restrained proposal, the first phase of which is already under construction.

Despite such exceptions, the evidence is building and the case becoming clearer: The competition industry in the U.S. is having equally as bad or worse effects on the conception of architecture than we already know it has on the business of architecture. The old argument that competitions drive architectural innovation is no longer credible. Developers, cultural institutions, and government agencies have mastered the use of design competitions as publicity campaigns. Their claims of searching for the best ideas is just an alibi that unfortunately continues to seduce too many of our best talents. These drawn out exercises also make very little practical sense when it should be easy enough for clients to choose between architects as distinct and established as the group assembled for 425 Park Avenue by picking up a few monographs or even just looking at their websites. The real justifications are simple. Developers and institutions gain fantastic and relatively affordable publicity from the mad traveling circus of design competitions. By helping them attract financing and donors, we encourage the proliferation of these sham exercises where enormous projects are fully rendered without contracts, necessary approvals, or even clear programs. We clearly have an addiction to architectural competitions, but there is always hope for rehabilitation. While too many senior architects are irreversibly hooked on this mode of practice, the next generation has access to better venues for generating ideas and building our reputations, but we may need to learn some new lessons first.

Navy Pier Archipelago Mashup (after Roberto Burle Marx).
Courtesy Marshall Brown Projects
 

La Villette...au revoir.

Architecture students in the 1990s were nursed on the twin triumphs of Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de La Villette in Paris (1982–83) and Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin (1988–89). They reinvigorated the old myth that design competitions are how both great architects and great projects are made. We turned a corner a decade or two later with the World Trade Center competition of 2002. Once Libeskind’s winning design for Ground Zero had been marginalized, one could hardly doubt that the design proposals had never been the real purpose of the WTC competition. But the contest was actually a great publicity machine for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and Silverstein Properties. Many of the world’s best architects were jonesing to compete, with one conspicuous exception: Frank Gehry declined the invitation and was publicly castigated by Peter Eisenman for criticizing the inadequate compensation offered to the design teams. Mr. Gehry was both admirable and correct in his protest, but trying to explain the financial downside of design competitions to architects is equivalent to explaining the negative effects of heroin to professional users. Eisenman was quoted in a 2007 New York Times article as saying, “To me, when I stop getting invited to competitions is when I quit. That’s what makes me alive.” Not only do many architects not care about the downside of competitions, but we also enjoy chasing the high. The economic arguments will continue to fall on deaf ears, but competitions are also affecting the core values of the profession in ways that should concern us, even when the time and money wasted do not.

Sources of Architectural Speculation.
Courtesy Marshall Brown Projects
 

200 architects enter, one architect leaves.

Unfortunate episodes like the WTC contest demonstrate how competitions encourage the false but common attitude that one architect’s success depends upon another’s defeat. Such an ideology of winners and losers is typical of our neoliberal age and especially effective at breeding animosity among would-be colleagues when the stakes are high. To make matters worse, teams for major competitions have become bloated with collaborating architects and their attending consultants in attempts to appear hyper-qualified. Unfortunately, this can then also cause competition within teams, first for control over the design, and then for bigger shares of the work and fees if they happen to win. And finally, senior architects seem to be competing now against very young firms for minor institutional commissions such as temporary museum installations. These competitions are inevitable money losers for firms of even moderate size, yet they still enter the chase with hopes of publicity or possibly a larger and more profitable commission down the road. I declined to enter, but bore witness to such a contest last year in Chicago. This unfortunate kind of generational warfare stifles innovation by making it increasingly difficult for more new voices to enter the field.

Rewriting the brief.

Heroic myths forgotten, we should recognize that the best competition winners—and also rans—from recent architectural history tend to have been the products of research that was developed over time and in advance of the contests. Before winning Fresh Kills and the High Line, James Corner had already researched, drawn, and written Taking Measures Across the American Landscape (1996). Before their famous La Villette entries, Bernard Tschumi had already conjured the Manhattan Transcripts (1976–81) and Rem Koolhaas had written Delirious New York (1978). Fortunately for all of us, today’s emergent practices have a robust network of resources and institutions dedicated to supporting the production and publication of speculative work. These include research universities, galleries, peer-reviewed publications, as well as a growing assortment of fellowships and residencies. Unlike competitions these creative and intellectual programs tend to hold collegiality and mutual support as core principles. Obviously there are more efficient, gratifying, and cost-effective ways of nurturing our practices than participating in competitions. Yet here I emphasize the seemingly less obvious fact that the same holds true for the quality of our work. In the same New York Times article Thom Mayne answered, “I’m not sure how you’d replace it,” when asked what to do about the architectural competition system. Old addictions die hard, but for the next generation I offer a New Year invitation to join me in rehabilitation. The course of treatment is simple: early, complete, and permanent retirement...from architectural competitions.

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Architectural League Names 2014 Emerging Voices
Today, the Architectural League of New York revealed its selections for the 2014 class of Emerging Voices, a distinction that honors young firms "with distinct design voices and the potential to influence the disciplines of architecture, landscape design, and urbanism." This year's pool of winners demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, according to the League, "pursuing alternate forms of practice, often writing their own programs or serving as their own clients." Winners are selected by a jury from a pool of invited firms. This year's international group of eight includes The Living (which just this week was also named winner of MoMA PS 1's Young Architects Program), Surfacedesign, SITU Studio, Ants of the Prairie, Estudio Macías Peredo, Rael San Fratello, TALLER |MauricioRocha+GabrielaCarrillo|, and Williamson Chong Architects. A lecture series is planned in March where each firm will present their work and design philosophy. Betsy Williamson, Shane Williamson, and Donald Chong Williamson Chong Architects Toronto According to the League:
“Context, materials research, economies of construction, building performance, and client-based collaboration” all shape the design approach of Williamson Chong Architects. Their work ranges in scale from furniture to master planning, including the House in Frogs Hollow and the Abby Gardens Food Community master plan.
David Benjamin The Living New York According to the League:
New Yorkʼs The Living explores – through installations such as Mussel Choir, exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and the NYCEDC project EcoPark – “how new technologies come to life in the built environment.” The Living was just named as the winner of the MoMA/PS1 Young Architects Program.
Geoff di Girolamo, James Lord, and Roderick Wyllie Surfacedesign San Francisco According to the League:
The landscape architecture and urban design practice Surface Design, Inc. focuses on creating landscapes that emphasize “personal histories and connections between culture and natural environment” with projects ranging in scale from domestic projects, to San Franciscoʼs Golden Gate Bridge Plaza, to Stonesfields Quarry Park in Auckland, New Zealand.
Basar Girit, Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny, Wes Rozen, and Bradley Samuels SITU Studio Brooklyn According to the League:
The firmʼs Brooklyn-based studio, divided between design and fabrication spaces, enables their goal to “leverage fabrication efficiencies, material re-use, flexible assemblies, and community involvement to create spaces that engage in living relationships with the urban context.” Projects have included the ReOrder installation in the Brooklyn Museum Great Hall; Heartwalk, installed in Times Square; and mapping and analysis projects.
Joyce Hwang Ants of the Prairie Buffalo, NY According to the League:
Ants of the Prairie is an arts and research practice “dedicated to developing creative approaches in confronting the pleasures and horrors of our contemporary ecologies,” as seen in work such as Bat Cave and Bat Cloud and the currently under construction bird and bat Habitat Wall.
Salvador Macías Corona and Magui Peredo Arenas Estudio Macías Peredo Guadalajara, Mexico According to the League:
Estudio Macías Peredo, acknowledging “the understanding of our regional situation (geographically and socio-culturally), where [a] craftsman is part of the building process,” embraces ideas of critical regionalism, as explored in the residences Casa Atlas and Casa Arenas.
Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello Rael San Fratello Oakland, CA According to the League:
Rael San Fratello shies away from working within a set philosophy, trying rather “not to define, but rather to constantly redefine ourselves” with projects, ranging from the art installation Prada Marfa to their winning entry in the Sukkah City competition, “Sukkah of the Signs, aka the Homeless House,” that “try to do the most with the least.”
Mauricio Rocha Iturbide and Gabriela Carrillo Valadez TALLER |MauricioRocha+GabrielaCarrillo| Mexico City According to the League:
TALLER IMauricioRocha+GabrielaCarrilloI focuses on “the importance of the vernacular, craftsmanship, sustainability, and socially-responsible design” in projects such as Plastic Arts School, Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca and the Hall for the Visually Impaired, Ciudadela.
The League's Emerging Voices lecture series will take place at the Scholastic Auditorium located at 557 Broadway, New York. For exact dates and ticket information, visit the League's website. The 2014 jury included Fred Bernstein, Paul Lewis, Kate Orff, Thomas Phifer, Annabelle Selldorf, and Adam Yarinsky. Previous Emerging Voices winners include Jeanne Gang, Morphosis, Steven Holl, Tod Williams, Deborah Berke, Brad Cloepfil, Michael Maltzan, and many others.
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Saturday in Los Angeles> ForumFest 2013
Michael Maltzan is the guest of honor at ForumFest 2013, the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Design's annual fundraising party.  The event will take place this Saturday, November 9, from 6 to 10 pm at the Maltzan-designed Inner-City Arts in Downtown Los Angeles. forumfest2013 Maltzan studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and Harvard University's Graduate School of Design before working in the offices of Machado Silvetti and Frank Gehry.  In 1995 he founded Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA).  MMA's work in LA includes Regen Projects, the Billy Wilder Theater and Cafe at the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Biscuit Company Lofts, Inner City Arts, and several noted projects for Skid Row Housing Trust, including the Rainbow Apartments, the New Carver Apartments, and the upcoming Star Apartments. Saturday's festivities will include installations by participants in the Forum's 2013 Out There Doing It Series, plus music by KCRW DJ Dan Wilcox and a silent auction.  For sale at the auction are drawings by  Maltzan and other local architects, including Greg Lynn, Tom Wiscombe, Scott Johnson, Doris Sung, Larry Scarpa, Michael Lehrer, Barbara Bestor, and Tim Durfee.  Two photographic prints of MMA-designed buildings, by photographer Iwan Baan, will also be featured. For more information or to order tickets, visit the LA Forum website.
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October 19: Hyperion Avenue Studio Tour In Silver Lake
LA architecture aficionados take note: this Saturday you can tour five architecture studios within a one-mile stretch on Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake, thanks to a fundraiser organized by de LaB (design east of La Brea). The studios featured on the self-guided tour include Michael Maltzan Architecture, known for civic-minded projects like the New Carver Apartments, and Lehrer Architects, whose recent work includes the Spring Street Park downtown.  Tourgoers can also stop at WTARCH, MASS Architecture & Design, and MAKE Architecture. The tour begins at 3:00 pm and ends at 6:00 pm.  A buy-your-own happy hour follows. Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased online.  Proceeds from the event benefit de LaB programs.  For more information, visit de LaB's event page
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Sam Hall Kaplan
Carloz Diniz's rendering of Pacific Design Center by Cesar Pelli for Gruen Associates.
Edward Cella Art & Architecture

This is the second in a two part series covering the Getty's Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future 1940–1990 exhibition running through July 21. View the first half here.

There is nothing middling in the Getty Center’s celebration of a half century of modern architecture in Los Angeles, from 1940 to 1990. Labeled Overdrive, the evolving city is prodigiously described as “a vibrant laboratory for architectural innovation,” at a time when “experimental concepts were tested, and visionary designs realized.”

The region indeed does have a rich Modernistic architectural history, actually dating back to the early 1900s and including the notable exercises of Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright, R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra. The tradition carried forward by the Case Study Houses and populist practitioners such as Cliff May and Ray Kappe persevered through the 1970s.

However, from my front row, center seat as the Los Angeles Times architecture and design critic for much of the decade, the 1980s was marked by a sad shift in architecture from its social imperative to create places and spaces for human endeavor to idiosyncratic designs, with how things look taking precedence over how things work.

It was as if architecture and its implications of permanence had become a photo opportunity. The result was what I labeled plop architecture, designs ignoring context, climate, and culture that seemed to have been dropped from above to land haphazardly on various city sites. If their conceits didn’t always work as architecture, they hailed it as art.

The renowned photographer Julius Shulman, with whom I was collaborating at the time on a history of Los Angeles architecture, often dismissed the forced constructs as “junk piles.” But he added not to worry, for priding himself a commercial photographer he felt he could make almost any building look good. And he did. Many of his photographs are included in the Getty survey.

Peter Alexander's PA and PE, 1990.
Peter Alexander / Courtesy Pacific Enterprises
 

As noted by the Getty, the designs and declarations of the 1980s did garner much national and international attention, and many awards, though from my perspective they were prompted by the east coast design arbiters who were looking for good copy to fulfill the cliché of Southern California as a new age art and architecture spectacle, and anxious to score junkets.

The desire to be different even at the cost of crafting buildings that didn’t work very well was mimicked by a host of local architects desperate to be in the slip stream of fads and fashions, and snare their own headlines, and hopefully new commissions. Glitz and glamour were the way to go.

But their hyped designs, as well as most of those by the so-called L.A. Ten, failed at becoming paradigms, whether too costly, or just too quirky. At best, several select designs of Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Eric Owen Moss were interesting sculptural and structural exercises, though not particularly user friendly.

A post occupancy evaluation of the designs would have been revealing. However, my attempts when the projects were completed in the 1980s drew the wrath of architects and clients, who were concerned that such evaluations, if critical, would detract from the well-publicized efforts adding value to their projects.

Such evaluations I feel still would be interesting. Certainly they would have lent the gala Getty initiative some needed scholarly credibility, and at a fraction of the cost of the several million dollars it has spent on affiliated programs and publications promoting the exhibitions and celebrating itself.

To be sure, a number of distinguished designs were generated in Los Angeles in the 1980s, but they were not conceits the Getty identifies. These include playful open-air shopping centers and a kit of parts for the 1984 Olympics by Jerde Associates, the various neighborhood-friendly residential projects by the firm of Killefer Flammang, and the sensitive restorations of Brenda Levin. It was, I feel, the work of these architects that spurred the welcomed resurgence of Downtown, and the city’s incipient historic preservation movement.

Such user-friendly projects, along with the construction of the Metro, as well as the continued conversion of public places into people places, have given rise to a promising renewed commitment to social architecture. Still, Los Angeles architecture remains mostly an afterthought—its hyped history not withstanding. Deserving attention by the august Getty, if only for continuance, are the ambitious stolid—and critically ignored— designs by the firms of AECOM and Gensler and site specific constructs by the more-lauded Michael Maltzan, Frank Israel, and select others in the last 20 years. And then there is the Getty Center itself by Richard Meier, conceived in the 1980s and christened in 1996, which despite its isolated location is surprisingly engaging and user friendly.

And this despite the continued indulgences of the self-aggrandizing star architects who came to the fore in the 70s and 80s, cranking out vanity projects for celebrity seeking clients. Also particularly pernicious was the inordinate attention these conceits generated among several generations of star struck students, which I sadly observed as a guest critic at local architecture schools. Lending little perspective was a puerile design community and its braying publicists posing as critics and commentators.

The Getty initiative I feel unfortunately has fed this dissipated Southern California indisposition among hidebound scholars and benign bureaucrats to be voguish. It is a problem when existing in the shadow of Hollywood.

Overdrive may have been an apt headline for the postwar years, but by the time the 1980s was upon us cars and Los Angeles just were not mixing well. Also not doing well was the hyped avant-garde architecture, perplexing and isolating the public.  If anything has put an end to this modern period extolled by the Getty, it is the recent recession; a time to down shift from Overdrive, slow down to go beyond the freeways, try to find a parking space, and experience the evolving city on a bike or walking.

L.A. survives, its architecture a backdrop to its seductive setting and aspiring lifestyle.

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Fashionable Arrival
Courtesy Shimoda Design Group

Downtown LA's Arts District is taking off, and for many the symbol has become Michael Maltzan’s huge One Santa Fe, the long, snaking mixed-use building rising on the neighborhood’s northern edge. But on the district’s southern edge is Alameda Square, a much bigger development—three times the size in fact, at 1.5 million square feet—that really shows this gritty area’s staying power.

Developed by real estate private equity firm Evoq Properties (the successor to now-bankrupt development company Meruelo Maddux), Alameda Square includes the redevelopment of four 1916 factory buildings on the corner of Alameda and 7th streets containing, famously, the workshops and headquarters for American Apparel, Dov Charney’s controversial made-in-LA clothing company. The behemoth pink and beige structures, each slightly different, were first built by the Southern Pacific Railroad and were later used for food processing and packaging by S.E. Rykoff.

 
Sam Lubell / AN
 

Shimoda Design Group is designing the master plan for the compound. The architecture firm, led by Joey Shimoda, has built a reputation for its office and adaptive reuse projects around the country. Its own studios are just down the street, on Traction Street.

The focus of the complex—linking the Arts District with downtown’s nearby Fashion District—will be fashion, bringing together shops, high-end offices, and even manufacturing. American Apparel’s buildings, totaling about 800,000 square feet, will stay, containing factory floors, stores, and offices. The other two buildings, totaling about 600,000 square feet, will be renovated by designers chosen by each tenant and will contain offices and light, clothing-related manufacturing. Office tenants so far include fashion brands Splendid, Ella Moss, and Groceries. Several other leases are in negotiation, said Tyler Stonebreaker, co-founder at Creative Space, a development partner on the project.

Courtesy Shimoda Design Group
 

In the center of the complex, Shimoda has developed conceptual plans for a public green space and a large metal and plastic-clad tent containing glass-enclosed retail stalls. Just beyond the tent, Shimoda envisions a series of shipping containers containing more retail. Shimoda said that the tent and containers would give sellers the ability to start up quite quickly. Those facilities could be ready in as little as a year.

Shimoda’s scheme places a new 1,800- to 2,600-space car parking structure at the east of the site, connected to the complex via large, shaft-like, raised walkways. Much of the design, such as the large truss signs and the graphics, designed by Matthew Foster, will reference the site’s industrial history. “We wanted it to speak to the neighborhood that it was a part of,” said Stonebreaker.

Courtesy Shimoda Design Group
 

The scheme is flexible, since demand for the project could shift quickly. The campus could stay relatively small or keep expanding, said Stonebreaker, while uses within each building could change. “It doesn’t happen linearly,” he said. Shimoda plans to keep the open spaces between the buildings open for now, but may convert them to retail, depending on interest. Currently there are plans for up to 126,000 square feet of retail on the site—including fashion retailers, restaurants, and food trucks—but the exact uses will only become clear after the space has been used for a while and nodes of interest are determined.

 
Sam Lubell / AN
 

“You can’t predict the use of the space or the growth of the retail and office markets,” said Shimoda. Due to the evolving nature of the plans, it’s impossible to predict the total size and cost of the project, added Stonebreaker.

In order to lure more tenants and open up more space, the team will also need to replace an aging DWP transformer now providing the site’s power. The complex could expand west to include vacant portions of the adjacent 7th Street Produce Market, which occupies two long buildings that are some of the largest continuous spaces in the city.

While much of the financing is in place, and some tenants are getting ready to move in, several of the project plans, and any zoning changes, still need to be approved by city planning. “I think this is a real turning point in making legitimate, big, creative space in this area. Up in this point it’s been small and spread out,” said Shimoda. “I think this feels like (New York’s) Meatpacking District did maybe 25 years ago, but it’s going to be a much more accelerated change.”

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International Architects Call On Milan’s Mayor To Reinstate Stefano Boeri
Stefano Boeri—the talented architect, politician, and former editor of Domus—was summarily dismissed this week from his position as Councillor for Culture, Fashion, and Design for the city of Milan. Boeri, who for several years has tried to bring architecture and design into official decision making process, has apparently butted heads with Milan's Mayor Giuliano Pisapia and has been pushed out the door. He has, according to one observer of Italian politics, clashed with the mayor "over how much he spent on an exhibition," who may be using the country's budget woes as an excuse to sack a potential political opponent. Boeri was coordinating the upcoming Milan Year of Culture and is not gong without a fight. A petition signed by host of major architects, artists, and cultural workers is being distributed to the press to put pressure on the mayor to bring Boeri back into government.
Dear Mayor Pisapia, It is with regret and disappointment that we learn that Stefano Boeri was dismissed from his position as Councillor for Culture, Fashion and Design for the city of Milan. Thanks to the energy and commitment of Boeri, and despite the deepening of the gravest crisis to have faced Italy since the postwar years, since 2011 Milan has succeded in projecting an image of renewed cultural vibrancy and dynamism onto the international stage. Thanks to Boeri's many initiatives—citywide events such as Book City and Piano City, or international exhibitions of internationally renowned artists such as the Marina Abramovic, Picasso, Bramantino, Alberto Garutti and Jeff Wall—Milan had finally succeeded in reaffirming itself forcefully on the international stage as an epicentre of art, design, fashion and culture. This unmotivated dismissal deprives Milan of one of its greatest assets—an individual who possesses the intelligence, energy, motivation and global network of relationships needed to make Milan an unrivaled protagonist of the European cultural scene of the 21st century. Stefano Boeri is one of Italy's foremost cultural exponents: he has taught in universities in Italy and abroad, curated exhibitions, designed buildings and written books that have been translated into many languages. As such, this unmotivated dismissal seems to us inexplicable. In this moment of grave crisis, we urge you to put personal differences aside and, for the good of the city, reconsider your decision. Yours sincerely, Marina Abramović - Artist, New York Iwan Baan - Photographer, Amsterdam Tatiana Bilbao - Architect, Tatiana Bilbao Architects, Ciudad de Mexico Daniel Birnbaum – Director, Moderna Museet, Stockholm Petra Blaisse - Landscape Architect, Inside Outside, Rotterdam Erica Bolton and Jane Quinn - Directors, Bolton Quinn, London Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec - Designers, Paris Maurizio Cattelan - Artist, Milan Yung Ho Chang, MIT, Head of the Department of Architecture, Cambridge Teddy Cruz - Architect, Teddy Cruz Architects, San Diego Chris Dercon – Director, Tate Modern, London Elizabeth Diller - Architect, New York Jimmie Durham - Artist, Berlin Okwui Enwezor - Curator, Munich Amos Gitai - Film Director, Tel Aviv - Paris Joseph Grima - Editor in chief, Domus, Milan Zaha Hadid - Architect, Zaha Hadid Architects, London Nikolaus Hirsch - Dean, Städelschule Frankfurt Li Hu - Architect, Beijing Bjarke Ingles - Architect, Bjarke Ingels Group Architects, Copenhagen Rem Koolhaas - Architect, Rotterdam Koyo Kouoh - Art Editor, Dakar Armin Linke - Photographer, Berlin Ross Lovegrove - Designer, London Qingyun Ma - Architect, Shanghai Michael Maltzan - Architect, Michael Maltzan Architecture, Los Angeles Giancarlo Mazzanti - Architect, Mazzanti Arquitectos, Bogotà Shelley McNamara & Yvonne Farrell - Architects, Grafton Architects, Dublin Mohsen Mostafavi – Dean, GSD Harvard, Cambridge Alexei Muratov - Journalist, Moscow Jean Nouvel - Architect, Paris Hans Ulrich Obrist - Co-director, Serpentine Gallery, London Julia Peyton Jones - Director Serpentine Gallery, London Bas Princen - Photographer, Amsterdam Edi Rama – Artist and politician, Tirana Anri Sala - Artist, Paris Tomas Saraceno - Artist, Berlin Milica Topalovic - Architect, Zurich
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Think Small
Mural in Los Angeles' Arts District.
Courtesy Lftcoastletters.com

Los Angeles sits at a fork in the road: a proverbial decision point that will determine whether it will replay the cycle of development, decline, and redevelopment that characterized it at the close of the 20th century, or evolve into a more cultivated, connected, and egalitarian version of itself.

The city is poised to move beyond its misrepresentations and embrace its recent achievements. For many Angelenos, the day-to-day experience of life is far removed from anyone’s memories of life in LA in the late ‘80s and mid-’90s. There is less smog; and it’s easier than ever to find a sophisticated meal and see a great play or attend a world-class opera.

And yet it feels as if something is missing. Los Angeles remains a city subject to the diurnal rhythms of its traffic patterns. LA, especially downtown LA, remains disconnected, and its over-arching and under-addressed ethos of urban disengagement has yet to be adequately challenged.


Broadway as it once was.
JMLWinder
 
 

LA has recently been visited by big buildings by star architects, various proposals for megamalls and mixed-use projects like L.A. Live and, perhaps, the Grand Avenue Development. It’s still proposing mega-stadiums, giant parks, and plans for big river and transit renewal programs. For this city, the abiding urban-redevelopment logic seems to be that if you build it big and make it iconic, then the private funds and presumably the public incentives will find their way to the table.

While it would be churlish to deny the value of ambitious public buildings in the urban context, LA’s grands projets (proyectos grandes?) only worked well… in the last economy.

And therein lies the rub. As long as our cities, like our states, and to a degree the nation, remain mired in the current economic doldrums, our large-scale urban redevelopment plans for old but demographically expanding cities like Los Angeles seem like ineffective and outmoded models.

The mega-project approach to remaking the city is capital- and labor-intensive, while generating too few long-term job gains regionally. It’s high risk, single shot, and ultimately touristic and brand driven. Indeed, the predominant, disconnected mega-project approach is hard to build, hard to finance, and likely to produce monolithic environments. And although we cannot refute the value of large-scale civic works, cities must develop organically, through incremental means but with raised expectations. Anything else is unsustainable.

There is another model of redevelopment that is native to LA and the region. It suggests both a better ethos for remaking the city center, and a path forward for the reconnection and reconstruction of LA’s more dispersed neighborhoods. It takes advantage of the facts on the ground, not in a report, and it is organic and intuitive. And it’s likely to work.

Several successful examples of such an approach are already at work in LA: the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, Culver City’s Arts District and Hayden Tract (much of it by architect and SCI-Arc director Eric Owen Moss) as well as other, more boutique commercial strip transformations (the Sunset Triangle in Los Feliz/Silverlake and Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard).

There is the notable work Michael Maltzan has completed for the Skid Row Housing Trust and Inner City Arts, an after-school program. Finally, there has been much to praise in the city’s successful small-lot subdivision ordinance, which has given teeth (and a protocol) to LA’s pressing need to move toward higher density on a manageable scale.

In an era of tightened financial opportunities, city governments need to stop relying on redevelopment plans that will inevitably fail. Sites for mired mega-projects, if they are to be developed at all and not sit stalled in financing agreements, should be parceled up and handed out competitively to smaller teams of architects and developers. Incentives should be provided to these teams, to lower risk but demand greater responsibility and higher design values. Multiple players on multiple sites means shared risk and diminished scale, but also a realistic agenda for where we are now.

Will this approach lead to the micro-Balkanization of the city? Perhaps it will. Is this approach Pollyanna-ish? Hardly: it has worked elsewhere. Beijing’s smarter big-block redevelopments, Mexico City’s sophisticated Condesa District, Melbourne’s CBD, and Barcelona’s extensive work for its (1992) Olympics facilities are all good examples of locales that have marshaled the political courage and financial means to try to grow intelligently.

A clear distinction to the top-down approach promulgated during the boom years in LA should be made: the current approach should be cumulative, collective, and bottom up. Redevelopment in LA on the micro scale should be experimental, innovative, and attuned to community involvement and outreach. While it’s important to acknowledge that demographic pressures to add density to Los Angeles will require a continued commitment to large-scale transit improvements, and these transit projects may in turn spur or require the occasional mega-project, these projects will be connected and not isolated.

Imagine start-ups on an urban scale. Imagine temporary environments. Imagine strategies for incremental, not monumental, change. Imagine the next Los Angeles as an urban stage formed of multiple, tangentially-related set pieces, each uniquely shaped by inimitable means, yet still involved in a dialogue with other urban characters. This approach will re-introduce a nuanced grain to the city, as opposed to its foundational and tract-oriented logic of uninspired repetition and customization. This approach to civic design envisions well-managed but radical shifts in scale across the city. It marks the end of over-manicured districts and a challenge to the Byzantine rules that have built this city alongside capriciously arbitrary administrative fiat, and the quest for short-term financial gain.

This approach imagines a process for the rebuilding of LA along the lines of the city’s best virtues: its informality, an enviable climate, and its convivial arrangements of social and private spaces. This approach imagines LA as a city of plurals, as a city of many Davids, not just Goliaths.

To build it and move it forward will take a communal effort led by unique voices. There are two, indeed more than two, future city models for Los Angeles, and we must pick one. On the one hand there is the LA of the big and spectacular (the rest remains ordinary). On the other hand is the LA of new forms of collectivity, new aggregations of social and cultural variety, and experimental architectural innovation. The choice is ours to make.

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Talking Cheap
The Star Apartments, affordable housing by Michael Maltzan.
Courtesy Michael Maltzan

As its past preferences for liberal politicians and progressive propositions have indicated, Los Angeles can be described as a city of good intentions, in particular its pursuit of affordable housing and addressing homelessness.  The issues may not have gained any traction in last fall’s national election, but they definitely are this political season in southern California.

How these urban ills sap the spirit of the city and its promise of the good life have become a major topic of debate in the hotly contested mayoral race now ramping up to a March 5 primary day, when the roster of declared candidates is to be cut to two for a June election faceoff. The frontrunners, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Councilwoman Jan Perry, and City Controller Wendy Greuel, all participated in a forum on the topic last Friday at downtown LA’s Cathedral Plaza Conference Center.

Exacerbating the issues are the severe cutbacks in all subsidized housing programs on all levels of government, which in Los Angeles has been calculated at  $72 million in public funding for site specific affordable housing and millions more in supportive initiatives. The result has spurred spiraling rents, raised housing prices, and continued to add to the rolls of city’s homeless population, last estimated at up to 50,000. Nowhere is the issue of income disparity more evident in Los Angeles than its housing market, where nearly three quarters of the resident workforce earn less than $50,000 a year. An income of $82,000 is needed to purchase the metropolitan area’s median priced home of $320,000.

In addition, there has been a correspondent waning of interest in the private sector in funding affordable housing beyond usual so-called “guilt grants.” An impressive rostrum of professed socially conscious and committed architects are brimming with affordable housing concepts, green and ready to go but mired on some bureaucrat or banker’s desk for lack of funds.

An impressive 500 plus attendees from the city’s broad planning and development communities packed the well-promoted event in downtown Los Angeles. The gathering featuring Garcetti, Perry and Greuel, and moderated by Raphael Bostic of USC, frankly was less a forum for ideas and more a single-issue rally. Opening remarks by Robin Hughes of Abode Communities and co chair of the sponsoring Committee of Housing for a Stronger Los Angeles set the tone:  “We are here to build a coalition.”

All three candidates agreed and each pledged if elected to vigorously pursue more funding, and better focused programs. This included not just addressing homelessness, but ending it.  To do that, the three agreed that needed was more mixed income housing open to an expanded Section 8 program, enhanced by  a battery of social services.

Garcetti noted that his advocacy of shelters in select neighborhoods that he represented earned him the ire of residents. Perry reminded the audience that for more than a decade she has represented a district that included Skid Row, and all its woes, which she works tirelessly to address. Greuel also talked of her heartfelt concern and constant efforts in the many public positions she has held over the years.

Respectfully acknowledging their opponents’ efforts, all three pledged to address the vexing issue of foreclosures, and to carry on the pro housing policies of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This included the mayor’s 12 to 2 development reform plan, aimed at getting the city’s fractured departments to cooperate more closely on accelerating the approval process for housing where most needed.  Mention was made of the demise of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, but cognizant of its mixed reputation the candidates reiterated that for agencies to survive they must be more goal oriented.

Noted several times was the need for the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to include more affordable housing in its planned transit oriented development projects. Perry in particular said if elected mayor she would appoint more planning and housing advocates to Metro’s board.

As the candidates talked a slide show featuring the impressive designs of several affordable housing projects flashed across a screen, offering a glimpse of hope for the future.

There is no question that housing will be a high priority for whomever is elected, bolstered by a public and private coalition. But as Greuel, later reflected, funds alone will not solve the city’s housing problem. It will take a commitment of concerned stakeholders to expedite actual projects. That includes not only the planners and political appointees who attended the forum, but also their managers and department heads that didn’t.