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The bitter battle over 11024 Strathmore Drive—the site across from Richard Neutra’s famed Strathmore Apartments in Westwood—appears to have been finally resolved. On November 14, the Westwood Design Review Board (DRB) approved a stepped and textured apartment by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA)—a feat that the previous proposal for the site never achieved.
LA-based Togawa Smith Martin designed the previous iteration of the project—Grandmarc Westwood. DRB rejected the large, box-shaped design six times on the grounds that its bulk, massing, and character were incompatible with Westwood’s North Village Specific Plan. However, the LA planning commission approved that design last August.
Local opponents, led by a group called the Friends of Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments (FORNSA), fought the plan in Los Angeles Superior Court, which sided with them, forcing the developer, PPC Landventure, to reconsider its plans.
“They were trying to game the system to get approvals without adequate public input,” said Noel Weiss, attorney for FORNSA. “Council people figure they can give away land use entitlements to their friends. The judge said no.”
FORNSA and PPC then negotiated a settlement in which the developer would move forward with a design competition. Others shortlisted for the project included Michael Maltzan, Michael Folonis, Daly Genik, and Koenig Eizenberg.
O’Herlihy emerged victorious. His plan is composed of two buildings that each step down the street across from the Strathmore Apartments, reaching their minimum height across from the modernist landmark. Their shifting volumes and their close connection to the landscape reference the Neutra building itself. “We were trying to riff on history,” said O’Herlihy. The buildings will be clad in metal panels—some solid, some perforated, and some corrugated.
“This is the first quality building to be proposed in the North Village since John Lautner designed the Sheats apartments on Strathmore Drive in 1948,” said Michael Webb, president of FORNSA and a frequent contributor to AN who is happy that the developer came around to good design. “The DRB was demonstrably pleased to approve a building they respected, rather than a piece of garbage that scraped by after endless revisions.”
“Today, Los Angeles is to New York what New York was to Paris in the 1950s,” said Perry Rubenstein, the latest Manhattan art dealer to recognize LA’s concentration of creativity and open a satellite there.
Like Matthew Marks Gallery and L&M Arts when they opened LA outposts, Rubenstein invited a local architect, Kulapat Yantrasast, principal of wHY Architecture, to fashion inventive variations on the white cube, giving it a strong sense of place within a gritty location. Los Angeles-only galleries like Blum & Poe, Regen Projects, and Samuel Freeman Gallery have taken a similar design approach.
Meanwhile, in recent years the LA art scene has branched out from affluent Santa Monica and West Hollywood, with clusters of galleries filtering into Chinatown, Culver City, and now the studio district of Hollywood. Their migration in search of affordable space has mimicked the march of galleries in New York City, from Madison Avenue to Soho and then to Chelsea and the Lower East Side.
What makes this urban experimentation so exciting for architects as well as the art world is clients’ passion for collaboration and excellence—rare qualities in a city where much new construction opts for expediency. Regen Projects owner Shaun Regen spent years searching for the ideal space in which to consolidate her activities. “When I first met Michael Maltzan about this project, the criteria were very simple: great proportions, beautiful light, and flexible space,” Regan recalled. She settled on Hollywood for its urbanity, history, and the opportunity to have a roof terrace overlooking the hills and city. Maltzan shared her enthusiasm. He designed an irregularly massed, white stucco block that plays off the form of a soaring Bekins storage facility a block away. The layered interior features a sweeping top-lit gallery flanked by a narrow street in front, with intimate rooms to the rear.
Yantrasast pursued a similar course in remodeling a film storage facility for Perry Rubenstein a few blocks away. Rubenstein wanted something different from the generic big boxes of New York’s Chelsea district—a space that was “grand, but gracious and human in scale; visually dynamic and quietly poetic.”
Matthew Marks found a former upholstery shop on a residential street a mile to the west of Perry Rubenstein’s gallery and hired Venice architect Peter Zellner to design the freestanding building. He then invited Ellsworth Kelly to add a wall sculpture. The artist superimposed a black bar atop the blank white facade. This powerful artwork complements Zellner’s gallery, a serene white volume lit from a grid of six deep-set skylights.
Young LA gallerist Samuel Freeman recently relocated from Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station Arts Center to Culver City, two blocks from Blum & Poe. (After first moving to the neighborhood in 2003, Blum & Poe assumed new quarters in 2009, designed by California-based Escher GuneWardena Architecture.) Warren Wagner of W3 Architects exploited the trapezoidal corner site to create exhibition spaces of varied sizes, each with glass sliders that open to an inner courtyard. He clad the exterior in white stucco and cold-rolled steel. Each gallery is ideally proportioned, and clerestories and skylights pull in natural light from different directions, giving the rooms a residential quality.
Meanwhile, the world’s most successful gallerist has returned to his roots. Larry Gagosian, who went from selling posters in Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood to running a global empire, recently commissioned Michael Palladino, a Los Angeles design partner of Richard Meier + Partners, to extend the Beverly Hills gallery his firm designed in 1995. With the addition seamlessly joined on the street facade, the building bears a new interior incorporating a bow-truss ceiling vault flanked by skylights. These forms, in turn, play off the upturned curve of the original structure, complementing its ethereal precision with simpler, earthier forms.
Downtown Los Angeles is about to get a lot curvier.
The competition to redesign one of LA’s great landmarks—its Sixth Street Viaduct—finally ended today, with HNTB’s surprisingly challenging scheme, made up of ten sets of concrete arches wildly winding across the Los Angeles River, taking the commission.
The Sixth Street Bridge, an instantly recognizable Art Deco span designed in 1932, was one of a series of nine overpasses built atop the Los Angeles River between 1923 and 1933. Although imbedded in the city’s psyche and a mainstay of movies and television shows, it was recently proclaimed unsalvageable due to irreversible decay, and last spring the city’s Bureau of Engineering called for a competition to design a new, $400 million, cable stayed structure. The other teams competing for the job were heavyweights AECOM and Parsons Brinckerhoff.
"Los Angeles is where the world creates and innovates,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “The selection of HNTB as the winning team reaffirms our ability to cultivate and attract the best and brightest in architecture, design, and engineering right here in Los Angeles.”
HNTB’s team also includes Michael Maltzan Architecture, AC Martin, and Hargreaves Associates. Their design, inspired by the “cinematic” experience of crossing the Sixth Street Viaduct, echoes the existing bridge’s rounded shape. The staccato rhythm of rough concrete arches will create a memorable experience by car or on foot. In fact some of the arches actually contain pedestrian pathways atop them, combining circulation and architecture, a rare feat that will create very unique perspectives of the city. The walkways will also make their way down to street level, maintaining an important connection to the ground and the river.
Below the bridge the scheme is full of life and will hopefully bring pedestrian activity and commercial viability to an area that, while bordering the Arts District and Boyle Heights, is currently car dominated and unremarkable. The plan contains a hard-scaped Arts Plaza under the bridge’s western span, containing a café, outdoor seating, a lookout, and terraced riverbank hardscape. Nearer to the bridge it contains a slightly softer Viaduct Park, containing a promenade, amphitheater, and skate park. Under and around the bridge’s eastern span the plan includes the Boyle Heights Gateway, which will consist of playgrounds, sports facilities, a pedestrian promenade, a transit plaza, a lookout point, and the adaptive re-use of existing industrial buildings, a vital extension of the city’s Clean Tech Corridor on the other side of the river.
All three competing schemes incorporated pedestrian-friendly designs and iconic profiles. While HNTB’s scheme struck a chord in the design community, many thought AECOM and Parsons Brinckerhoff might have the upper hand because of their experience and clout. HNTB’s design appeared to be the most ambitious of the three, and some worried that it would be too costly. HNTB team members have pointed out that the easily replicate-able forms and ultra thin deck, among other factors, will keep costs down.
The bridge will be paid for substantially by state and federal funds, with only about one percent coming from the city. The design is set to be ready by 2014, with construction completed by 2018.
Michael Maltzan has won the commission to design a new residential annex for the U.S. embassy in Paris. His firm Michael Maltzan Architecture beat out Allied Works and Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, who were also shortlisted for the job.
Courtesy Family of Ambassador Charlie Rivkin
Located on the posh Avenue Gabriel, near the intersection of the Champs-Elysées and the Place de la Concorde, the project will serve primarily as a home for embassy staff, containing ten to twelve residential units. It will also contain a mixed-use component.
The building will be located next to the U.S. Embassy and near the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, a Renaissance-style building whose lush gardens are a legendary spot for diplomatic functions. In a nod to that history Maltzan said his building—whose design is not yet underway—will merge in some way with its landscape, which will be designed by famed French landscape architect Michel Desvigne, who has designed grounds for, among other projects, Jean Nouvel’s Walker Art Center expansion in Minneapolis and OMA and Norman Foster’s Dallas Center For The Performing Arts. The building, of course, will be contemporary, not classical, Maltzan added.
Maltzan was selected via the Department of State Bureau of Overseas Buildings’ (BOB) Design Excellence program, modeled on the General Service Administration’s Design Excellence program. In recent years the BOB has commissioned the U.S. Embassy in Beijing by SOM and the U.S. Embassy in London by Kieran Timberlake.
Last night at the packed Puente Learning Center, a school in Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, three design and engineering teams attempted to predict the city’s future.
The groups—headed by HNTB, AECOM, and Parsons Brinckerhoff— have all been shortlisted to create the city’s new Sixth Street Viaduct. Their vivid public presentations were the first glimpse of what will likely be LA’s next major icon.
The original 3,500-foot-long structure, a famous rounded Art Deco span designed in 1932, has been deemed unsalvageable due to irreversible decay, and in April the city’s Bureau of Engineering called for a competition to design a new, $400 million, cable stayed structure.
Following the city’s lead, all three teams presented plans that not only showcased memorable forms, but embraced people-friendly designs, including pedestrian paths, parks, and connections to the river below. The push reveals Los Angeles’s focus on attracting people and talent through increased livability. Such moves are a welcome, if uphill battle considering that so much of the city has been designed for cars, not people.
The first presentation, by HNTB with Michael Maltzan Architecture, AC Martin, and Hargreaves Associates, among others, showcased the most exuberant design, a riotous collection of tall and short, slightly canted concrete and cable arches pulsing over the river and well beyond in both directions.
Because of their exact repetition, the concrete spans would be affordable, pointed out the team. They would also be rougher than their steel competition: “The last thing we need is something that looks like it’s meant for a pastoral setting,” explained team member David Martin, a principal at AC Martin.
The arch that spans the river, and a slightly depressed arch below it, would both contain pedestrian walkways which people would be able to enter by literally walking into the bridge. Below the bridge the scheme would contain a hardscaped Arts Plaza to the west, with restaurants, paths, and graphical representations of the bridge’s boisterous arches on the ground; a slightly softer Viaduct Park, containing a promenade, amphitheater, and skate park; and a landscaped Boyle Heights Gateway to the east, bordering the Boyle Heights neighborhood.
Courtesy Parsons Brinckerhoff
The AECOM plan was centered on a series of three sculptural steel and inverted cable masts, loosely abstracted from images of angels, with a ribbed concrete structure exposed on its underside. The central mast would be the largest, and hence the focal point. A pedestrian path would be suspended underneath while at bridge level lookouts would bulge outward.
The plan calls for several public spaces, including the Mateo Street Gateway Park, a ramping space bordering the Arts district to the west; the Viaduct Plaza, a hardscape under the bridge; the Open Space Paseo under the bridge to the east, and the East Gateway Park, at the entrance to the bridge in Boyle Heights. Steel elements from the original bridge would be used to form lighting for the plazas, existing monuments would be restored, and new pathways to the river would be built around the bridge.
The Parsons Brinckerhoff plan was centered on a smaller mast (the size of the original Sixth Street Viaduct’s collection of piers over the river) that firm principal Ricardo Rabines described as the “wings of LA.” Indeed the steel structure looks like a bird’s wings stretched to fly. Under the bridge a suspended lower walkway would lead to a circular lookout point called the “nest.” Above a colorful covered walkway would split the bridge’s two roadways and, at times, could become a congregation zone, with one roadway shut down for major events. Continuous stairs and elevators would maintain a steady connection to the areas below the bridge.
The proposal included several landscape and planning proposals at the foot of the bridge’s V-shaped columns, some designed by Mia Lehrer, who headed the La River Masterplan, an ongoing effort to make the river a recreational resource. They include an Arts Park to the west containing areas to display art installations; stepping and landscaping of the river below, and a plaza containing a series of clean tech research modules under the bridge to the east.
“It’s important that the bridge engage the river in multiple ways,” pointed out Lehrer.
"You understood what we were looking for," said Mayor Antonion Villaraigosa, who described the city as “people rich and park poor.” “This begins a new era. We're going to reimagine the city as a place where people can work, play, and recreate.”
The bridge will be paid for substantially by state and federal funds, with just one percent of the money coming from the city, pointed out city councilman Jose Huizar. The winner, chosen by city engineers and the state’s highway building division, will be announced by the end of this year. The design is set to be ready by 2014, with construction completed by 2018. Three more public presentations will take place this week and the next, after which the plans will be presented at the city’s Public Works building on Broadway until October 5.
Few LA clients have as keen an appreciation for the added value of good architecture as the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT). To provide humane shelter for the city’s homeless, the nonprofit trust has commissioned leading local architects to design 23 SRO blocks Downtown, with others in development. Michael Maltzan won acclaim for his New Carver Apartments and Rainbow Apartments, and the organization has hired Koning Eizenberg, Killefer Flammang, and other well-regarded firms. Their most recent project is for themselves: Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects’ (LOHA) inspiring work environment for 60 SRHT staff.
The upper floors of an old hotel at the corner of Central and Seventh had already been converted to housing units, and LOHA has transformed the ground floor, formerly used for storage. O’Herlihy describes the 4,100-square-foot space as “an urban oasis within the otherwise chaotic Skid Row district.” His big move was to sheathe ten structural columns in aluminum tubes that branch out at the top to support extruded fluorescent lights, creating a luminous forest after dark. Blocked clerestories were revealed to pull in natural light, while glass doors open to a landscaped patio. A conference room and 11 private offices borrow natural light through glass partitions and their yellow walls are reflected in the polished concrete floor of the central area, which adapts to a wide variety of activities and informal meetings. The space was built out for under $60 per square foot.
The same mandate to do the most for the least guided LOHA’s designs for three sites on the periphery of downtown that SRHT was unable to acquire. Still SRHT will use them as models for future development, said SRHT executive director Mike Alvidrez.
The commissions grew out of LOHA’s condo blocks in West Hollywood, specifically the low-cost Gardiner Apartments, and the block on Formosa Avenue that faces onto a pocket park. All three emphasized green space, a welcome element in the most park-poor city in the country. “We opened the front door to the sidewalk to make the homeless a part of the community, rather than something to be feared,” said O’Herlihy.
The biggest challenge of the three was Plaza Vermont, located on the boundary of two gang territories. Rather than fortify the site, O’Herlihy proposed a staggered stack of prefabricated units, set back behind a garden that opens to the street but could be secured after dark, similar to Formosa. It exemplifies the vision of SRHT, and their insistence on buildings that include counseling and health services and boost the self-esteem of people who may be sick or addicted.
“Why can’t everyone enjoy good architecture?” asked O’Herlihy. “The homeless are never invited upstairs—they live their entire existence at street level. It’s an extraordinary experience for them to enjoy outdoor spaces at fourth-floor level with a view over the rooftops.”
The quotation that greets visitors to House & Home, a new exhibition at Washington’s National Building Museum, comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life; he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days.”
The quotation is apt, because House & Home ends up being mastered by its own conceptual overreach. The whole history of the American house—architectural, technological, social—is simply too much to fit into five rooms.
The first gallery has murals of photographs of American housing through the centuries, from bungalows and soldiers’ barracks to Hearst Castle and Marina City. Two dollhouses on display suggest the gap between the physical structures we inhabit and the ideals bound up in the notion of “home.”
The next room features a row of six full-scale, tactile house sections that use characteristic materials and technologies from different periods of American history, beginning with adobe and ending with structural insulated panels. Interactive but not dumbed down, the sections embody the evolution of American building techniques.
Down the middle of the same room runs a line of 14 highly detailed models, all at 1:96 scale— Monticello, the Gamble House, Vizcaya, a Sea Ranch house, and looming over the rest, the Hancock Tower. There is some overlap with the wall sections, but as with much of the show, the takeaway is unclear. Are we meant to situate these iconic structures within the context of building history? If so, it’s illuminating to learn that Fallingwater inspired the trend for sliding glass patio doors, less so to be told that McKim, Mead & White influenced Robert Stern.
The gap between mainstream housing and capital-a Architecture, between social history and design history, is never quite acknowledged. One gallery shows a bewildering array of nearly 200, mostly common household objects: Atari game console, plunge bath, Barcalounger, butter churn, lawn sprinkler, and so on. Visitors will enjoy pointing out familiar objects, but then what? This reviewer’s associative powers are not strong enough to form a meaningful connection between a Crock Pot and the Glass House, a model airplane and Mount Vernon.
House & Home includes three groups of well-made films shot by different filmmakers, and these too betray the show’s unsure identity. The beautiful “Welcome Home” films portray daily life within singular examples of contemporary architecture: Michael Maltzan’s Carver Apartments for formerly homeless adults, a desert home by Rick Joy, a Lazor Office’s prefab Flatpak House among them. It’s nice to see high design humanized, but the tacit argument—here is America at home—doesn’t ring true, given that only a tiny sliver of the population lives in architect-designed homes. In the “Community” gallery, the style shifts to urban documentary, with short films that explore specific neighborhoods.
The best films may be those in the object gallery, which use clever, lovely animations of archival photographs to illustrate homemaking through the centuries. A lot of care went into the details of House & Home, which makes its conceptual shagginess more disappointing. The National Building Museum has produced some excellent shows in recent years, including Unbuilt Washington (now on view) and 2009’s House of Cars. A narrower focus, as in those exhibitions, would have helped this one.