Search results for "welton becket"
Banc of California Stadium
New renderings revealed for Los Angeles Football Club stadium
Replacing Welton Becket's 1959 L.A. Sports Arena
L.A.’s new soccer stadium is one step closer to being shovel-ready
Wilshire Boulevard is impressive for both its length as well as its remarkable collection of notable architecture, much of it pedigreed within L.A.’s historical time line beginning in 1895. Wilshire was also made for the automobile. Over the decades it has evolved into a mélange of typologies and styles, to be viewed by most Angelenos through the rearview mirror of their car rather than by the lone flaneur pounding the pavement. To attract attention in the parade of largely unremarkable architecture that makes up the majority of building stock along the boulevard, only the brash and bold will do.
The newly redesigned Petersen Automotive Museum by architects Kohn Petersen Fox stimulates the senses. Brash and bold it most certainly is, with an undulating steel facade wrapped in slick red and silver ribbons of LED-lined steel panels. The ribbons project from the eclipsed shell of Welton Becket’s Seibu Department Store supported on tubular struts. Produced in Kansas City and brought to L.A. by semi-truck, each ribbon was computationally designed to fit together in the field, thereby reducing on-site coordination. Expertly engineered, flawlessly fabricated, and installed on time and on budget by Matt Construction and Zahner Inc., this energetic renovation of the original Petersen is KPF’s romance with the visual image of aerodynamics of a racecar in a wind tunnel. But this flirtation reads as an excuse to produce visual exuberance, and what we’re left with is an articulated billboard, nostalgically hawking the cosmetics of a familiar, and more primitive digital age.
However, no one can debate that the Petersen now visually owns the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire. A monster truck previously blasted out of the old museum’s facade in an attempt to communicate the contemporary program within. A sleek wrapper has replaced those marketing gimmicks, but programmatic ambiguity remains the architectural imperative of the new Petersen. Becket’s big box is still formally present, but now clad in KPF’s red and silver skin, it’s got “bling” in surplus. Behind the stainless-steel ribbons is a utilitarian rain screen of red corrugated steel, completing a textbook example of Venturi’s decorated shed, but one that offers no clever cues toward its program, nor its larger cultural purpose.
Herein lies the true problem for the Petersen Automotive Museum: The building’s dominating opacity doesn’t work for a block of Wilshire soon to be subway adjacent, and it is assumed, will host more pedestrians as a result. The few sections of glazing at the ground floor are certainly welcome, but the contemporary flaneur needs continuous storefronts stocked with spectacle in order to turn their gaze away from their smart phone. Becket’s original design was certainly no more transparent, but can be excused given its time and program—a postwar department store whose patrons entered from the rear through the parking garage. The contemporary museum visitor may often arrive on foot.
To their credit, the design team at KPF did challenge the client’s brief, which ruled out a curtain wall for both its cost and environmental impact on the collection. They developed the entry as a concourse, or sectional promenade through the building that includes visual connections to the ground floor galleries and restaurant from the interior of the building. This nod to the changing urbanism along Wilshire allows the public to filter into the lobby from both the sidewalk and the parking garage at the rear, either to visit the museum, grab a meal at the restaurant inside the Petersen lobby, or journey onward to LACMA nearby.
The Petersen board championed opaque galleries as an obvious way to mitigate environmental and acoustic issues facing the design. Local architects House Robertson gave the windowless, showroom-like galleries a cosmetic update, but the interiors could have used a more aggressive spatial upgrade in order to push for a stronger urban interface. It is not unusual for another firm to handle the interior of a project this large, but House Robertson ought to have taken more cues from KPF’s facade. Save for a large, open spiral stair—spatially promising at first glance, it reads upon closer inspection as an uninspired cousin to the escalators that once traversed the original department store.
Contemporary architectural discourse has already moved passed the computationally driven exercise of simply wrapping buildings as a means of expression. The really hot projects in the academy right now embrace a kind of complex geometry that migrates from exterior to interior in ambiguous ways, challenging how a building interconnects with both its external context and its users. There’s an opportunity for that moment in the concourse, and where the ribbons wrap to form a shallow brise-soleil on the roof deck, but without a material link from interior to exterior, the projected facade never gains spatial muscle, despite being cantilevered several feet off the primary volume of the museum.
“It makes better sense, of course, to acquire an existing disused building and impose your commercial personality on it with symbolic garnishes,” remarked Reyner Banham on the topic of iconic roadside architecture in Los Angeles: The Architecture of the Four Ecologies. But Banham was referring to a burger stand, not a museum. The Petersen board has a track record of searching for an iconic personality for their building by adding such “garnishes” to Welton Becket’s original structure, and the newest offering does little to improve the museum’s connection to the city beyond. While the Petersen’s founding mission may revel in the grand days of car culture, L.A.’s moved on to bike lanes and rapid buses, and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Purple Line Subway extension. Looking east down Wilshire Boulevard, one imagines subway riders emerging from below and skipping the Petersen Automotive Museum entirely beyond perhaps the quick selfie; it’s architecture and collection the vestige an urban idea that Los Angeles just doesn’t need anymore.
While Peter Zumthor and Renzo Piano’s plans for Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have hogged the attention on LA’s Miracle Mile, the third museum commission in the area—Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates’ (KPF) reimagining of the Petersen Automotive Museum—is cruising along, so to speak, with completion planned for December.
The project, a new facade by KPF and a renovation of the interior galleries and administrative offices by House & Robertson and Scenic Route, was first announced in 2013. It is intended primarily to shine the spotlight on an institution that has long been overshadowed by its cultural neighbors. It wraps the existing building—a 1962 modernist department store by Welton Becket—in a veil of sinuous stainless steel ribbons whose liquid-like design echoes the speed of muscular automobiles. The ribbons are superimposed over a bright red custom corrugated metal rainscreen (“red is fast,” said KPF Principal Trent Tesch). That skin, anchored into the original building’s concrete columns, is made of 11-foot-by-4-foot panels.
The water-jet cut, angel hair stainless steel ribbons (their skins fastened to internal frames) are exposed in front and painted red on their edges and backs for depth and balance. Aluminum tubes inside help attach one piece to the next. The 26-foot, 6-inch-long ribbons, first designed in Rhino and adjusted with Grasshopper, were fabricated off-site. They are currently being hauled via truck to the site and being craned into place.
Workers for the project’s contractor, MATT Construction, needed a way to attach the ribbons to the building, so the project’s steel fabricator, Zahner, created a series of tubular steel and aluminum support structures, which KPF’s Tesch called “trees,” extending vertically from the roof and “shrubs,” outriggers projecting horizontally from the facade. (The veil wraps over the top of the building to create a dramatic, three-dimensional gesture and a rooftop outdoor space shaded by the ribbons.) The white trees and red shrubs are attached to the building’s existing columns and beams. In the few places where trees are not located directly over columns, the team installed a transfer beam to carry the load. When the ribbons extend to the ground they meet smaller steel “stumps,” as Tesch called them, which hold them in place.
The ribbons do not just wrap over the top of the Petersen; they project over the side, creating a gap between the building and the veil, which on the Wilshire side, visitors will be able to walk under in order to reach the museum entrance. The gap space ranges from just eight inches to about 25 feet along the length of the veil. The new entrance on Wilshire will bring the language of the ribbons inside with long lines of matte and glossy paint on the ceiling. This modern language was picked up by the museum’s interior designers, Scenic Route, which are opening up the galleries and giving them a contemporary look.
The new veil not only draws attention to the Petersen, but it unites its disparate parts and gives it a new sense of rhythm and depth. Say what you like about its brashness, this design will not get ignored. “They told us they were tired of living in a box,” said Tesch. Certainly things have changed.
No one realized it at the time, but midcentury Palm Springs was a golden age of modern architecture. Donald Wexler, one of its leading figures, died June 26 at age 89. He and his remarkably talented local colleagues (William Francis Cody, Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams, Richard Harrison, John Porter Clark, Hugh Kaptur, and others) were committed to modern principles, but each brought originality to their designs.
Wexler’s designs were straightforward, clean, never excessive, and turned the essence of their structural systems into elegant, creative buildings. When he moved to Palm Springs in 1951, it was the right place to practice that kind of architecture.
He seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. On a 1950 trip to Los Angeles after graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, he concocted a way to meet his hero, Richard Neutra: Pretending he wanted a job, he asked for an interview. When Neutra actually offered him a job, his plan to return to Minnesota vanished. The next year he moved to the desert to work for Cody, and in 1953 he and another Cody employee, Richard Harrison, formed their own partnership.
The desert community turned out to be an ideal place for a young architect: Schools, custom homes, tract homes, stores, civic buildings, country clubs, gas stations, offices, and even airports were in demand. Wexler would get opportunities to design each building type.
He remained focused on the fundamental modern ideals that he admired in Neutra: expressing modern materials and structures, as well as creating comfortable spaces that took advantage of indoor-outdoor living.
With new schools in demand in the growing area, Wexler noticed a prefabricated steel frame system developed by Calcor Corporation structural engineer Bernard Perlin. Working with Perlin, he and Harrison used it to build a series of school buildings beginning in 1957 that were both more economical than standard construction and stood up to the desert’s extreme climate. Typical of Wexler, the buildings also boasted elegantly proportioned structural members.
Wexler and Perlin saw even greater possibilities for steel systems applied to housing—something of a Holy Grail that had long captivated modern architects (including Buckminster Fuller, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, and Wexler’s hero, Neutra). Beginning in 1961, Wexler and Harrison developed the same system into a successful, prefabricated, all-steel mass-produced house for the Alexander Construction Company, a large homebuilder in Palm Springs. The system combined a factory-prefabricated kitchen, a bathroom, and wall units; the walls could be erected on a concrete pad in an eight-hour day. Different steel roof configurations added visual variety.
Wexler continued to use the steel system for custom homes, and intriguingly for the prefabricated room units integrated into the 1971 Contemporary Hotel, designed by Welton Becket and Associates, for Walt Disney World.
Wexler’s many residential designs ranged from a classic wood post and beam design for his own house that was modular and easily expanded as his family grew, to modern tract homes and even a luxurious steel and adobe block residence for Dinah Shore.
After he and partner Richard Harrison parted amicably in 1961, Wexler won the commission for the Palm Springs International Airport over larger and more experienced Los Angeles firms. The two-story entry hall—rotated 45 degrees—and the oblique one-story concourses evoke the swept-back wings of a jet airplane. Outdoor waiting areas gave visitors a taste of the delicious desert air. By orienting the building to the panoramic view of the mountains, the airport was a true gateway to the pleasures of the resort town.
With a few forays to Los Angeles and the East Coast, Wexler worked primarily in the Palm Springs area until he retired. During his career he was not nationally known, and never tried to be. When Palm Springs began to be rediscovered for its treasure trove of midcentury modern architecture in the late 1990s, however, he was surprised by the attention he received. Books and magazine articles on Palm Springs architecture always spotlighted his steel houses.
In 2004 Wexler became a Fellow of the AIA, and the University of Minnesota gave him their distinguished alumnus award. A film, Journeyman Architect: The Architecture of Donald Wexler, was produced in 2009, and in 2011 the Palm Springs Art Museum mounted Steel and Shade, an exhibit of his work accompanied by a catalog. Local preservationists landmarked many of his buildings; one of the steel houses is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 2014 demolition of the Spa Bath House (a Wexler collaboration with William Cody, Richard Harrison, and Philip Koenig), however, was widely mourned. Its delicate colonnade entry of prefabricated concrete-domes, rising from tiled pools, had become the very image of the best of Palm Springs Modernism.
The pigskin may be deflated for Gensler’s design for Los Angeles’ proposed football stadium, Farmer’s Field, but a venue for the other kind of football is alive and kicking. On May 18, Major League Soccer’s newest team, the Los Angeles Football Club, announced plans for a new soccer stadium and mixed-use complex in South Los Angeles.
Gensler’s stadium scheme replaces Welton Becket’s 1959 Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, which was the subject of a 2010 environmental impact report ordered by the LA Coliseum Commission to study a replacement. Demolition of the existing venue is expected to take a year and will require a significant amount of infrastructure and environmental abatement.
The Coliseum Commission and the LA City Council are expected to sign off on the proposed design in July, giving a go-ahead for the estimated $250 million dollar project that includes a 22,000-seat stadium, as well as 100,000 square feet of new restaurants, office space, a conference center, and a world football museum. Plans feature outdoor site amenities, such as plazas that connect to the peristyle Coliseum and a wall of video screens ready to cater to MLS soccer and USC football fans alike.
Since this is LA’s first open-air professional sports arena built since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, the design of the roof is critical. C-shaped and asymmetrical, the steel and ETFE structure extends over the bleachers all the way to the edge of the pitch to provide protection from the western sun. There’s an expectation that the curved roof will also help keep sound from spilling out into the surrounding neighborhood. The canopy’s sections are strategically positioned to frame views of Downtown Los Angeles.
Located in Exposition Park, the new stadium complex sits between the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Figueroa Street. According to architect Ron Turner, director of sports and entertainment for Gensler, the design addresses both the street and the park. “From Dodgers Stadium at the north end, to the Staples Center, to our site in the south, the Figueroa Corridor is quickly becoming an important boulevard of the city,” he explained.
Although the wide boulevard, which boasts the occasional strip mall and a view of the 110 Freeway, seems an unlikely candidate for renewal, Turner references the MyFigueroa project, an initiative slated to transform three miles of the Figueroa Corridor into a “complete street” with a narrowed roadbed and protected bike lanes. As he describes a design that serves the South LA community, Exposition Park visitors, and event-goers, he envisions sidewalk cafes in the shadow of the stadium that are open to the public beyond game day.
Los Angeles Football Club hopes to have the stadium completed by the 2018 Major League Soccer season. Gensler was part of the team that designed Arena Corinthians for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, however this scheme takes inspiration from the English Premier soccer league. Even with 22,000 fans, it is meant to be an intimate experience: seats close to the pitch, steep raked bleachers, and separate entrances into the stands, so that each area feels like its own club. “It’s a stadium for the people,” said Turner.
Kevin Daly Architects have brought the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music into the digital age, with additions that enliven one of the main entry points to the campus. Welton Becket designed the Schoenberg Music Building in 1955. His firm added another wing in 1985. Both are introverted red brick boxes, turning their backs on the Inverted Fountain to the west, and overshadowed by the tall arched facade of Knudsen Hall, the 1963 physics building across the cobbled plaza.
“Facilities of this kind are usually opaque,” said Daly. “The musicians are hidden away and have very little interaction or participation in the life of the campus. So we’ve tried to crack it open at a few points.”
The architects have reinterpreted the red brick and white stone palette of the campus in terra-cotta planks that are tilted in and out to catch the light and create a lively surface pattern. They come in two tones and three shapes, and are clipped to an aluminum frame. Angled planes with white trim and window reveals wrap a recording studio to the north and an ensemble/rehearsal room to the south. The asymmetry of their plans is expressed in the exterior geometry. In between is a glazed block containing a ground-floor café, second-floor faculty offices, and third-floor studios, with a computer lab, and mixing and editing bays below grade. These additions are linked to the existing buildings, which may be upgraded and extended in future phases of construction.
The dull mediocrity of postwar additions to the UCLA campus is redeemed outside the building by leafy open spaces and mature trees. Over the past decade there have been some glimmerings of architectural awareness, and Daly has raised the bar. Michael Palladino of Richard Meier Partners made the Broad Art Center and Wasserman Eye Clinic studiedly reticent; in contrast, the Ostin Music Center is as joyful and exuberant as a Handel anthem or Stravinsky’s wind octet. Each of its three elements has its own expressive personality, but plays in harmony like a polished trio.
The precise detailing and pronounced horizontality of Daly’s composition stand in contrast with the massive verticality of Knudsen Hall. The scale is humane, the facades tactile, and the closed forms accentuate the transparency and openness of the glass-walled café and the projecting brise-soleils that shade the two upper floors. A crystalline porch provides a symbolic entry to the ensemble room, there’s an outdoor stage for occasional performances, and there’s an easy flow of space to promote social intercourse.
The two major interiors have similar end grain wood block floors, finned Douglas fir baffles over white plaster walls, and an angled soffit backed with sound absorbing materials. Windows pull in natural light and offer views. But each space has its own distinctive character. In the ensemble room, the baffles rise halfway toward the suspended plaster folds of the soffit. Daly worked closely with three acousticians to achieve a good balance for radically different kinds of music making, breaking up sound at a lot of different wavelengths, and settling on a 1.2 reverb count. The irregular floor plan allows musicians to come together in different configurations.
The recording studio is acoustically isolated within a steel-roofed concrete block building clad with terracotta panels. Isolation buffers and springs separate the inner steel-stud floor and walls from the outer shell and concrete slab floor, openings contain 1.25-inch laminated glass, and a low-velocity air displacement system employs the space between the folded fir soffit and roof as a return plenum. The wall baffles rise to full height, creating intriguing and warm geometric relief. In a city that’s full of professional musicians, this may become the recording studio of choice for its artistic and aural excellence.
The Ulrich Franzen–designed 1968 Alley Theatre in Houston is among the great performance spaces of its era, standing beside such fine company as Eero Saarinen’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center in New York City, Harry Weese’s Arena Stage in Washington D.C., and Welton Becket’s Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. It is also the only one of these landmarks that has not undergone a major renovation to bring it up to contemporary standards—until now. Local firm Studio RED Architects is currently preparing to overhaul the Brutalist, poured-in-place concrete structure. The plan involves a redesign of the lobby and main theater, the addition of a fly loft and below-stage trap system, and an upgrade of the building’s mechanicals.
Courtesy Studio RED
The most significant aspect of the project is the redesign of the 824-seat Hubbard Stage, the larger of the Alley’s two theaters (the smaller, the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage, was refurbished following its inundation during tropical storm Allison in 2001, which included the addition of flood gates to the building’s “mouse hole” drive-through). To get inspiration, the architects and the theater’s managing director, Dean Gladden, visited the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. “That meant we wanted to build a stage that had a fly loft, but also a deep thrust into a typical Greek amphitheater seating diagram,” said Pete Ed Garrett, partner-in-charge of the project at Studio RED. “Vivian Beaumont has a full stage, full trap rooms, so there’s complete 3D flexibility.”
Studio RED’s design also rearranges the seating diagram. “The existing theater had a really steep seating rake,” said Garrett. “Everybody from the 5th row to the last row was looking down hill. They weren’t seeing the facial expressions of the actors. They were seeing the tops of their foreheads.” The architects are demolishing the existing stage, building the new one five feet higher, and inserting a new seating bowl on top of the existing one to flatten the sightlines. Those changes, in addition to the removal of some cubic footage to improve acoustics, and added wheel chair accessibility, will reduce the number of seats to 777.
The only sign of the renovation on the exterior, besides a planned cleaning of the smog-blackened concrete, is the 45-foot-high fly loft, which rises above the building’s castle-like turrets. This steel framed structure is being clad in a zinc panel that mimics the existing building’s coloration. The long faces of the rectangular volume also bow out, mimicking the curved profiles of Franzen’s design. While not an exact replica of the existing building’s materiality and form, the gesture does recognize its status as a local monument. “The building is not on the historical record, but it is a landmark,” said Garrett. “If you keep a building 40 years in Houston it’s historical. I’ve torn down buildings that were some of my first projects.”
For an exhibition about architectural projects that never broke ground, there’s something rather cheery about Never Built: Los Angeles, on view at the A+D Museum through October 13. Outside, an oversized lenticular facade is a shade of yellow that shouts Southern California—it’s all citrus groves and sunshine. A billboard-sized image of the Cadillac-like Goodell Monorail is frozen mid-zoom along Wilshire Boulevard. Inside, a map of the Los Angeles Basin stretches out across the gallery floor. Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin have brought together a selection of unrealized works, many of which, if built, had the potential to change our understanding of the city. For the curators “what if” is not a lament, per se, but rather a celebration of speculative possibilities and a challenge to the present status quo.
“The message of these unrealized projects is one of not only regret but also optimism… We see that our city clearly still holds its original promise—that there remains unfinished space here to transform and build,” writes Thom Mayne in his forward to the impressive Never Built catalog. And that’s the thing about LA, its endless urban fabric still inspires a kind of starry-eyed hope in the possible among Pritzker Prize winning denizens, even though according to the latest census it is the densest city in the nation. Where once the civic landscape begged to be filled with new construction, now it teases.
Courtesy B+U; Courtesy JAHN
Never Built divides into a few categories: buildings, master plans, parks, follies, and transportation schemes, with works illustrated via models, drawings, renderings, and, in the case of Lloyd Wright’s Twentieth-Century Metropolitan Catholic Cathedral (1931), Legos—neatly accommodated by an exhibition design by Clive Wilkinson Architects.
The scope of potential projects for inclusion at first seems as vast as LA’s sprawl; Lubell and Goldin mindfully narrowed the checklist to works in the civic realm. Notably, the single-family residence, the city’s most famous piece of architectural cultural production, barely makes an appearance.
Courtesy OMA; Courtesy City of Santa Monica; Courtesy LAWA Flight Path Leaning Center
Architecture media is currently awash in speculative design, those projects that digitally render fictional futures with the same technique as fact. As such, there is little expectation for proposals to manifest outside the screen and to encourage a larger public debate. Although unconstructed, the designs in Never Built are not exercises in fantasy or “paper architecture” polemics. The wall texts and the catalog make clear again and again, these are commissions that failed fruition for any number for reasons—city hall sputtering, developer nerves, political gamesmanship, overreaching scope, financial ruin. The proverbial noir to LA’s perennial sunshine.
Still, some of the works are more suitable to imagination than implementation. There are the numerous people mover, automatic vehicle, and monorail schemes. But it’s Pereira and Luckman’s mammoth plan for Los Angeles International Airport that truly captured the enormous mid-century mythos of flight. Watercolor illustrations depict a central terminal topped in a three-story-high glass dome. According to the curators, the cost of air conditioning killed the scheme.
Courtesy FLLW Foundation; Courtesy GRI / John Lautner Foundation
Then, consider the towers: There is the 1,290-foot-tall dream cocked up by William H. Evans, the Tower of Civilization for the Los Angeles World’s Fair, Jean Nouvel’s 45-story Green Blade condos proposed for Century City in 2008, and, at 50-story-tall, Welton Becket’s Century City Theme Building (1963) for Alcoa would have dwarfed the modest office buildings that were built as part of the master plan.
Or Anthony Lumsden of DMJM’s beachfront scheme for Pacific Ocean Park Development (1969), commissioned by real estate developer and rancher John “Jack” Morehart, proposed a 600-room cylindrical hotel rising from the Pacific. As with the Theme Building, Carlos Diniz evocatively illustrated the project in black and white. Here on the coast, the renderer added in breaking waves and seagulls. Lubell and Goldin give the backstory in the Never Built catalog, chronicling the back-and-forth posturing of Morehart, the Santa Monica Redevelopment Agency, and the city of Los Angeles over four years that resulted in the acquisition of the 20-acre parcel for what is now the public beach.
Of course, there are the projects that seem to blaze a utopian trail only to end in tears. Such is Robert Alexander and Richard Neutra’s housing plan, Elysian Park Heights (1958). The scheme for Chavez Ravine, then home to a Mexican-American community, is a reformist vision with a socialist heart that nods to the modernist Weissenhof Settlement. The progressive plan to transform the “slum” was met with anti-public housing opposition, which ultimately gave way to one of the biggest social injustices in the city’s history: the controversial razing of the original village and the construction of Dodger Stadium. The curators don’t pull punches, but the works, while treated thematically, are also treated neutrally. In a city like Los Angeles, political history is always the elephant in the room. But by including Elysian Park Heights, they introduce the possibility for a smaller, more reactive show with a tighter checklist.
“Something about the innate beauty of the hills, the ocean, and the pellucid air combined with an uneasy feeling of upheaval—fed by earthquakes, drenching rains, and scourging fires—aroused architects’ daring impulses in this caldera of ceaseless striving,” reads Lubell and Goldin’s catalog essay entitled City of Illusions. “Daring impulses” invokes images of grand formalist gestures, but perhaps the most daring of Never Built’s proposals are the most mundane and infrastructural. As the City of Los Angeles continues to build its Metro Line, the show features subway and elevated rail systems dating back to the 1930s. But it is the Olmsted Brothers and Bartholomew map of Parks, Playgrounds, and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region from 1930 that breaks hearts. The lacy green filigree of green spaces and preserves across the city was proposed as a barrier to unmitigated urban growth. It’s the promise of “not building” that Angelenos are still waiting to be fulfilled.
Labeling William Pereira as a maverick is the first surprise in the current exhibit on his architecture at Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art.
“Maverick” is usually reserved for brilliant loners who stray far from the herd. Pereira, on the other hand, was featured on the cover of Time, designed indelible urban landmarks like the LAX Theme Building, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and San Francisco’s Transamerica pyramid, and worked in the heart of California’s public and private establishments. Yet the architect-planner that emerges from this exceptional exhibit is clearly well ahead of the herd.
This exhibit is long overdue. It’s an embarrassment that no Los Angeles museum took on this task. But Nevada Museum of Art Executive Director David Walker (formerly with Art Center College of Design) saw the opportunity when he met Pereira’s son Bill in Reno. The Museum and curator Colin Robertson have achieved a balance of new information for scholars and a lively exhibit design for laypeople that ranks with the best of the Getty’s recent Pacific Standard Time Presents exhibits.
Not exhaustive, the exhibit focuses on five projects that capture the broad strokes of Pereira’s multi-faceted career. They include his own house in Hancock Park, but also the plan of an entire new town and university in Irvine, California, which addressed the shortcomings of garden-variety suburbia. He could create singular riveting architectural statements (such as San Francisco’s Transamerica pyramid and the reverse-pyramid of UC San Diego’s Geisel Library), and yet the planner in him was always compelled to integrate these icon-landmarks with their surroundings. And in Pereira’s farsighted early concepts for LAX (with then-partner Charles Luckman, implemented with joint collaborators Welton Becket Associates and Paul R. Williams), the technological complexities of jet travel are blended with a truly modern public architecture.
So Pereira is not just a conventional corporate architect at the beck and call of industry. In each of these projects he uses his confident insider status to push back boundaries. A trip to Reno to see the exhibit is made entirely worthwhile by the original black plastic model of the unbuilt 1,000-foot-tall ABC headquarters in Manhattan, which became an early study for the Transamerica pyramid. Its asymmetrical play of office floors and elevator cores, of served and servant spaces, explain how Pereira was pushing modernism forward at a critical time in its history.
Pereira’s innovations become clear in the accessible exhibition design by Nikolaus Hafermaas and UEBERSEE. Many architecture exhibits induce fatigue in the average visitor by relying on stylized models and obscure drawings. Hafermaas avoids this by high-lighting specific details that bring the architecture alive. Pereira’s sense of expansive cinematic space (after all, he won an Oscar for special effects in 1942 for Cecil B. DeMille’s “Reap the Wild Wind”) is tangibly conveyed in a series of openings cut into the exhibit’s partitions. These widescreen windows combine a wide shot of the entire exhibit with focused close ups of key exhibits. The experience of jet travel proposed by Pereira and Luckman for LAX in the early 1950s (well before jet travel was common) blends electronics with architecture in such details as a hand-held device to keep travelers updated on their flights—essentially a smart phone.
Courtesy Nevada Museum of Art (left, Right); Jamie Kingham (center)
Key to this accessibility is the inclusion of art, mostly commissioned for the installation. Several artists stretch and reimagine Pereira’s forms, iconography, and concepts in ways that that give us new perspectives on the architecture—literally. The Transamerica pyramid, a form almost too well known, is made startlingly fresh by Ball-Nogues Studio’s stunning four-story model rendered in ball chains and hanging upside down in the museum’s open stairwell. Deborah Aschheim’s luminous white plastic models reinvigorate the modern sculpted shapes of the Theme Building and a preliminary Transamerica Tower design, while her drawings of the UC Irvine campus in the throes of 1960s student rebellion undermine the conventional screed that Pereira produced futuristically lifeless designs.
Of course, Pereira’s accomplishments go beyond these five buildings. There were innovations in modern urban recreational venues (Marineland of the Pacific), retail architecture (several superb Robinsons department stores), and modern communications facilities (CBS Television City). These and others are represented in a timeline that graphically links major themes in his life and work, as well as providing in-depth material via icons that link to further material through visitors’ smart phones.
With LACMA proposing to demolish its original Pereira campus, we’ve seen attempts to downplay his significance. This exhibit demonstrates what little justification there is for that opinion. The Pereira shown here was an innovator, a builder, a doer, often visionary, and certainly a major shaper of modern twentieth century cities.
Modernist Maverick clearly establishes, with fresh and needed scholarship, that Pereira was a major architect. Above all, Modernist Maverick is a ringing reminder that we don’t know everything we think we do about the history of modern architecture. Though the Nevada Museum of Art may be on the outer fringes of the San Francisco–Los Angeles museum axis, it has produced an extraordinarily important exhibit and catalog.
Not to be outdone by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), located across the street, LA’s Petersen Automotive Museum Sunday released the final design for a facelift that promises, according to officials, to transform the facility on Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row into “one of the most significant and unforgettable structures in Los Angeles.” Moreover, they claim the makeover will lift the Petersen into the ranks of “world-class” museums.
The ribboned, LED-illuminated, stainless-steel facade treatment that Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) has come up with is indeed radically transformative. It would turn the near-windowless former department store that the museum has called home since 1992 into a larger-than-life statement on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.
The original building, which will be hidden underneath KPF’s reimagined facade, was designed by Los Angeles architect Welton Becket in 1962. Becket is perhaps best known for his design of the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. According to the museum the renovation, which includes an extensive redesign of existing galleries and 15,000 square feet of additional gallery space, will not significantly alter the original Becket building’s base. In terms of the facade treatment, however, it’s a completely new direction, and gives Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s “veil” for the Broad Museum, currently underway downtown, a run for its money.
But is this enough to bring the Petersen new visitors and increase repeat visits to 60 percent of its daily attendance, as the museum hopes? The museum has reportedly been criticized for selling off a number of its rare automobiles to raise money for the renovation. On Sunday, Peter Mullin, chairman of the museum’s board, said the $10 million raised from the sale of cars would be used to enhance the collection and the galleries. A separate capital campaign will fund the facade. The budget for the total renovation could go as high as $20 million. With all that undulating stainless steel they are going to need it.