One of Los Angeles' most influential architects, Jon Jerde, who recently passed away, was known for the ebullience and animation of his designs. So it was only fitting that his funeral be held at LA’s stunning Union Station, inside the Grand Concourse, accompanied by nothing less than a full Mariachi band. When Eavesdrop finally goes to the Page Six in the sky, this is exactly how we would like to go out.
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We’ve all heard a lot about “smart cities” and “responsive architecture,” by what about architecture that tells secrets? Murmur Wall, designed by Jason Kelly Johnson and Nataly Gattegno of the experimental design practice Future Cities Lab, does just that. The pair describes their site-specific installation at the main entrance to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco in as “artificially intelligent architecture.” “We are interested in exploring how data can become visceral, tangible, and poetic,” Johnson explained. “We’re experimenting with its potential to create meaning and a sense of place within the contemporary city.” Murmur Wall harvests local online activities—via search engines and social media—and broadcasts select phrases back into public space. Visitors to the wall can also contribute anonymous secrets, rumors, and gossip to the wall at the website murmurwall.net. Unlike many interactive artworks that rely on screens to share information, the sculptural installation uses a steel tube armature and illuminated fiber optic rods. LED lights embedded in the acrylic tubes illuminate the stream of whispers along the length of the Murmur Wall. When the real-time data reaches the 3D printed “pods” embedded with LED display, the small, embedded screens display a brief text before the data continues on as a light stream. This integration of digital and architectural strategies comes from Future Cities Lab research and teaching practices. Both designers are faculty at the California College of the Arts where Gattegno is Chair of the CCA Graduate Architecture program and Johnson coordinates the CCA Digital Craft Lab. Their work embraces the booming tech culture all around them in the Bay Area and then grapples with potential architectural applications, finding solutions that go beyond smart city catchphrases. “There is a lot of talk these days about how the Internet of Things will make the city more efficient, informed, and productive,” said Johnson. “We are more interested in its potential to connect people, to help them share ideas and experiences, and create communities in the physical world.” Revealing secrets is the first step. The installation is open and accessible to the public 24/7 at the Mission Street entrance the museum. A second Future Cities Lab piece, Lightswarm from 2014, is on view on the south facade of YBCA’s Grand Lobby.
Studio Visit subject Moore Ruble Yudell is the legacy firm of architectural master Charles Moore, who founded the company more than thirty years ago with John Ruble and Buzz Yudell. Many of Moore's architectural priorities are encapsulated in a unique community of oceanside homes he helped design, Sea Ranch, which just celebrated its fifty year anniversary. Celebrations of Sea Ranch's birthday wind down over Memorial Day with a concert by the Kronos Quartet. Last fall AN contributor Kenneth Caldwell attended The Once and Future Sea Ranch, a one-day symposium on the community's history and future. Below are his notes. When you hit middle age, it’s time for another checkup, and if you are a group of affluent nature-loving Northern Californian neighbors, perhaps a check-in. Residents of Sea Ranch, a second home community stretched out along 10 miles of the Sonoma coast north of San Francisco, have been holding a number of events to celebrate its 50th birthday. On October 18, there was a day-long symposium to look at how history might influence the future. The goal of this confab was to generate new ideas about the next 50 years of Sea Ranch’s existence. Led by former UC Berkeley Art Museum curator Jacquelynn Baas and original Sea Ranch architect and retired UC Berkeley professor Donlyn Lyndon, the presentations ranged over several topics but eventually seemed to coalesce around a few key ones. It’s Really About the Landscape Lyndon, who has served on the Sea Ranch design committee, now chairs the landscape committee, and has designed several homes since the community’s founding. What he understands better than most is that what matters at Sea Ranch is not so much the widely published architecture, but the landscape. The point of the intense design review process was to try and prevent design from interfering too much with the place. This has been a central attraction and source of conflict for 50 years. Lyndon presented an overview of the community and its development. One of Lyndon’s main points is that much of the mature landscape that you experience there was planted when Sea Ranch was first developed. Now it has to be managed prudently to cut down on invasive species, protect views, and most importantly, prevent fires. This reinforces a basic idea: other than the ocean, man made Sea Ranch. Lyndon then turned the floor over to design professionals who are not part of the Sea Ranch scene. As a central steward of this now historic locale, he knew that he needed new voices to generate new ideas. Nature Shaped by and for Humans The presentations revealed a core conflict, which goes back to the Sea Ranch’s semi-utopian beginnings. The emerging values of ecology and living in harmony with nature that took root in the early 1960s are not in harmony with the free market. Both Lyndon and UC Berkeley landscape architecture professor Linda Jewell explained the thinking of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who brought a romantic notion about a kibbutz-like community where everybody would share the common meadows and build modest cabins up against the beautiful hedgerows. The phrase was “live lightly on the land.” This dreamy if affluent hippiedom was best captured in Architectural Record editor Cathleen McGuigan’s presentation on how the East Coast viewed the development. She featured several rarely seen images of dancer Anna Halprin, wife of the visionary, leading diaphanous dances at the shore. While Lawrence Halprin and his team of scientists went to great lengths to study the ecology and create a self-effacing community, it was still a development idea that would tame nature for man’s pleasure. The environmental movement caught on and, as Lyndon describes in his recently revised book on the topic, eventually threatened the existence of the community. The voters also got ecology fever and passed the Coastal Initiative in 1972, which provided public access to the state’s beaches. For several years, multiple government agencies were entangled in litigation with Sea Ranch over beach access for members of the public who might want to dance there as well. Sea Ranch wasn’t so communal after all. When the court cases were settled, the original developers, part of Hawaii giant Castle & Cooke, wanted out. The result was that the northern part of the ranch was not developed according to Halprin’s original site-sensitive vision. Some folks say that there are essentially two Sea Ranches: the tasteful, quiet southern part and the suburban golf-playing northern sector. In his presentation and comments, California College of the Arts professor of visual studies Mitchell Schwarzer pointed out that the unbuilt environment at Sea Ranch that we so cherish is an illusion that depended on global and technological advances and was created by excellent design. It didn’t just grow there. He was able to contextualize the place as a resort community that focused on contemplation more than any specific activity. We Are Not Getting Any Younger There were other miscalculations besides the popularity of the early environmental movement. The drive from the Bay Area lengthened over the many years since Sea Ranch's inception, with increased development through Marin County and Santa Rosa. Often the journey takes three long hours filled with curves, and short weekends up the coast are not really viable. There is no way to get there but to drive—or fly, if you have your own small plane. And no way to get around once you do get there except by car. The demographic is tilting Sea Ranch towards becoming a retirement village without the usual retirement amenities. Most of the full-time residents are over 60 years old. By 2020, it is estimated that the number will be 80 percent. The few hundred gathered for the event only supported those numbers. This presents a challenge in terms of social and medical needs. How does an aging community renew itself? As one resident pointed out during the Q+A, “Pray for a heart attack and that you drop dead.” Lack of Public Gathering Spaces Although there are three recreational complexes and a golf course, there is no informal gathering place in Sea Ranch, no town square. There is a small bakery tucked away on the hill that serves as a de facto hub, but there’s nothing that was planned. If the lodge expands, as has been rumored for several years, that might be an opportunity for creating some kind of intentional hangout space with opportunities for a few retail services. However, given that there is an empty retail building up on the ridge near the airport, is there enough demand to accommodate additional commerce? Schwarzer’s presentation went a long way to explain this lack of a hangout place. For the most part people go there to be alone or in small groups. What is the Nature of Preserving This Nature? As the slides showed, the natural environment is vastly different from what it was 50 years ago. Lyndon mentioned that the hedgerows, which separated different sheep fields, have matured and block more wind, as do the new plantings. As former UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design dean Harrison Fraker (and others) pointed out, Sea Ranch isn’t a sustainable community. Although Halprin’s original vision called for greater density, it is, like so much of California, essentially a single-family car-oriented cul-de-sac community. Several people also talked about the lack of a coherent bike trail system. There were lots of suggestions about landmarking the place, creating a cultural center, and densifying the remaining undeveloped plots. Perhaps the most inventive idea came LA Times architecture critic Chris Hawthorne, who suggested reviving the Case Study House program at Sea Ranch. But it’s pretty clear from the response that the homeowners don’t want significant change. The most reasonable suggestion presented was for studying in depth the demographics (which the census does only once a decade) and studying in depth the plant and animal life, much as Halprin tried to do when he first came to the site in the early 1960s. Noted Southwest architect Will Bruder offered up lots of ideas including one concrete suggestion that seemed to have some resonance: create a summer institute for students. Although Halprin and Esherick were established professionals in the early 1960s, it was the young bucks at Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW) that gave the place that odd twist of self-effacing drama at their condo complex, so the idea seems appropriate. The empty retail building near the airport, designed by William Turnbull, could serve as the base for such an annual gathering of the next generation of talent. In an offhand comment, Lyndon said that original developer Al Boeke knew of Ed Barnes’s famous Haystack School in Maine and that its architectural forms and materials were not unknown to the early designers. Maybe a kind of Haystack that focused on the ecology of the Northern Sonoma/Mendocino coast would work here? Or planned sustainable communities, or even the creation of a more sustainable community at Sea Ranch? It seems unlikely that a group of entitled design students would be interested in doing research for the benefit of a group of well-to-do nature and design enthusiasts. But if the mandate were slightly larger, such as how to evolve the original place-making and environmental ideals of Halprin, Esherick, and MLTW, that might work. There are challenges for the area beyond creating gathering places, meeting seniors’ needs, and overseeing the ever-changing natural environment. They include affordable housing, adjacent timberlands, and strengthening Sea Ranch’s relationship to the small town just across the county line that provides most of the services and retail operations. There is a room for change here, but even with the input of leading thinkers, it won’t be dramatic. But as with the original place itself, a dash of youthful genius could move it forward for the next 50 years.
Here are three bold designs from winning teams that completely reimagine the Los Angeles Convention Center
The Los Angeles Convention Center is desperately in need of an overhaul. Architect Charles Luckman designed the original boxy structure in 1971 and James Ingo Freed added the glassy Annex in 1997. Today, both buildings lack the square footage and amenities to add up to a competitive venue. Centers in Las Vegas or Chicago eclipse LA’s meager 870,000 square feet by double or triple square footage. Indeed, in the decades since the venue was constructed the whole approach to convention center design has changed. The City of Los Angeles announced the three final teams in a design competition for a proposed renovation and expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center: AC Martin and LMN Architects, Gensler and Lehrer Architects, and HMC Architects and Populous. The schemes, on public view at the convention center through June 4, reflect the need for not only a bigger, more contemporary venue, but for a full-service destination, not unlike nearby LA Live. As the South Park neighborhood continues to boom, renderings show connections between the older buildings across Pico Boulevard, and include landscaped outdoor spaces, bold supergraphics, and open-air entertainment areas equipped for concerts. Each design comes in under a budget of $350 million or less. A comparison to LA Live is no accident. AEG, developers of that venue as well as the Staples Center and the Ritz-Carlton/J.W. Marriott, were contracted to revamp the dumpy Convention Center as part of the defunct Farmers Field NFL stadium plan. The design competition was launched in late 2014 before AEG announced that it would no longer pursue the stadium project. As part of the larger “Expansion and Futurization Project” for the Los Angeles Convention Center, the City of Los Angeles' (led by the L.A. Department of Convention and Tourism Development and the Bureau of Engineering) competition is somewhat of a back-up plan to ensure that LA remains a draw. “Today, we’re taking a big step forward in investing in our future and bringing more business, more visitors, and more jobs to our city,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “I’m very pleased that with these functional and attractive designs, Los Angeles is closer to a Convention Center that reflects our city’s position as the global capital of creativity, innovation, and possibility.”
When hackers broke into Sony Pictures Entertainment’s email server in November 2014 and released stolen messages, the first stories to come out were Hollywood fodder. But buried inside the glut of toxic gossip, star salaries, and Emma Stone’s junior high school pictures are emails that tie together Sony CEO Michael Lynton, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) director Michael Govan, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Peter Zumthor’s proposed design for the LACMA campus. In stories by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times reporters reviewed the hacked messages and found that Lynton, a member of LACMA’s board of trustees, directed a $25,000 Sony contribution to a state super PAC—the African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation Project founded by Ridley-Thomas—in exchange for a key vote on LACMA’s future. According to ProPublica, records and interviews show that although the contribution was made and publicly disclosed after the election, it was promised prior to a major county supervisors vote in November 2014 that backed $125 million dollars in public funds for the museum expansion, the construction of which is estimated at well over $600 million dollars. Ridley-Thomas represents the city’s Second District, an area that covers much of South Los Angeles, including Watts and Compton. The northern edge of the district runs along the south side of Wilshire and Museum Mile. Govan considered the supervisor’s vote pivotal because a portion of the museum crossed into his district. Zumthor’s scheme bridges to the south side of Wilshire Boulevard, ostensibly to avoid disturbing the La Brea Tar Pits and to provide better Metro subway access. Plans for the south side include a high-rise tower. In a July 2014 interview, Govan touted the design of the bridge and tower as essential for increased density and the creation of a cultural corridor along Wilshire. As for an architect for the skyscraper he said, “My dream would be Frank Gehry, it’s as simple as that.” To date, no proposals for such a partnership has come to light. ProPublica and LA Times reports track internal emails between Lynton and Ridley-Thomas’s aides that lead to a luncheon meeting between the CEO and the supervisor. Learning of this meeting, Govan took the opportunity to have trustee Lynton lobby for Board of Supervisor support. A July 17 email from Sony executive Keith E. Weaver spells out the reasons for advancing the proposal in a series of bullet points. One states that the new design crosses in to Ridley-Thomas's district, another ambitiously proposes that “this will be the most significant cultural building built in the US in the coming decade,” while a third point is more strategically ominous: “[T]he buildings are really in need of repair (like the Music Center), and if we don't get going on this, LA could find itself with its museum closed in 2023 while the new subway stop opens (and there's even talk of an Olympic bid).” According to ProPublica and the LA Times, it is this luncheon that initiated the flow of money from Sony to the PAC and influenced the supervisor’s important vote on the museum. ProPublica wrote:
At the lunch, Ridley-Thomas requested the contribution from Sony, according to his chief deputy. In September, the money landed in the coffers of the political action committee he founded to promote candidates and causes such as African-American voter registration. And two months after that, Ridley-Thomas voted for the museum project. All parties involved insist there was no connection between the contribution – far and away Sony's largest in California that year – and the supervisor's vote. Such a link could be a violation of campaign finance law.On November 4, 2014, the museum director sent a post-supervisor’s vote message to Lyndon commenting on a note he received from Ridley-Thomas. “Just got an email from MRT,” he wrote. “I think we're good!” It is uncertain how these email revelations will impact the future of the museum’s redesign. The Architect’s Newspaper reached out to Govan for a comment about the relationship between the vote and Sony’s contribution to the PAC. He responded, “There isn't any tie there.”
Local real estate and investment company Zephyr has named Joseph Wong of Joseph Wong Design Associates (JWDA) lead architect of their 60,000-square-foot mixed-use development planned for downtown San Diego. The Block, as it is currently known (the developer has yet to select a final name), will be the first high-rise, mixed-use project in the city since the recession. With an estimated cost exceeding $250 million, the development promises to be a major player in the demographic and architectural transformation of San Diego's urban core. Wong's design features two towers, 21 stories and 41 stories, respectively, rising from a residential and retail platform. According to the architect, the towers' siting and massing were influenced primarily by local conditions—including setback requirements and the creation of a sun access envelope for a planned public park to the northeast—as well as a desire to maximize views and daylighting. For the facade, said Wong "we thought about not just the context, site circumstance, its history, and surrounding buildings, but also about the longevity of the project and what it could be." The combination of glass of different transparencies and metal panels in a variety of colors helps distinguish the development from surrounding office buildings, while the clean lines and minimal material palette prevent the towers from feeling bulky. Residential balconies project from the glazing in an alternating pattern that highlights the corners and other points of significance, creating, said Wong, "a rhythm of form and function." While some of The Block's features, including a 25,000-square-foot "amenities deck" designed by Lifescapes International, are reserved for private tenant use, the project's street presence evinces public-mindedness on the part of both developer and architect. "Downtown San Diego is red hot and continuing to get better every day," said Zephyr co-CEO Brad Termini. "We hope to play an important role in providing a link between the Gaslamp Quarter, the financial core, and the emerging East Village." For Wong, the need to mediate between existing high-rise developments and the burgeoning residential fabric was a major factor in the design. "It requires both a visually striking architectural presence in the downtown skyline, and a decidedly pedestrian-friendly approach to its neighbors," he said. At the ground plane, the formal push and pull of the podium, which features two levels of retail on every side, encourages social engagement. Meanwhile, a 15-foot setback along Broadway combines with the 14-foot pedestrian sidewalk to create a south-facing public plaza and eases access to public transit facilities to both north and south. "By creating opportunities such as a public plaza, retail and commercial space, and recreation areas throughout the ground floor, The Block promotes [walkability] for both the community as a whole and the individual user. Its prominent location further encourages accessibility to neighboring sites and vice versa," said Wong. Wong, who describes The Block as a "milestone" development for JWDA, thinks of it as "a project that defines urbanism in every sense." "The design opportunities of this project are many, and ultimately have to do with the future architecture of our cities," he concluded. "We're creating an urban design that contributes to social interaction and addresses the relationship between public and private space."
As Facebook taps Gehry for two more buildings, take a peek inside the tech giant's new Menlo Park offices
Facebook has allowed precious few people to see its new Frank Gehry–designed headquarters in Menlo Park, California. One of the lucky scribes was architecture critic James Russell, reporting for the Wall Street Journal. He raved about the hangar-like building's massive ceiling heights, clustered "neighborhoods," lack of hierarchy, and oodles of natural light. Another glimpse of the 434,000, single-floor space, which will eventually hold 2,800 employees, was from The Guardian, which actually posted a picture of the new space by none other than Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg himself. “The building itself is pretty simple and isn’t fancy,” Zuckerberg told the Guardian. “That’s on purpose. We want our space to feel like a work in progress. When you enter our buildings, we want you to feel how much left there is to be done in our mission to connect the world." The Guardian noted that Facebook has just submitted plans for two more buildings next door, also by Gehry, with a floor area of roughly a million square feet. The scheme, also includes a community nicknamed "Zee Town," built for 10,000 employees on 200 acres. According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Facebook bought a 56-acre campus once belonging to Prologis south of their current campus in February, so their expansion seems to be just beginning. More pictures of the new offices below.
According to Palo Alto Weekly, Stanford University will soon break ground on a new series of bike and walking trails around its campus designed by Page/BMS Design Group. The 3.4-mile "Perimeter Trail" will stretch along sections of El Camino Real, Junipero Serra Boulevard, and Stanford Avenue, providing new connections to local parks, schools, existing trails, and the nearby foothills. The project, being implemented by both Stanford and the city of Palo Alto, is being funded by a $4.5-million allocation from Santa Clara County. The scheme will both introduce new bike and walking paths (including green bike lanes in heavy traffic areas) and upgrade existing trails, sidewalks, and landscaping. According to Stanford, most of the trail is expected to be complete by this fall.
Eavesdrop> Downtown LA, You’re Nuts: Soho House, swanky international development remaking the urban core
The swanky meter is getting dialed to 11 in Downtown Los Angeles. Rumor has it that the rarified Soho House club will be opening its second LA location in a six-story warehouse in the area’s Arts District. The facility will include the usual boojie facilities as well as a rooftop pool and artist studio rooms where guests can stay for weeks and months, as if they were staying at the Chateau Marmont. Meanwhile it’s a great time to be a Chinese developer in nearby South Park. Beijing-based Oceanwide and Shanghai-based Greenland Group are already building two of the largest projects in the city. Now Shenzhen-Hazens Real Estate Group has announced plans to build a $700 million project including three towers across from LA Live. Eavesdrop better start practicing its Mandarin.
AN has been covering Hodgetts + Fung's efforts to update Los Angeles' Norms Diner for the 21st century, but another of the firm's projects will rigorously update a less known—and perhaps more impressive—modernist structure nearby: Culver City High School's Frost Memorial Auditorium in Culver City. Originally designed by local architects Flewelling & Moody, the building has one of the most ambitious structural concrete domes in the city. Each rib was cast in place on a sculpted mound of earth, lifted into position, then joined to other ribs via another concrete pour. Hodgetts & Fung is expanding the building's cramped back-of-house spaces, installing new air conditioning, lighting, and electrical systems, providing handicap access, and adding a new steel-plated proscenium arch to better facilitate theatrical programs. They're also installing a new black box theater in back of the space. “It was never designed to be a production theater, it was designed to be an auditorium," said Craig Hodgetts. "While it was a great building, the shell inhibited them from doing the things that would have made it more useful... It had really good bones, but from a functional standpoint it was really lame," Hodgetts added. The new project will be complete by early next year.
Earlier this year AN's Eavesdrop column predicted the shortlist for Wilshire Boulevard Temple's "Gathering Place," a 55,000-square-foot event space across the street from the institution's sanctuary. The final list has been revealed and includes big hitters such as OMA, Kengo Kuma & Associates, Morphosis Architects, and Steven Holl Architects. The only firm we didn't predict was Holl (we had Renzo Piano taking the fourth spot). According to the temple, the New York Times prematurely crowned OMA as the winner. "These things often leak but don’t always get reported accurately," said Temple spokesperson Susan Gordon. The announcement of the winning team is still "weeks away," said Gordon. Members of the selection committee include Erika Glazer, Eli Broad, Tony Pritzker, Dana Hutt, and Richard Koshalek. Meanwhile the temple—which is following an ambitious master plan— has already begun construction on the renovation of two school buildings, its Karsh Social Service Center, a rooftop athletic facilities, and a new landscaped walking path. Stay tuned for more.
Four teams have been shortlisted to compete for the design of the Armenian American Museum in Glendale, California. Commemorating the contributions of Armenian-Americans and "sharing the Armenian experience," the 30,000-square-foot building will include exhibition space, an auditorium, library, classrooms, and support spaces. The announcement came on the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The teams, chosen by the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee (AGCC) of the Western US, include Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design, Belzberg Architects, Frederick Fisher and Partners, and Alajajian-Marcoosi Architects. The museum is in negotiations with the city of Glendale to secure a 1.7 acre property for the institution just south of the Glendale Civic Auditorium, at 1305 North Verdugo Rd. Lord Cultural Resources (who consulted on the 9/11 Memorial Museum) are helping develop the master plan for the museum site. Conceptual plans are due in mid-May, and the winning team will be chosen this June, said Berdj Karapetian, chairman of the AGCC's Landmark Sub-Committee. Karapetian said that after a feasibility study is completed the museum will begin raising money for the building, which he estimates could cost roughly $30 million to construct.