Fifty years ago, civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr. stood before a crowd of mostly white and male architects as he delivered a historic speech that called out racism and other issues of diversity in the architecture and design industries. Today, the profession has arguably improved thanks to his words and subsequent leaders. A new exhibition, 50 Years After Whitney Young Jr., at the Octagon Museum in Washington, D.C., surveys the legacy of the National Urban League, which Young led for a decade, and his impact on the AIA. Following Young’s exhortation, AIA officials undertook several actions, including launching a task force to support equal opportunities for minority groups, and developing architecture programs to improve living conditions in urban neighborhoods. In 1970, the Diversity Advancement Scholarship was created thanks to a Ford Foundation grant to recognize talented and emerging minority designers. Shortly following Young’s death in 1971, the AIA founded the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award which recognizes architects and organizations who contribute in areas of affordable housing, inclusiveness, or universal access. The Octagon Museum exhibition highlights past recipients of the award, from the inaugural recipient Robert J. Nash, FAIA, who became the first African American architect elected to national AIA office, to the latest recipient, Tamara Eagle Bull, FAIA, who was the first Native American woman to become a licensed US architect. “My dad had wanted to be an architect since he was in high school... His father, a tribal leader, once said, ‘One day, our tribe will be in a position to rebuild and change our situation, and we are going to need architects and lawyers to do it,’” Eagle Bull explained in a 2017 AIA interview. “But when my father went to his non-Native counselor at school, the counselor said, ‘The best you can hope for is to be a teacher.’ So he became a teacher, and had a wonderful career, but he always regretted not becoming an architect.” At her firm, Encompass Architects in Lincoln, Nebraska, Eagle Bull is committed to creating culturally relevant and responsible design for Native American communities. The exhibition also showcases key figures in the fight for diversity within architecture. Alongside Young and Eagle Bull, the list includes Paul R. Williams, FAIA, who was the first black architect in the AIA College of Fellows and defined Southern California Style. Julia Morgan, FAIA, posthumously became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal and used her combined talents within technology and design to further the field. Also included in the exhibit is an introduction to the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), which aims at leveling the professional playing field, as well as a profile of Norma Merrick Sklarek, FAIA, who was the first African American woman elected to the AIA College of Fellows in 1980 and received the Whitney Young Award in 2008. 50 Years After Whitney Young Jr. also features a comprehensive timeline starting in 1857 when the AIA was founded in New York City. It follows the AIA's history up to the present era when Pittsburgh architect William J. Bates, FAIA, became the second elected African American AIA president, succeeding Marshall Purnell, FAIA, in 2007. Other highlighted key leaders include Robert R. Taylor, the first academically-trained African American architect, Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA, the first woman to receive the AIA Topaz Medallion, and Gordon Chong, FAIA, the first elected Asian American AIA president. Marci B. Reed, the executive director of the Architects Foundation, noted that both the Diversity Advancement Scholarship Program and the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award help underrepresented minority students to pursue architectural studies and recognize architects and organizations that champion causes of equity and social justice. Reed hopes that the exhibition will “demonstrate the progress we have made since 1968, and how seriously the AIA and the Architects Foundation take Young’s charge today.” 50 Years After Whitney Young Jr. is now on view through November 24 at the Octagon Museum in Washington, D.C. It was organized by the Architects Foundation, a philanthropic partner of the AIA. 50 Years After Whitney Young Jr. On view through November 24, 2018 The Octagon Museum 1799 New York Ave NW Washington, DC 20006 Thursday–Saturday, 1–4pm
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With the housing market tightening, and homes by big–name architects commanding a 5 to 10 percent premium over comparable buildings, both homeowners and prospective buyers are turning to architectural historians to tie their houses to iconic designers. As The Wall Street Journal notes, the practice isn’t without merit. A post-purchase debunking of a house sold on the merits of its architect can wipe out the building’s value, akin to a forged artwork. Even "new" homes by Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect whose projects have been catalogued in extreme detail by Chicago’s Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy (FLWBC), still surface regularly. William Allin Storrer, a Wright historian, explained the appeal of marketing a home as one designed by Wright to the WSJ. “It maybe raises a building’s value by a factor of five or more. A $160,000 home would be worth $1.5 million if it was by Wright.” The FLWBC and other preservation groups have tried to thoroughly vet the claims that come their way, as the sale of a Wright-designed home often makes the news. The circular Normal Lykes House in Phoenix, Arizona, was designed by Wright in 1959 shortly before his death, and has been written about extensively in the last few weeks after it was put up for sale. Los Angeles County in particular is rife with single-family homes that have dubious architectural pedigrees. Paul Revere Williams, a Los Angeles native and the first African American to gain admittance to the American Institute of Architects, and Julia Morgan, the first woman architect licensed in California, built homes throughout the state, but their work has not been extensively catalogued. As homeowners reach out to the historians and non-profit groups to verify their claims, any newly discovered buildings would help flesh out the canon of these architects’ work. If those claims aren't possible to prove, then as the The Wall Street Journal Reports, brokers will often list the home as "in the style of" one of these architects. Putting in extra effort to determine a home’s architectural authenticity is especially necessary to help protect consumers, as brokers and sellers attempt to make use of the added value that these labels can bring. For instance, it’s unlikely that Paul Rudolph, who was known for his brutalist projects, would have designed a sprawling estate with teal terraced roofs and a helipad.
We live in a listicle age. Why write an article when you can clump a few names together and call it a trend? So when Los Angeles Magazine listed six women who have changed the face of Los Angeles architecture, which included one dead AIA Gold Medalist and two New Yorkers, it was bound to create outcry. Brava to the three local gals who made the cut, but let’s celebrate all the women of the L.A. architecture and design scene. When local schools put one lady on the lecture series and pat themselves on the back, we know more needs to be done for gender equity.
A weekend at the 2015 Monterey Design Conference (MDC) held at Asilomar leads to a wealth and variety of insights about architecture and design. Including a lesson in "uglyful," says Guy Horton. I learned some new things at the 2015 Monterey Design Festival. Wait. I meant to write “conference.” Monterey Design Conference. That was a true slip. Everybody knows it’s the Monterey Design Conference. Sorry. But to me it was more like a design festival. And is it just me or did MDC seem edgy and on edge this time around? It seemed to pull the 800+ crowd—the conference sold out for the first time in its history—along for a wild ride. This was in no small measure due to the natural and off-the-cuff tone set by Reed Kroloff, who emceed the whole affair. It was, to mention just a few of the many highlights, a whirlwind of poetry, Jimi Hendrix, hot rods, and light by self-styled “stray dog” Rand Elliott. It was video of Liz Taylor applying makeup, Apocalypse Now, Jimi Hendrix again, and the sublime and sometimes frightening world of the “uglyful” by Atlanta dame Merrill Elam. With her, we all went down the rabbit hole. Feel free to dig deeper into this. Later, back on solid ground, came the precision of Bernard Tschumi’s words and drawings, pulled from the codex of his experience; the urgent, sometimes funny, and always intricate art of Pae White; and Junya Ishigami’s disappearing architecture, which took the wind out of anything that tries too hard or uses too much building material. The “emerging talent” definitely emerged. Doris Kim Sung, principal of DOSU Studio Architecture, pretty much mapped out how she owns the territory of thermobiometals and it will be everybody else’s job to catch up. Using his 15 minutes to the max, Alvin Huang, principal of Synthesis Design + Architecture, posed a series of questions as design propositions that will keep him, and others working in the digital realm, busy for at least the next 15 years. The whole thing was like a carnival, with bonfires and architects in black drinking the local Syrah on Monterey's powdery white sand. I know for a fact that at least one architect went surfing every morning. There was a nice left just off the Asilomar grounds. On the beach I bumped into Takashi Yanai and Patricia Rhee (both in black) from Ehrlich Architects. The entire firm was at MDC to be honored as the 2015 AIA Firm Award winner. “It really makes you think differently,” said Rhee when asked what the conference means to her. “It’s definitely out there,” said Yanai. “It’s like being in school again.” “What was most significant to me was hearing a range of mature, truly individual voices ringing out with specificity and confidence. The individual voice in architecture is something that takes years and years and decades to establish, and for many it never solidifies, never gels,” says MDC conference chair Alice Kimm of John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects. The voices were indeed individual and, like Elam’s “uglyful,” had the power to take us outside ourselves, even if only for a weekend. And it worked. It’s all a little hard to pin down in 500 words. Just look at the relentless, blow-by-blow @mdc_conf Twitter feed and you’ll get the idea. “I recommend that everyone experience MDC at least once,” said Kimm. “It has a weird but magical combination of gravitas, levity, and inspiration that stays with you for a long time.”
Speaking of zombies, two of Downtown LA’s most long-stalled projects appear to be rising from the dead. The mixed-use project revolving around Julia Morgan’s beautiful Herald Examiner Building on Broadway is apparently finally getting underway, now developed by Forest City, and no longer designed by Morphosis. The designer has yet to be revealed. Also Metropolis, a multi-building megaproject designed at one point by Michael Graves back in the 1990s, is apparently being brought back by Gensler. Of course downtown giveth and downtown taketh away. We hear that Johnson Fain, who were previously designing the Bloc development, a makeover of the former Macy’s Plaza, is no longer on the project. Studio One Eleven are now, according to a project spokesperson, “moving forward with implementation.” Johnson Fain had been “engaged to assist with the development of the concept and to oversee the schematic design phase of the Bloc.” Too bad they couldn’t finish the job.
In November, the Los Angeles City Council named Armet & Davis' Johnie’s Coffee Shop, the restaurant at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, a historic cultural landmark. That’s a win for preservationists concerned with the legacy of the Googie style, the auto-oriented, steel-and-neon aesthetic that spawned diners and coffee shops across Southern California from the 1940s through the 1960s. It might also give a leg up to locals interested in seeing Johnie’s returned to its original use. Because Johnie’s Coffee Shop isn’t a coffee shop, and hasn’t been for over a decade. Since 2000, it’s been closed to the public and used exclusively for filming. The restaurant’s film credits, both before and after its conversion to a 24/7 theatrical set, include The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs. But while the best use for a building like Johnie's might have a stronger community orientation, in the meantime its co-optation by the film industry isn't all bad. When it takes over a building, the film industry buys time for preservationists and others hoping to breathe new life into an under-used landmark, Adrian Scott Fine, Director of Advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy explained. "It's kind of an advantage that Los Angeles has over other cities," he said. In addition, "People discover buildings through film," Scott said. "Johnie's, some of the films it's been in, it's clearly the star of the film." Approximately two years ago, the Los Angeles Conservancy honored Mad Men and its creator, Matthew Weiner, for the way in which it showcases midcentury modern architecture. Weiner has been active in efforts to preserve Los Angeles landmarks, Fine said, and the show has featured preservation-themed plot lines, including the demolition of New York's Penn Station. This all got us thinking: what other LA architectural landmarks are now used primarily as stage sets? The answer, it turns out, is quite a few. From one of Julia Morgan’s earliest Hearst commissions to a 1958 Pereira & Luckman high-rise, here’s our list of Los Angeles masterworks currently in the hands of the film industry. Herald Examiner Building (Downtown, Broadway and 11th Street) Media magnate William Randolph Hearst commissioned 2014 AIA Gold Medal recipient Julia Morgan to design a new headquarters building for the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper in 1913, ten years after the paper’s founding. When the Herald Examiner, the Los Angeles Examiner’s successor, went under in 1989, the Hearst Corporation held on to the structure. In 2008, Brenda Levin (who cites Julia Morgan as her role model) was set to renovate the building—but then the economy tanked. Plans to rehabilitate the building, and build two Morphosis-designed residential towers adjacent to it, were put on indefinite hold. Today, the Herald Examiner building is used exclusively for filming. Scenes in The Usual Suspects, Dreamgirls, Spider-Man 3, Zoolander, Castle, Bones, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, plus music videos by Eminem, Shakira, and Christina Aguilera were shot there. Interior location sets include an apartment, bar, jail, and police station. Park Plaza Hotel (Westlake, 607 South Park View Street) Art Deco and Corporate Moderne architect Claud Beelman designed the Park Plaza Hotel as Elks Lodge No. 99 in 1925. During the 1932 Olympics, the building hosted several indoor swimming events. The Park Plaza, which is listed as a Los Angeles historic-cultural landmark, features four ballrooms: the Grand Ballroom, whose decorated ceiling beams were modeled after a palace in Florence; the Art Deco Terrace Room, formerly the Elks Lodge meeting room; the Bronze Ballroom, distinguished by its copper-gilded columns; and the smaller Gold Room, named for the gold-leaf detail on its Corinthian columns. Both indoor and outdoor spaces, including the Tuscan Patio, can be rented for filming, weddings, and other events. Greystone Mansion (Beverly Hills, 501 Doheny Road) The lavish Beverly Hills estate known as Greystone Mansion was designed by Gordon B. Kaufmann beginning in 1925 for Edward Laurence Doheny, Jr., son of Los Angeles’s original oil magnate. Kaufmann, who would go on to design both the Hoover Dam and the Los Angeles Times building, designed the fifty-five room mansion in the Tudor style. The estate gained notoriety soon after construction finished, when Doheny, Jr. was found dead of an apparent murder-suicide. The City of Beverly Hills purchased the property in 1955, and built a reservoir on the site. The grounds of the mansion are open to the public, while the interior is available for filming and events. Greystone Mansion is featured in movies including The Muppets, The Social Network, What Women Want, Air Force One, and Ghostbusters. Los Angeles Theatre (Downtown, Broadway and 6th Street) In the ultimate Hollywood irony, the Los Angeles Theatre now just plays one on TV. The film palace was designed in 1931 by S. Charles Lee, after the Fox Theatre in San Francisco. A popular theater designer, Lee’s other Los Angeles buildings include the Alex Theatre, the Saban Theatre (formerly the Fox Wilshire), the Star Theatre, and the Tower Theatre. The Los Angeles Theatre, which the Los Angeles Conservancy calls “[t]he most lavish . . . of Broadway’s great movie palaces,” features a six-story lobby with a Louis XIV-inspired sunburst motif, plus a glass-ceiling ballroom and a nursery decorated with a circus theme. The building is available for rent as a film location, and for special events, live stage performances, and film screenings. "[The film industry] has certainly been instrumental in keeping the theaters going, where historic theaters are certainly one of the most difficult [building types] to adapt," Fine said. "I'm not sure, if you look at other cities with historic theaters, if we hadn't had the filming industry doing things, we probably would have lost them." Los Angeles Center Studios (City West, 1501 W. Fifth Street) When the Los Angeles Center Studios’ original tower, designed by Pereira & Luckman, was completed in 1958, it was the tallest structure in downtown LA. Hexagonal in shape, the International Style building is entirely unornamented, except for the aluminum sunshades at the base of each window. By 1998 the building, which was originally designed as part of Union Oil’s headquarters, was threatened with demolition. A group of developers bought the complex and converted it into a full-service TV, film, and commercial production studio. The Pereira & Luckman tower is now dedicated to entertainment and creative office space.
The California AIA's biennial Monterey Design Conference is on the next two days—September 27th and 28th—at Asilomar, the glorious Julia Morgan– and John Carl Warnecke–designed center on the Pacific Ocean in Pacific Grove. The conference will feature lectures by Thom Mayne, Marlon Blackwell, Thomas Phifer, Kengo Kuma, and AN board member Odile Decq. But first up this morning was Greg Otto from Buro Happold who presented various Happold projects that were created using a multi-disciplinary approach and discussed design and legal issues around responsibility and how these "stress traditional design assumptions." Otto also discussed his ongoing New York projects with Jeff Koons who wants to make large steel structures look "like marshmallows." Next a Pecha Kucha–type session on Technology Serving Design where German Aparicio, CCA and UCLA professor and AECOM architect, presented his "informedCITIES" digital data research on urbanism and how it can be applied to design. Aparicio has done fascinating urban metrics research on pre- and post-earthquake Christchurch, New Zealand. It's great to be at an architecture conference that does not just discuss local or regional issues but brings in the world's most important designers to present work of high quality and offers a 6:00a.m. "restorative wake-up Yoga" session sponsored by Academy for Emerging Professionals.