Los Angeles is not known for holding on to its architecture, whether those structures are architecturally significant or hastily constructed. Rare examples of streamline art deco, international modernism, and neo-Egyptian architecture have all met the wrecking ball to make way for contemporary alternatives. In the last few years, however, adaptive reuse has breathed new life into many of the city’s forgotten yet exemplary buildings, and the transformation of office buildings into residential complexes in particular is gaining significant traction as an alternative to demolition. In 2015, a 10-story building in West Hollywood, designed by Richard Dorman in 1964, was purchased by local real estate investment firm Townscape Partners with plans to transform the quirky structure into a residential complex. With the help of Olson Kundig, the international architecture firm behind projects including Washington State University’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum and the renovation of the Seattle Space Needle, the office building will become a 48-unit residential complex. The firm’s approach towards adaptive reuse intends to maintain the original integrity of the building by setting all of the new additions away from the street while renovating much of the building’s modernist exterior detailing, including the signature concrete balconies facing Beverly Boulevard. An innovative curtain wall glazing system on the upper floors and generously-sized roof terraces will help dissolve the boundary between inside and out to complement the openness of the original design. For shading and privacy, the renovated facade will be outfitted with an operable vertical shutter system. And true to the Olson Kundig name, the interiors of the new building will be materially sumptuous, including patinated bronze wall panels, custom-designed bronze detailing, and travertine floors throughout. On the other side of the city on a busy stretch of Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown, Jamison Services Inc. has been hard at work converting a 13-story office building from the 1950s into accommodations for 206 units with ample retail space on the ground floor. Local firm CORBeL Architects was hired to oversee the renovation, and renderings reveal that the massing and horizontal bands of the original building will be kept intact, with the addition of distinct red patterning on its most visible corner from the street. The construction team has already begun the process of transforming the building's interiors, and CORBeL Architects estimates that the project will be completed by late 2020. In Downtown Los Angeles, construction recently began on the adaptive reuse of the Lane Mortgage Building, a 12-story structure designed in 1923 by local architect Lester Loy Smith. After the building was acquired by the Delijani Family, they hired Downtown-based architecture firm Omgivning—responsible for renovating several other turn-of-the-century buildings in the immediate area—to oversee the project, which calls for transforming the upper floors of the building into accommodations for 109 rental apartments, some of which will be under 400 square feet. According to the firm, the units will feature “creatively-deployed areas for seating and storage,” to demonstrate the livability of small living spaces within adaptively reused buildings. The largest unit will be an 1,100-square-foot penthouse on the top floor with its own access to private outdoor access. The firm is maintaining several of the building’s quirky details, including the historically significant tilework in its entry lobby created by artisan Ernest Batchelder. Set to be completed by Spring 2020, the project will also include a bar in its basement that is sure to evoke the speakeasies that were common in the area when the building was first completed.
Posts tagged with "Los Angeles":
Firestone Tire and Service Center, an anonymously designed Streamline Moderne building servicing a countless number of Los Angeles’ cars under its sleek roofline since first opening in 1938, shut its garage doors to the public in 2016. The disused building can currently be seen partially boarded up on the corner of 8th and La Brea in Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile, eagerly awaiting a new function. On December 6, it was announced that two companies have come together to transform the Firestone Tire building into a unique eating and drinking destination. Pouring With Heart, a local nightlife and hospitality company that operates several bars in the area, has plans to open up a brewery using 13,000 square feet of the original building’s interior, and will likely name it All Season Brewing Company. And, after demonstrating success with their restaurant sited in Downtown Los Angeles, Chicas Tacos has agreed to take over the remaining floor area of the building. The decision to adaptively reuse a building from the city’s early days of automobile servicing has become a common one throughout Los Angeles in the last decade. The 1972 oil crisis led to the closure and/or demolition of hundreds of gas stations and service centers throughout the city, and only a small handful of them have gained new life while holding onto their old-world charm. Gilmore Gas Station, for example, a Streamline Moderne building designed by engineer R.J. Kadow in 1935, became a drive-through Starbucks in 2015. The Firestone Tire building project is being overseen by local interior design studio M. Winter Design and is set to be completed by early 2020. From the renderings, it appears as though the renovation will include the building’s original rooftop lettering, fluorescent lighting, baked porcelain cladding and, of course, its iconic roofline while maintaining industrial interior flourishes.
When an artist titles a piece, a series, or a body of work Untitled, it may appear to the viewer as an abdication of responsibility, or blatant indecision designed to confuse the viewer. And yet, more often than not, the decision is made to establish a shared experience of open-endedness and subjectivity between the artist and viewer. The decision to avoid a title can potentially liberate any work from belonging to a single movement, choosing instead to reflect ageless human conditions and the ever-changing qualities of how we perceive the world around us. Such was the decision behind the naming of OFFICEUNTITLED, the Los Angeles-based architecture firm with an extensive range of projects behind them in their young career. The firm's four principles—Shawn Gehle, Benjamin Anderson, Lindsay Green and Christian Robert—met while working at Gensler and first established an office together in 2013 under the name R&A Architecture and Design. Changing their name in 2019 to reflect the undefined nature of their practice, OFFICEUNTITLED currently has a handful of exemplary work behind them and a wealth of projects set to be completed in the near future. AVA LA Arts District Developed as a “base camp” for the creative community in Downtown Los Angeles, AVA LA Arts District is a seven-story complex broken up by multiple courtyards conceived as impromptu workspaces. The project will be up to seven stories in some parts of the 3.75-acre property and will contain approximately 475 live/work units. The overall plan was designed in recognition of the adjacent light rail station that is set to be completed within the next few years. “AVA opens up to this context and the new urban fabric at ground level,” the firm wrote, “while reinterpreting the horizontality of Los Angeles through its form.” The exteriors were designed in a nod to the large, turn-of-the-century industrial buildings found in the area, while its interiors are minimally designed with board-formed concrete and fiber cement paneling. When completed in 2023, AVA LA will be neighbors of several significant developments, including a mixed-use project designed by Bjarke Ingels Group and Michael Maltzan Architects’ Sixth Street Viaduct. 9th & Hil OFFICEUNTITLED’s adaptive reuse of the May Company Parking Garage in Downtown Los Angeles, one of the first purpose-built parking structures in the United States when it was completed in 1926, will maintain much of the character of the structure while adding mixed-use programming and a penthouse in the form of a pristine glass box. The upper two floors of the 400-car structure will be transformed into creative office space, while the ground floor will become a grocery market with exposed Beaux-Arts detailing throughout. The project, set to be completed in 2021, will require extensive renovation of its iconic facade, for which it was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2011. Woodlark Completed in 2018, Woodlark is a hotel in Portland, Oregon, developed as an adaptive reuse of the historic Woodlark Building and adjacent Cornelius Hotel into a single, continuous building. To develop the aesthetic for the 150-room hotel, the firm brought the opulence and ornate design of the two structures into the 20th century through the use of “subtle, soft, and elegant” detailing while renovating the exterior facades in their entirety. A penthouse and stair tower penetrate the roofline of the tower half of the hotel while still maintaining the site’s French Renaissance style and iconic rooflines. The design of the hotel’s interiors is a nod to the verdant landscapes unique to the Pacific Northwest, down to the ‘mossy’ velvet and natural wood tones throughout the ground floor, restaurant and lounge bar. Through a reimagining of the two buildings’ interiors as one, OFFICEUNTITLED achieves a balance between vernacular and indigenous aesthetics in the middle of downtown Portland. Cayton Children’s Museum Set within the upper floor of Santa Monica Place, OFFICEUNTITLED’s design for Cayton Children’s Museum is a free plan defined by playfully-scaled landmarks that allow visitors to determine paths through the 30+ exhibits on display. These objects are referred to according to their unique external appearances and textures, with names such as the Armadillo, Porcupine, Onion, Egg, and Drum. According to the firm, “these objects solve non-exhibit program requirements while [bearing in mind] that everything is a teachable moment in a children’s museum.” The firm’s goal to use the objects to blur the relationship between architecture and exhibit is perhaps best demonstrated by the Courage Climber, a vibrantly-colored net structure hanging above over 20 percent of the museum’s total floor area. The installation allows children to unique navigate space through a novel method while offering views of other exhibits throughout the museum. “Made to inspire a sense of curiosity,” the firm explained, “the design is a contemporary space for exploration and adventure.” Completed June of this year, Cayton Children’s Museum sets a high standard for design for spaces intended for children.
However controversial Peter Zumthor’s redesign of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) may be to the general public, the L.A. City Council has a track record of unanimously siding with the Pritzker Prize-winning architect and the museum. Though the majority of the building’s elements have already been approved during the multi-year design phase, a City Council vote on December 3 officially gave permission for the project to span over Wilshire Boulevard, allowing the design’s most ambitious feature to remain intact, according to City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. LACMA director Michael Govan, as well as Councilmembers David Ryu and Herb Wesson Jr., additionally expressed their interests in preserving the design for the museum as is. Govan has commented that, in its current form, the design is more open and contextually-sensitive than its predecessor, while spanning over Wilshire to connect to the Purple Line station that is set to be completed in 2023. Ryu commented that the proposed design will ensure LACMA remains a symbol for the city and “a showcase for the world to see and enjoy.” Several speakers at City Hall, however, expressed concerns with the current proposal. The $117 million the county is awarding to the project, the potential safety issues associated with the portion of the building spanning Wilshire Boulevard, as well as the fact that much of the plan was not adequately disclosed to the public during the schematic design phase, have been the subjects of recent criticism. LACMA responded to these are other public concerns in their FAQ, stating that “the environmental impact review has shown that the crossing poses no hazards to motorists, traffic patterns, or pedestrians,” and that “without the new building, the County would be facing a minimum of $246 million in basic repairs for the aging buildings.” Construction is set to begin early next year, coinciding with the opening of the adjacent Renzo Piano-designed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and is scheduled to be completed in 2023 in coordination with the completion of the new Metro station across the street.
Brought to you with support fromNow in its seventh year, the Facades+ Conference in Los Angeles was held on November 14 in the California Ballroom of the L.A. Grand Hotel and offered a wide range of lectures, symposia and networking opportunities for top professionals from the worlds of design, fabrication and construction. The subjects addressed over the course of the conference were sprawling to suit a wide range of interests yet unwaveringly focused on the importance of high-performance envelopes in the growth of cities, civic pride, and the reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint. The day began with an opening keynote lecture from Fokke Moerel, a partner at Dutch firm MVRDV, whose personal focus is on global public and cultural works, transformations, and interior design. Moerel's lecture, The Skin is the Message, elaborated on the unique challenges the firm has met developing unique facades in the pursuit of uncompromised architectural expression. Crystal Houses, for instance, featured an entirely transparent ground-floor glass facade made to appear like the brickwork common of buildings in its area of Amsterdam. By developing a novel technique for combining glass bricks, glass window frames, and glass architraves, the firm challenged the structural and aesthetic limits often assumed of the materials to “offer the store a window surface that contemporary stores need, while maintaining architectural character and individuality, resulting in a flagship store that hopes to stand out among the rest.” Moerel then highlighted the luxurious facade of the Bulgari flagship store MVRDV designed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which was developed in collaboration with Technical University Delft, with Tensoforma as the facade production team. To achieve the illusion of overscaled marble, Glass-Reinforced Concrete (GRC) was cut into a marble-like pattern, with its crevices filled in with resin and illuminated with LEDs. After her lecture, AN executive editor Matt Shaw joined Moerel on stage to moderate a discussion on the relationship between criticality and sense of humor present in the firm’s facade designs. A four-person panel, Reducing the City’s Carbon Footprint through Facade Design, elaborated on the role high-performance envelopes can play in the global initiative to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions. Given that the global building floor area is expected to grow to approximately two-and-a-half trillion square feet by 2060, more than double the current worldwide building stock, Fabian Kremkus of CO Architects advised members of the audience to “be willing to learn and get into the science” of sustainable construction techniques. The moderated conversation that followed considered how building manufacturers could develop methods that reduce material extraction, site demolition, manufacturing emissions, and the need for active heating and cooling within large-scale buildings. Michel Rojkind provided the afternoon keynote speech titled Transmutation: From Digital Design to Local Fabrication. “Where does craft sit in a world,” Rojkind asked the audience, “ruled by technology, and where digitized, mechanized fabrication is becoming more sophisticated?” He then elaborated on how he has employed hand craftsmanship “to slow things down” in his own practice, most notably with the Foro Boca concert hall in Veracruz, Mexico. Using a concrete facade “able to withstand and respond to the harsh conditions of the site,” the concert hall was constructed by a team of local dedicated craftsman.
For anyone who has attempted to drive across Los Angeles during rush hour, the future of urban mobility might not seem bright. Yet the organizers of CoMotion L.A. 2019, a two-day conference held this past November 14 and 15, provided both a progressive and realizable vision for what may come to an audience of over 2,000 people. Held at ROW DTLA, a recently-opened 30-acre complex in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles, the third annual CoMotion L.A. brought together global leaders, including Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti, Moovit CEO and co-founder Nir Erez, Deputy Mayor for Mobility for the City of Lisbon, Miguel Gaspar, and President of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, Matt Petersen, to discuss the newest forms of mobility and share their thoughts on a future that's less reliant on cars. The keynote conversation held on the first day, Reinventing Mobility, Transforming Place, elaborated on how the expansion of public mobility options might have a positive impact on real estate and civic space, and how we navigate through cities. Moderated by Frances Anderton, the host of KCRW’s Design and Architecture (DnA) show, the panel brought Grimshaw Architects' partner Andrew Byrne, chief marketing officer of REEF Technology Alan Cohen, and Chief Design Officer of the City of Los Angeles Christopher Hawthorne together to imagine how the static elements of Los Angeles’ infrastructure might be transformed into dynamic hubs of activity. Anderton and Hawthorne exchanged examples of successful pedestrian zones in the city’s history, while Byrne and Cohen shared how recent projects from their respective firms brought pedestrian infrastructure into the 21st century. On the second day, several 90-minute workshops were held for participants to imagine the future of urban mobility more intimately. Designing for Sustainability and Life Cycle Management, for example, shared visual aids and in-depth solutions to reducing the large carbon footprint associated with short-distance urban transit. Meanwhile, The Age of Automation panel, moderated by L.A. Times writer Russ Mitchell, brainstormed how vehicular autonomy might increase the speed, efficiency, and safety of urban travel while also debating the associated financial risks of investing in new technology. While the conference was taking place, a live demonstration of some of the same innovations being discussed was displayed on dedicated “new mobility” lanes that connected ROW DTLA and the L.A. Cleantech Incubator. These lanes provided a full half-mile of space for visitors to try out the latest in new mobility for themselves, including smart shuttles, electric scooters, e-bikes, hydrogen-powered vehicles, and other methods of clean-energy transportation. Though some of these vehicles had the air of concept designs, we all might be seeing them in common use throughout American cities in the very near future.
From 1945 to 1966, Arts & Architecture magazine ran the Case Study House program, a radical experiment in American residential architecture which commissioned major architects to design and build efficient and affordable model homes to accommodate the postwar housing boom. Modest in size compared to its local counterparts, the 1,750-square-foot Case Study House No. 16 in Bel Air has been put on the market for $2.9 million by Aaron Kirman, Dalton Gomez, and Weston Littlefield of Compass. The magazine commissioned over 30 homes during the program, designed by architects including Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen. Completed in 1953, the Case Study House No. 16 was one of three that engineer Craig Ellwood built for the program. According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, it is the only intact example of his designs, as the No. 17 and 18 have both been drastically remodeled. While the home, a city landmark, had its floors replaced 50 years ago, the building is largely in its original condition. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom home is an archetypal example of midcentury modern architecture, with its modular steel and concrete construction, expansive walls of glass, fir siding, natural rock fireplace, and cantilevered roof. It sits perched atop a Bel Air hillside, offering broad views of the city while appearing as a floating glass pavilion from the street. A wall of frosted glass surrounds the home and provides a level of privacy for the otherwise completely transparent house. The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in July 2013 for its significant association with the Case Study House Program, the “innovative use of exposed steel structural framing,” and it’s “high level of integrity of design, materials, and workmanship” according to the 2013 NRHP registration form. This is the first time the home has been on the market in 50 years.
Clocking in at just under 900,000 square feet, the Beverly Center was by far the largest mall in Los Angeles, and one of the largest in the world, when it was first completed in 1982. The mall, which almost exclusively carries luxury retailers, received a $500 million makeover last year by Studio Fuksas that updated the visitor experience by bringing more natural light into its interior, adding a pedestrian path along the perimeter, and breaking up the hulking facade with metal grating. The makeover inspired several new retailers to rent space within the new and improved Beverly Center, including Miami-based, multi-brand fashion house The Webster. On November 20, The Webster announced that it had tapped international architecture firm Adjaye Associates to design a multilevel store on the ground floor of the mall, in a space formerly occupied by a Hard Rock Cafe. With street access on the corner of Beverly and San Vicente Boulevards, The Webster will have an independent entrance and valet-parking service separate from the rest of the complex. The project represents Adjaye Associates’ first project in California, though the firm has completed several significant projects across the country in recent years, including Ruby City in San Antonio, Texas, a “high-design” switching station in Newark, New Jersey, and the iconic Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. There are currently no available renderings of what to expect, but it is likely that the design will demonstrate the firm’s trademark attention to detail and elegant material selection. “It is such an honor to work with David,” said The Webster founder and creative director Laure Hériard Dubreuil. “To have him bring The Webster L.A. to life is an absolute dream! Each one of our locations has its own identity, from the design of the store down to the creatively curated selection of products that furnish the rails and shelves. David truly captured the essence of The Webster DNA and projected it into the future with this new beautiful iteration of The Webster.” The company was founded in 2009 and has since opened six physical locations across North America. When the Beverly Center locations open in January 2020, it will be among the largest at 11,000 square feet.
The Getty Museum at golden hour was Solange Knowles’s chosen backdrop for Bridge-s, a site-specific movement piece where dancers, vocalists, and musicians harmonized with the Knowles’s jazz-inspired composition. The performance artwork was a collaboration between Solange and artists Gerard & Kelly (no strangers to art-architecture confluences), but Knowles was responsible for the entire musical score. It’s title, Counting, echoes of the theme of transience and time throughout the piece, a sharp juxtaposition with the seemingly indestructible architecture of the Richard Meier-designed Getty enveloping it. Opened to the public on November 16, Bridge-s performers held crowds in a trance for the almost hour-long performance. The troupe, all dressed in a golden palette of marigold, brown, and orange, shimmered in the L.A. sunset. Solange described the abstract piece as a meditation on the natural cycles of space and time, held in tension with the human actor that moves, contorts, and changes through body and sound. The environmental context of Bridge-s, the Los Angeles hills and the materiality of the Getty, were as integral to the art piece as the choreography or the notes emanating from the horns, as it was the vessel in which her performance used physicality to interpret this theme. So far Solange has had an excellent track record working with and responding to great architectures. She has staged similar interventions within the fabric of institutions including the Guggenheim and Hammer museums since the release of her critically acclaimed record, Don’t Touch My Hair. Invigorating the movements of her dancers through choreography that responds to the designed spaces that form their context, her ephemeral performances attest to her multi-disciplinary artistic aspirations. She forms new combinations with each project, centered around themes such as the black experience, Western aesthetics, and color theory. Solange's cast for Bridge-s was made up entirely of people of color, a continuation of her commitment to uplifting black artists through her work and collaborations from her earliest stints at video and performance art. The dancers’ movements were cyclic, weaving between gestures of intimacy and connection, but also prone to breaks. Often concentrated in the form of a duo, Gerard & Kelly's choreography demonstrated the cruelty of disassociation—one piece of choreography shows a dancer stepping not over, but purposefully on the prostrate body of another on the ground. Other instances show the dancers moving more like a chorus, uniting as one body to lift up musicians mid-solo, or flowing into a throne to elevate specific movers high into the air. The bodies of her performers created new architectures by themselves as well as using every staircase, aperture, and platform available in the Getty courtyard. Despite being the centerpiece of the Getty’s public program this weekend of speakers, film screenings, and performances, the closing words of Bridge-s were sharply self-conscious, reflecting on the importance as well as the futility of the built environment, and the Getty as host. Performers closed out the piece by robotically repeating a warning: “The house that was built could crumble at any time.”
Makin’ my way downtown, I zip along on my Lime® scooter through the ersatz Japanese village of Little Tokyo, past taxis, buses, and Prii, to a bustling, small-scale warehouse district on the fringe of Los Angeles’s central core. The whirlwind of scales, land uses, languages, and people is dizzying, but I finally land at my destination: Sonoratown, a lively taco spot famous for its soft tortillas, which are made with flour driven up from Sonora, Mexico, in small batches by the owner’s mom. This delirious, quasi-urban experience is one that could only happen in the messy, diverse urban fabric of Los Angeles. You are free to grab whatever pieces of the kaleidoscopic surroundings you can, and the faster you are moving, the more there is to take. Somehow, this frantic energy and free movement seem unaffected or held back by the past. The cultural critic Sean Monahan called LA the capital of the 2010s, describing it as:
...a city whose attributes anticipate collapse: flat and amorphous, rather than vertical and defined; kitsch and pop, rather than avant-garde and tech; individualistic and mass, rather than institutional and elite. You can suggest San Francisco, HQ of disruption, or New York, backdrop for protest movements (#OWS, #BLM). But both places fail to capture the spirit of the age, because they are fighting so hard to change it. They are relics of empire, unsure of themselves after a decade in which success was indistinguishable from failure… Built on celebrity, media, and lifestyle, L.A. doesn’t presume to be building the future, merely inhabiting it. It’s a pick your poison kind of place. [Go wild] at Chateau Marmont. Spend half your paycheck on inscrutable health food at Erewhon. Commute four hours so you can live in a Riverside McMansion. Drive Uber every day, write screenplays every night. Sell out, drop out, suck up, fuck up. There is no right or wrong way to do L.A.Monahan accurately describes why Los Angeles encapsulates the present, and why it’s the most exciting place in the US right now. However, it is also important to note where the city is moving in the 2020s. With the 2028 Olympics as a finish line, Los Angeles is at a crossroads, on a path to become a different place in the next decade. But with the city already at the forefront of global media culture (The Kardashians, Moon Juice, Goop, etc.), it doesn’t need global architecture to maintain its position as a worldwide force. How it defines itself as a physical place is still up for grabs, and it should learn lessons from other hyper-globalized cities, namely New York. Tomorrow’s Los Angeles is one of layers. Moving on from its days as a bastion of mythological American modernism centered around mobility (cars), individuality (single-family homes), and triumph over nature (lawns), it will add new collectivities on to itself. These layers will arise from the constant flux of the new: Technologies and emerging social patterns meld nicely into the loose, still-codifying culture and its corresponding urban forms. It is the flickering of new, communal, car-free, publicly subsidized lifestyles against the old, car-centric, low-density, low-regulation, “libertarian” bones of the urban landscape that make it such an interesting place for urbanism today. The oft-bandied-about claim that the city is libertarian is also not entirely accurate, as California is a sea of regulation and red tape, continually votes to raise its already high taxes, and both California and Los Angeles are leading on climate action. The city is quietly building public infrastructure at a pace that vastly outpaces New York. New York’s Second Avenue Subway took somewhere between 10 and 100 years to complete three stations, and the next phase will be three stops and will be completed by 2029 at the earliest. Meanwhile Los Angeles is (optimistically) on course to build 28 new lines by 2028. This includes an airport-connection line that will allow a direct link from LAX to the city. Meanwhile, New York’s MTA is in a worsening crisis with crumbling stations and delays only getting worse, and New Jersey’s NJ Transit recently gave up on accounting for the traffic expected to reach the American Dream Mall, instead calling on private industry to complete the line, citing none other than Los Angeles’s electric rail airport connector as an example. That’s right—L.A. is leading the way in public transit. Meanwhile, Uber, a municipal car share and micro-mobility options such as scooters have already altered how people get around (many young people don’t have cars at all) and where they live, partly due to an explosion in transit-oriented development around the new metro lines. It is unclear exactly how successful, affordable, and sustainable this will be, but change is certainly underway. New transit networks both public and private, along with lower parking requirements for new construction will profoundly impact development and housing typologies in the future. But it is no secret that Los Angeles is careening toward a New York–like affordability crisis (if it isn’t there already) that goes hand-in-hand with the urban whitewash of global capital. Homelessness is at record levels and only getting worse. In response, architects are working to develop new housing typologies, from affordable prototypes and accessory dwelling units, to larger, multi-family schemes that continue to evolve with new regulations and design challenges. The L.A. River and the L.A River Greenway in the San Fernando Valley are also emerging sites of urban experimentation and reclamation/rehabilitation of greenspace. Los Angeles has a unique architectural culture and urban fabric, but red flags are emerging. First, Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron, international firms that are both very popular with the New York development community, have projects downtown. Related Group (of Hudson Yards fame) has moved in and is developing a large Frank Gehry project across from Gehry’s own Disney Concert Hall. It perfectly illustrates the lower design quality of developer-led construction and echoes Related Companies’ other project, Hudson Yards: “The project is anchored by a central plaza wrapped with shopping areas and public art.” The biggest red flag might be the shortlist for the La Brea Tar Pits project. In Miracle Mile’s Museum Row, a neighborhood that already has been marred by architectural globalists—once by KPF and twice by Renzo Piano—the shortlist for the La Brea master plan is New York establishment firms WEISS/MANFREDI and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with Danish firm Dorte Mandrup. It is a truly odd and troubling list. All three are talented firms, but their selection signals the wind turning toward a placeless architecture where, in California terms, “there is no there there,” reflecting classic donor-class aesthetics. Don’t even get me started on what director Michael Govan and the LACMA board are doing to push through their new building. Joseph Giovannini said it best:
In a sleight of hand that still has serious consequences for LACMA and Los Angeles, Govan introduced [Peter] Zumthor, the architect who presumably could achieve this world-class building, to his Board of Trustees. There was no competition, no public review or discussion, no transparency, just a shoo-in of the architect who had arrived in Los Angeles in Govan’s back pocket. “It won’t be the seventh Renzo Piano building in the country,” Govan explained to me in an interview. “We’ll have the only Zumthor.” …Had he even made it into a normal architect selection process, the jury might have concluded that he was mismatched and dangerously underequipped for the commission.Some Angelenos say that local architects should get their due. L.A. has been defined in many ways by outsiders such as Neutra and Schindler, but also by local legends like Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, as well as a younger generation like Barbara Bestor, Michael Maltzan, and a host of others who can deliver top-notch design. Los Angeles doesn't need the continental, polite, same-as-everywhere architecture that plagues institutions around the world. The architecture scene has always valued experimentation and allowed younger, more avant-garde approaches and diverse practices to gain ground, outside of the institutional weight that plagues places like the East Coast. It is not “provincial”—as some claim—to want to preserve this well-established local flavor while moving forward. In fact, what would be provincial is thinking that it is necessary to look outward for world-class architecture, or that a mythical global culture needs to be imported for the city to become a world-class place. Nothing defines the periphery like the center, and nothing makes one more provincial than defining oneself against New York. Of course, outside architects can come in and add to the culture; it just takes a bit of judgment. For instance, Spanish firm SelgasCano’s bright, breezy, kit-of-parts style seems to fit with L.A.’s pop modernist aesthetic, and Arata Isozaki’s MOCA has also become an iconic part of L.A. architecture. So let L.A. be regional and different. Don’t let it succumb to the pressures of global capital and “global architecture.” Don’t let Boyle Heights—a strong Latino neighborhood under development pressure, with several buildings already being renovated—become Hudson Yards. New York City has been ruined by capital, which was weaponized to take away the grittiness of places like Times Square, a project of Ed Koch and eventually of Rudy Guiliani. Later, technocrat billionaire Michael Bloomberg finished the sanitization of the city with sloppy rezonings of Williamsburg, West Chelsea, and Long Island City most notably, which ushered in the era of bland office towers and mega mall-like sterility. Developers like President Donald Trump and Related Companies, along with their elected enablers like Bloomberg and Guiliani have shared class interests that threaten the small-scale, local and regional urban landscapes where artists, immigrants, and the working class foment culture. How can Los Angeles be a laboratory for resisting the entropic, hegemonic cancer that is global capital, the global donor class, and the donor-class aesthetic? One tactic, and to be fair, something that the Bloomberg administration got right in places like Brooklyn and Staten Island, is downzoning to preserve the character of neighborhoods. This is also tricky and can lead to NIMBYism, which L.A. has certainly had its share of recently. In a similar vein, Thom Mayne provocatively suggested clustering development on the Wilshire corridor in order to protect other areas. The Wilshire area has seen some development, but not at the scale Mayne has suggested. Additionally, serious and innovative criticism is needed. Critics must not fall into 20th-century modes of operating; they have to get out in front of these debacles rather than react to them. There are a host of critics operating in Los Angeles, and no one is better positioned to have an impact than former L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who is now in a unique role as the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles, a position where he is literally helping craft RFPs (request for proposals). As long as Hawthorne is able to be heard in the government and in the public and can surround himself with good people who will help guide L.A. through this crucial time, there is a real opportunity to have more and more expert opinions in the process that will avoid the disasters that haunt New York. This, along with more equitable and compensated juried design competitions, can help the people who make financial decisions make "better" aesthetic and cultural decisions. Regionalism, when connected to local ecology, provokes more interesting and nuanced design than a totalizing, global aesthetic. In terms of what resistance might look like outside of design review, Los Angeles is already taking on challenges in a unique way. In Boyle Heights, gentrifying art galleries have been pushed out by strong neighborhood coalitions demanding affordable housing and neighborhood services. Los Angeles could also adopt anti-gentrification policies such as rent control or downzoning to prevent the displacement of both residential and retail spaces. Many cities have adopted such plans, while Berlin and other cities have enacted rent freezes and other regulations on the housing market to ensure affordability. Los Angeles in many ways is the logical conclusion of the myth of the American West. Several time zones and thousands of miles in distance from New York and other global cities, it has historically been connected to global culture through mass media, not physical space. This isolation has left it to its own devices as an urban place. This doesn’t need to change as it grows into more of a global force. New forms and ways of living can be cultivated without abandoning what makes it a special place: its resistance to the forces of the outside. In the 2020s, defining a new localism would be quite an amazing achievement.
It was announced on November 4 that a former Macy’s department store in the quickly developing Rancho Park neighborhood in West Los Angeles will be converted into a bustling office development. Los Angeles-based developer GPI Companies purchased the mid-century building on Pico Boulevard and Overland Avenue for $50 million in February 2017, along with the adjacent 1,500-car parking garage and an adjacent six-acre plot of land with plans to transform the site into an office campus called West End, which will feature over 230,000 square feet of leasable office and retail space. With close proximity to the Expo Line’s Westwood/Rancho Park subway station and a bevy of global companies including Fox Studios, Google, Hulu and Creative Artists Agency (CCA) nearby, GPI anticipates that West End will fit into the neighborhood as an ideal location for media, technology, and financial tenants. New York-based HLW Architects, the group behind the design of West End, has envisioned an adaptive reuse conversion for the former Macy's store while still making room for a spacious airy three-level central courtyard and introducing primarily drought-tolerant plants. The design also updates the original facade, already distinctive for its deep arches, by adding private balconies and floor-to-ceiling glass windows which will bring much-needed light into the building’s deep interior. “The intent,” according to the firm’s website, “was to repurpose the existing valuable infrastructure to revitalize community, to create a pedestrian-friendly environment, and to open up a big box store building into the urban fabric.” With an estimated budget of $180 million for the project, GPI has already begun the process of transforming the mid-century department store building and anticipates that construction will be completed by early 2021. After that, Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. is expected to become its principal leasing agent.
For this year’s Current:LA Food, an art triennial funded by the City of Los Angeles's Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), the London-based architecture firm Cooking Sections developed Mussel Beach, an audio tour sited near the world-famous Muscle Beach on the Venice Boardwalk, that sought to raise awareness of the loss of local biodiversity. Once participants reached the northwest corner of Venice Beach, they were invited to begin the 24-minute audio tour on their cell phones. The audio begins like a meditation app, with a calming voice asking participants to become aware of the muscles in their own bodies before quickly changing direction: “‘I didn’t know these mussels existed,’ we say when we recognize the disappearance of the California mussel, a threatened bivalve living in Pacific waters.” The narrator then invited the listener to question how “oiled muscles overtook salt-watered mussels; how shaping biceps, butts, pecs, traps, and triceps is deeply entwined with mussels, barnacles, oysters, and clams.” The tour provides a general overview of the site beginning 7,000 years ago, well before it became the home of Muscle Beach, when the location was a swamp teeming with shellfish that nourished the native Kizh Nation until both numbers plunged due to the ravages of European colonialism. What followed over the coming millennia was the gradual destruction of the land for natural resources in the pursuit of urban and cultural expansion, leading up to the creation of Muscle Beach in 1959. “As oil wells ran dry,” the narration explained, “gallons of suntan oil began to flow instead.” Over the remainder of the audio tour, the narrator drew parallels between the states of the natural and built environments, demonstrating that the waves of local urban development in the area are “demolishing more than just human communities; they are also demolishing the community of California mussels.” Rather than focus on the destruction of the natural environment, the tour reminded its listener that the general population is often more preoccupied with the perfection of the self. Ultimately, Mussel Beach was designed to not calm the listener, but rather to open their eyes to what’s remaining of the natural environment around them and to imagine the future of Venice Beach with a greater level of environmental sensitivity. The project was developed by conducting interviews with local experts and builds on the firm’s earlier research-based work exploring how climate change affects daily life.