Former L.A. Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff finally shares his view of the Caltrans headquarters downtown with his New York Times readers. In a review today, he calls the Thom Mayne-designed hulk "monumental" and writes:
Its glistening metal skin and hulking form evoke the relentless faith in the future - in social mobility, individual freedom, eternal youth - that made Los Angeles one of the most radical urban inventions in American history.
What's more, the Caltrans design is a blunt rejection of the sterile towers and intimidating plazas that have turned much of downtown Los Angeles into a soulless corporate enclave sealed off from the area's surrounding ethnic neighborhoods. Nor does Mr. Mayne accept the notion that to save our urban centers, we must transform them into ersatz versions of small-town America with themed pedestrian environments. On the contrary, his design sprouts from an intuitive understanding of what gives cites their meaning: their clashing scales and vibrant ethnic mix.
That message could not come at a better time. Los Angeles is about to embark on a redevelopment project that could eventually transform the entire downtown civic center, pitting bottom-line development interests against those who still believe that architecture can contribute something to the public welfare. Like Frank Gehry's recently completed Walt Disney Concert Hall and Jose Rafael Moneo's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Caltrans headquarters holds out the promise that downtown Los Angeles could reclaim its stature as one of the most original and vibrant urban experiments in America.
Well, OK then. With the review on the NYT website is a nice slide show of images by photographer Roland Halbe. Previous mentions of the Caltrans building here have elicited some visceral response (posts here, here and here), and there's some comment today at Archinect, including by M. Scott Fajack of EchoPark.net.
* Noted: The Planning Report has some welcoming advice for new LAT critic Christopher Hawthorne from city councilman Eric Garcetti, Robert Timme (dean of the USC School of Architecture) and Martha Welborne (managing director of the Grand Avenue Committee).
Previously: Hawthorne new LAT architecture critic