Physical Los Angeles

Giving L.A. architecture some due

Yesterday's New York Times offered some backhanded praise of Los Angeles architecture, with writer Robin Pogrebin taking the position that L.A. design is leaving the dark ages and finally starting to shine. "There are those who maintain that Angelenos don’t care that much about architecture, except when it comes to designing their own houses," Pogrebin writes. "While the city is home to top-flight architectural talents like Mr. Gehry and Thom Mayne, some say it has been slow to champion unorthodox civic design as a source of local pride." The story rounds up some of the newer projects attracting attention:

At the California Institute of Technology alone, Mr. Mayne of Morphosis is designing the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, a building that would draw light from above while affording vistas of the sky; Joshua Prince-Ramus is at work on the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology, a steel-braced frame supporting a concrete ring of offices; and Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners has designed Broad Center, a biology research building with etched stainless steel wall panels cladding laboratory spaces and a glazed “light tower” animating the center of the building.

At the Art Center College of Design, a private institution in Pasadena, the local firm Daly, Genik redesigned the south campus, which opened in 2004. The U.C.L.A. Hammer Museum has been redesigned by the local architect Michael Maltzan as a more transparent, porous space with a courtyard that integrates the museum into the surrounding streetscape, along with a 300-seat theater that was completed this month and a restaurant, bookstore and public classrooms.

The rendering above is of Maltzan's Hammer courtyard. Other projects mentioned include the Eli Broad addition at LACMA and architect Steven Holl's makeover of the Natural History Museum. There are also some quotes that foreshadow the coming debate over urbanization of Los Angeles:

“Los Angeles is moving from a suburban culture to an urban culture,” said Richard Koshalek, president of the Art Center College of Design. “It’s a seismic shift. The frontier now for L.A. is closed. It can’t expand any further. People are frustrated with the commutes.”

As a result developers are focusing on high-rises, and public officials are trying to improve mass transit. “There is a conversation in Los Angeles — it’s very nascent — about what urbanism is going to mean in coming years,” Mr. Maltzan said. “The city’s changing. It’s becoming significantly denser. The city has grown to its physical boundaries.”

Mr. Ross said: “You’re dealing with a different generation. Young people don’t want to spend as much time in their cars. They want to be close to their work.”

Whether this growing attention to urban development will result in architecturally distinctive projects is another question. While universities have demonstrated a willingness to take chances with their architecture, many Los Angeles design professionals say, developers generally have not.

“There is still a certain anxiety and a certain apprehension about architecture in this city,” Mr. Koshalek said. “It can’t just be the educational institutions. It has to be the political leadership.”

Ross is Stephen M. Ross, chairman of Related Companies.

Illustration of Armand Hammer Museum: Michael Maltzan/New York Times

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