Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Category

The stock market made manifest in Architecture

Irrational Exuberance

Flat is the new “up”

Top: Disney Hall, Frank Gehry
Bottom: Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe

A "softer" Thom Mayne, for Pasadena

Caltech – The Cahill Center
Pasadena, California

Two questions: 1) What will Caltech researchers study in this new building?

Is that why the fissures and shifting planes and shakiness of the building?

No. This is Caltech’s new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. These photos are from my camera phone. This is the “softest,” loveliest (!) Thom Mayne building I know.

Second question: The address here is 1216 California Boulevard. To what does the 1216 refer? (Answer at bottom.) Let’s look at the building:

I like its scale, and how it meets the ground softly and with lightly, with glass, with transparency. I like how the earth slopes down before it meets the building, so you gain an extra floor with natural light, yet this maintains a nice height for the neighborhood.

I like the earthen texture of the facade, and its reddish-brown tone, an “academic red,” like brick. In fact, the facade is made of red fiber reinforced cement panels. But it looks like an Italian terra-cotta red, in this, the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s invention of the telescope, in 1609.

And think of this building as a telescope of sorts.

The Pasadena Independent writes,

The view from the lobby up an ever‐narrowing staircase to the skylight on the third floor … mimics the experience of peering up through a telescope.

You occasionally get views of the sky, celebrating astronomy and astrophysics. The glass is also meant to orient you in the universe, the universe of Caltech. These see-through hallways connect the viewer visually to the north and south campuses of Caltech.

And the stairways serve another purpose. Visual and vertical connections between the laboratory and office levels happen in the main staircase. People will meet, randomly. Perhaps a Big Bang of ideas will occur. “Nice ‘bumping into you.”

And every floor has “interaction areas and open break rooms” to provide more opportunities for chance or planned discussions to occur between the researchers. Morphosis designed this place to maximize the chances of interactions among the various occupants- the astronomy and astrophysics faculties, and their research groups.

We have seen other buildings designed to facilitate chance interactions. Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T. comes to mind; as does the suburban campus the Sears Corporation built when it determined that Sears Tower was not spurring chance meetings of employees. (“It’s lonely at the top.”)

It’ll be interesting to visit Cahill in a year and see who has bumped into whom in a stariwell, and what resulted from it. Hold on to your seats.

From the brochure: The 50 million dollar Cahill Center is 100,000 square feet of offices, laboratories, and common areas. It will be given gold‐level LEED distinction for the many features that reduce negative environmental and health impacts. The building’s design provides for reducing water use by 30 percent, reducing energy use by about 25 percent and providing access to daylight to a minimum of 75 percent of its spaces.

The entrances are welcoming enough,

If still a little too industrial for me,

as Mayne and Morphosis are wont to do.

I do like the urban move, when you exit the building, it points directly to its neighbors on campus, to the history of the place, to what came before it. Like a son, directing respect to a father.

And what a history Caltech has! Heisenberg, Lorentz, Bohr, Einstein; they all spent time here as the school came of age in the early 1930’s.

And now, they’ve this new home for the researchers – philosophers really- to contemplate the stars and the universe. A new building by Thom Mayne in which to try to figure out what it all means.

For them, it’s not enough to say, “it’s beautiful.”

Answer to the question at top: “1216” comes from 1216 angstroms, the wavelength of ultraviolet light emitted by hydrogen atoms. You knew that, right?

Renzo Piano’s latest work, going up under that great L.A. sky


I went back, and this time the weather was more L.A. Here again you see the roof of the new pavilion of galleries designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop going up in Los Angeles. For now the fins on top of the building- to capture, contain and shape the natural light, to bring it into the galleries below- look like a framework for photovoltaic solar panels, as you see over many parking lots in Southern California.

On the left is the lookout point of Piano’s earlier work at the L.A.County Museum of Art, the BCAM. In Paris when you ascend the escalator of Piano (and Roger’s) Pompidou Center the city unfolds, opens up, as you rise. In L.A. at LACMA, as you ride Piano’s escalator to the top, you are given a view of the sky.

And, seen through the construction fences:

More info on the Resnick Pavilion in the post just below. Scroll down or click here.

More Renzo Piano at the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA). So how’s that going?


After opening the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) about a year ago (February 2008), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is now on to Phase II of its transformation. Here’s a model of what we have to look forward to:

A one story, glass-filled, pavilion for galleries. (Official info on this building at the bottom.) You’ll see bountiful L.A. light coming in from the top, modulated by one of those finned grill systems that Renzo Piano Building Workshop does so well.

LACMA’s leader Michael Govan says that our favorite museums are one-story structures. Think about it. He may be right.

Just a few months ago the site for LACMA’s new Resnick Pavilion, as it’s to be called, was barren. Today I went to LACMA for a preview of “The Art of Two Germanys – Cold War Culture.” We were blessed with rain, fitting of a show that took me back to Berlin.

And, seizing the opportunity to find anything but blue skies here in L.A., I snapped these photos of the construction of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion.

Here’s how close it is to BCAM

Seen from the balcony outlook of the red, escalator/staircase at BCAM

From LACMA’s website:

The Resnick Pavilion will be a single-story, glass and stone-enclosed structure sited north of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM).

The new building… is intended to house special exhibitions, freeing up existing gallery space for LACMA’s robust permanent collection. Architecturally, the Resnick Pavilion will complement BCAM—both buildings feature glass roof and ceiling elements that will flood the galleries with natural light. The Resnick Pavilion’s exterior will be a combination of glass and travertine marble, and its interior galleries will be a flexible open plan that can accommodate multiple exhibitions at once as well as large-scale works of art. Construction on the new building commenced in 2008 and is slated for completion in mid 2010.

Model, northern aerial view, Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, architects, photo © 2008 Museum Associates/LACMA.

For Renzo in Chicago, the current expansion of the Art Institute, click here.

Happy Holidays


For winter solstice I traveled up through

the hills of Malibu

looking like Arizona, Sedona, this time of year.

The light changes from point to point.

We arrived at Eric Lloyd Wright’s Wright Organic Resource Center

Others already stood on the hilltop, looking out over the Pacific Ocean. To join them we walked past

a lovely koi pond (shades of Japan, shades of Guggenheim!)

Frank Lloyd Wright often included a water element, even in his urban projects, and in his Southern California work.

This house, designed by Eric Lloyd Wright, grows organically out of the hill, the side of the hill, the brow, like Taliesin (“Shining Brow”) where Eric had lived and worked with “grandfather” for many years.

Others had also come to visit Eric and his lovely, sympathetic and artistic wife Mary and their family, and to see the sun set on the shortest day of the year.

The house for now is far from finished. Some of its forms recall a Japanese Shinto gate; and, as in Shinto, this architecture considers nature sacred and imbued with spirits. To be here is to feel those spirits. Shinto celebrates the sense and essence of a particular place, as does this house. Its concrete looks the color of the hill on which it stands, particularly when bathed with

Underneath the terrace, in the space below, burns the hearth of the home. Fire, to go with the water element, and earth, and air. The space with the hearth faces the sun


over the Pacific.

Back up on top of the terrace

The prow of the house

lines up with the sun on this day of the solstice. Those metal poles will be replaced by solar panels when the house is finished.

We watched an especially surreal, sublime Los Angeles sunset, enhanced by this quiet, dark, natural spot.

They take away all that feels solid inside of you

I looked to the right and saw Eric (in the center, wearing a hat) with a circle of friends

His seems a satisfied mind.

I turned around to watch

We then gathered for warmth and food, back where the koi swam silently. There we were, beneath two aged and spreading, sheltering trees; their branches wrapped loosely in Italian (Chinese?) little white lights. These illuminated our faces, but didn’t keep us warm. We wrapped our hands around warm mugs of herbal tea, shared dinner and merrymaking.

Happy Holidays to you!


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Trains, cranes and museums


Tyler Green says of Jeff Koons’ project for outside LACMA, the L.A. County Museum of Art,

“This is unrelated to the proposed Koons ‘train’ at LACMA, but what the heck…

I like that “rhyme” and wish I’d thought of it (after all, Montparnasse, where this occurred, was my train station when I lived in Paris and that image was all around)

but Koon’s project to me has always “rhymed with”

Moshe Safdie’s design (unbuilt) for the Stuttgart Museum of Contemporary Art (1990).

Unlike Koon’s proposal, Safdie’s had a practical function

“Served by a giant crane, the temporary galleries could be moved and transferred to off-site storage when not in use…. When not being used, the crane would stand motionless like a spire, but would appear to transform itself into a symbol of change while in use, as it swung to position new works or convert temporary galleries for upcoming exhibitions.”

And unlike L.A., Stuttgart does not suffer earthquakes, that I know of.

And although it’s very different in tone, reason and purpose – while we’re talking Moshe Safdie, let’s remember, with respect, that a little later, around 1991 – 1994, he designed the Yad Vashem Transports Memorial.

(Click on either catalog image to enlarge it.)

The High School that ate Los Angeles?


Is this the new Los Angeles Performing Arts High School after climate change?

Nope, today was dry and clear and the high school shone.

C-monster had posted the sea photo, responding to my visual rhymes of the high school.

CurbedLA readers said “Buck Rogers High,”

Looks like a Junior High School Trekkie designed a land base for the Enterprise.

Bad Gehry … or, rather Gehry.

i think this building achieved the impossible to look like “nothing”! it’s in a class of it’s own.

i really thought it was a water slide the first time i saw it.

Epcot center after an earthquake?

The tower and ramp remind me of a dis-assembled matchbox car track…

Battlestar Gallactica High

Looks like where Snake Plissken got released (in Escape from L.A.)

what if they connect the slide across the freeway and in to the cathedral tower?

Yes, waterslide, Magic Mountain… But the juxtaposition to Le Cathedral across the freeway is fabulous – could only happen in LA as a statement of the great divide – religion versus creativity. Yesterday versus tomorrow.


The juxtaposition with the Cathedral across the freeway is fabulous.

Remember Rock ’em Sock ’em robots?


Does it look like Wolf Prix / Coop Himmelb(l)au’s tower packs a punch?


All along the watchtower – Coop Himmelb(l)au in L.A.


C-monster says Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Los Angeles High School #9 at night

looks like

a prison watchtower.

Well, one great thing about the tower at the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts is that it’s so abstract it can be almost anything you like.

For D, it suggests

Wall-E, or a toy robot.

Sylvia Lavin of UCLA, said on the day after the election, in a public conversation with the head of the firm that designed the High School, Wolf Prix, that it reminds her of

Barack Obama.

Lavin said that in the 1960s Wolf Prix was angrier. Now he’s figured out how to still be radical but a little softer. So Prix gets to build, and yet still foment change. (His firm is designing the new European Central Bank in Frankfurt; Prix hopes to create a new symbol for Europe.) Sylvia Lavin compared Prix to Barack Obama, and Obama’s understanding of how to be an African-American man in the United States and not be angry, but rather, constructive. She said she will forever call this “the Obama Tower.” Prix smiled.

He said the room at the top of the 140 foot tower was originally meant to be rented out to generate income for the school. The L.A. Unified School District has since balked at that idea and also at Prix’s desire for the tower to hold L.E.D. signage – for advertising – to also bring in money to the school system. An artsy billboard, how L.A., don’t you think?

Signage, and certain industrial aspects of the high school remind me of the work of L.A.-based architect Thom Mayne

such as his Caltrans Headquarters, just a few blocks from the new high school. Theirs is likely a mutual influence.

And Prix has one-upped Mayne if you think the swirl around his tower stands for the number 9, since after all, this is L.A. Unified School District High School #9.

Or does this tower suggest a local vernacular-

the tower of slides at the water park?

When Coop Himmelb(l)au’s lead architect Wolf Prix spoke the other night in the auditorium/theater of the school, he rightly said that a High School for the Performing Arts could not just be boxes, and that arts students deserve a landmark, an icon.

So now, I see the tower as a West Coast


Long live the Enlightenment. From sea to shining sea.

As for the title of this post, Wolf Prix has said he learned English by listening to songs by Bob Dylan.

Of what does the tower remind you?


The L.A. arts high school, set to open next fall, will be Coop Himmelb(l)au’s second building in America, and it looks to be more interesting and better-suited to its purpose than their first US effort, a $30-million expansion of the Akron Art Museum. The cost for the five acre high school is said to be about $230 million. It will have space for some 1,600 students, many from surrounding low-income neighborhoods. The school is expensive, overbudget, delayed, and criticized for all those reasons. It stands just across a freeway from

the Rafael Moneo-designed cathedral, with its campanile, or tower. The two form a gateway as you are driving. Prix said he was told his tower could not be taller than Moneo’s. I have already said that Caltrans by Thom Mayne/Morphosis is just a few blocks away, and just a few blocks up Grand Avenue you’ll find the magnificent Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry. Kudos to L.A.

More fun and more images on “the High School that ate Los Angeles,” here.


The new Coop Himmelb(l)au – What is it?


Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Los Angeles High School #9.

I’ll have a lot to say on it soon.

All photo reuse credit:


The new Coop Himmelb(l)au – What is it?


Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Los Angeles High School #9.

I’ll have a lot to say on it soon.

All photo reuse credit: