Archive for the ‘Morphosis’ Category

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?

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.


In L.A. County, a Mayne goes up, a Gehry comes down


Thom Mayne and Morphosis’ new $50 million home for astronomers, the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech in Pasadena. Though not yet open, the building already appeals to me more than does much of the work of Morphosis. Mayne seems to be softening, here and at his La Phare tower in Paris. This work is less aggressive, more contextual, even beautiful the way the sun hits the ochre, Italian-ish panels. I like how he brings natural light in to the lower level. The interior will have stairwells and other areas designed to cause random interaction between the scientists working there.

This all gives me hope for Morphosis’ new academic building at Cooper Union in NYC which we know will be interesting on the interior. But that one has the mesh metal facade that Mayne / Morphosis seem to favor. They’ve softened it up, compared to their earlier work but it still risks being too hard and sharp for an urban environment.

In Pasadena, much of the budget went to provide special conditions for the laboratories, and of course to safeguard it all in the event of an earthquake. Why do so many L.A. buildings look as if the quake already hit? I guess I answered my own question.

While the Mayne goes up…. remember

Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica Place mall from 1980, renovated in 1991 and again in 1996?

Kiss it good-bye.

To be replaced by next year with a new mall designed by the Jon Jerde partnership.

Gehry’s adjacent gridded parking lot remains

at least for now. That’s the one with – on the other side – “Santa Monica Place” writ large in the chain link.

(Blocked by trees. Ah, what architects suffer!) Santa Monica Place was not Gehry’s greatest work but I’d have liked to have seen him design the new mall on this site.

Well, as they’d say in L.A., the glory of Santa Monica Place will live on forever in film and TV such as Pretty in Pink, Terminator 2 and Beverly Hills 90210.


Thom Mayne = Alan Alda ?

…in this alternative paper’s article on the competition to design Michigan State University’s $30 million Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

“Thom Mayne of Santa Monica’s Morphosis took the floor, pacing, shrugging and second-guessing himself like Alan Alda playing an Alan Alda-like architect.”

Conceptual renderings of the five projects here.


Karolin Schmidbaur of Coop Himmelb(l)au as a dominatrix ?

And from the same article, this:

“Karolin Schmidbaur, partner, senior architect and head of the Los Angeles office of Vienna’s Coop Himmelb(l)au … With her white hair closely cropped, wearing sheer shoulder netting, she spoke in a soft dominatrix whisper as project architect Angus Schoenberger silently clicked the slides.

“We will now walk once more through the building,” she commanded.

Photo soon, if you’re good.


More Morphosis. Thom Mayne & Morphosis will open a New York office by August.

Morphosis is working near and Phare.

That’s a model and a rendering of the “Phare” Tower in Paris. Mayne told me, half-in-jest, that with it he “betrayed his own principles” by making “Phare” more sensual since it’s in Paris.

For contrast, here’s Mayne and Morphosis’ Caltrans in L.A.

A little less sensual, more cerebral. Which stands out in very sensual, curvy L.A.

His firm is also cooking up social housing for Madrid.

There’s Mayne, back to his angular self. And this project is also very Corbusian, it’s a contemporary HLM, with gardens in the low-rise portion. The firm has another social housing project for Malaga in early design stages; and another large planning project in Madrid.

They say they’ll announce more European work soon. And in the U.S., in addition to the new academic building for Cooper Union in New York,

they’ll announce more work on the east coast of the US. Kind of nice to receive a Pritzker Prize, no?

Thom Mayne told me, “Our work is becoming equally balanced between west coast, east coast and Europe. The New York office will let us service each project more readily becuase of the time zone differences.” He said he’ll split his time between the offices. He’s been renting an apartment on Manhattan but is looking to buy.

Morphosis has chosen Chelsea for its NY office, in the mid 20’s, on the west side – very near the Fashion Institute. A little different than Santa Monica where, for now, the Phare Tower is still evolving.

And as he contemplates his move, Mayne says Santa Monica will remain headquarters.


Thanks to the USC / Annenberg Getty fellowship for the visit to my Mayne man in Santa Monica.


The Life and Death of Great French Cities

Tour St. Jacques c. 1523

Tour Eiffel 1889

Tour Montparnasse 1972

“Le Phare” – The Lighthouse 2007

Plus ca change, plus ca devient pire?
The more things change, the more they become worse?

Actually ’07 is better than ’72. And it should be highly “green.”
Thom Mayne and Morphosis designed the new one.


But the real question is, what would

Jacques Tati say?!


“Phare” story via.


The Life and Death of Great French Cities

Tour St. Jacques c. 1523

Tour Eiffel 1889

Tour Montparnasse 1972

“Le Phare” – The Lighthouse 2007

Plus ca change, plus ca devient pire?
The more things change, the more they become worse?

Actually ’07 is better than ’72. And it should be highly “green.”
Thom Mayne and Morphosis designed the new one.


But the real question is, what would

Jacques Tati say?!


“Phare” story via.