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Monday, August 26, 2013

Architectual Dreams--And Nightmares (Never Built: Los Angeles)

architectural dreams—and nightmares

“Never Built: Los Angeles,” curated by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, Architecture and Design Museum (A+D), I attended this show on August 24, 2013.

“The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I attended this show on June 24, 2013; I revisited the show on August 14, 2013.

“Never Built: Los Angeles,” the fascinating new architecture show at A+D gallery on Wilshire Boulevard, reveals several alternatives to what the gigantic city might have looked like, some catastrophically awful—which we can be thankful never were realized—and others fascinating architectural structures which might, had they come to fruition, enriched the skyline of our city. None of the several dozen models and drawings crowded into the small architectural gallery is as stunning, perhaps, as The Disney Music Center, Frank Gehry’s breathtaking construction that exists today in downtown Los Angeles. But several of these projects, including works by Gehry himself, were alas abandoned for a number of reasons, which this show (at least in its signage), unfortunately does not address: money, public and government response, and just plain impracticability. Among these projects were Gehry’s own plans for the LA Rapid Transit District Headquarters in 1991 and his and numerous other architects’ futurist visions of Grand Street in downtown near the Disney Center. These grand projects, bigger than life, where perhaps doomed by their very grandeur and—some might argue, pomposity. But their construction would have electrified the city, and changed the current mish-mash of tamer architectural high-rises that are now being constructed. One still has hopes, particularly in the Grand Street project, for some aspects of these ideas to come into being, but as the years pass, it looks less and less likely.

      While it may have been wonderful to have seen portions of the multi-architectural Grand Street project take shape, it seems to be fortunate that nothing came of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vast 1925 plan for the Los Angeles Civic Center, a seemingly fascist-like series of box-like halls. Similarly, we can be thankful that, as the curators Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell agree, the “Santa Monica Offshore Freeway,” which would have literally done away with miles of the beautiful Santa Monica and Malibu beaches, was vetoed in 1965 by then Governor Edmund G “Pat” Brown. Similarly, the misguided downtown 1999 “Angel City Monument” by Grett Livington-Stomp, never saw reality, thank heaven. Cities attempting to declare some shared enshrined monumental symbol often fail to see that the public discovers their own representations within their communities—particularly in a vast space such as Los Angeles. The famed Simon Rodia’s Watt’s Towers, Gehry’s architectural downtown wonder, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Urban Light by Chris Burden have become more significant icons representing the city more than any declared stature might ever have been perceived. Given the brutal history of Los Angeles, perhaps angels are simply not appropriate.


     If Frank Lloyd Wright’s downtown project (these Los Angeles works overseen by his son, Lloyd Wright) appears to have been a disaster, far more interesting were his drawings and models for the Huntington Hart Sports Club of 1947, with its odd egg-shaped constructions. And one can only admire Steven Noll’s handsome vision for the Natural History Museum, John Lautner’s Griffith Park Nature Center—appearing somewhat as a vast bird with wings outspread—Jean Nouval’s colorful “Green Blade” construction for Century City of 2008, Harlan Georgescu’s apartment “Skylots” of 1965-67, and the Morphosis revisions of four patterned towers of the Herald Examiner Redevelopment—all of which seem missed chances at adding architectural diversity and luster to the city landscape.

       How wonderful had the city taken to heart the 178-page report in 1930 by the Olmsted Brothers and Bartholomew on “Parks, Playgrounds, and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region,” which envisioned a strand of “pleasureway parks” along the Los Angeles Basin. Had we accomplished those we might have spared ourselves the current struggles of local organizations to get smaller green lands to accompany the same spaces.

       And, although one has to wonder what it might have meant for our current times of gigantic international planes, one certainly has to marvel at the visual possibilities of Pereira and Luckman’s grand circular designs for the LAX International Airport of 1952, parts of which seem to have survived in the googie Theme Building designed by one of their architects, Paul Williams. I’ve actually eaten in the slowly spinning satellite in the air (with my companion Howard Fox and friend, Rosemary De Rosa), and found the event, despite the building’s absurd, saucer-like appearance, quite pleasant.

       In several cases, it is simply difficult to determine how the city might have been altered if some of the projects had been realized. Given the survival rate of grand Los Angeles movie houses, for example, the wonderful art deco plan for the “Rio” theater might have, by this time, disappeared, just as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, across the street from A+D is planning to destroy the once-perceived high modernist achievements of its Pereira buildings, to replace them with a huge Peter Zumthor construction. In a fascinating side-note to all of this, the art deco construction with A+D now inhabits, along with three other buildings on the block (including the building which houses my own Green Integer offices), is scheduled this next year to be torn down for the expansion of the subway, a system at least that appears less intrusive and landscape-cluttering than the 1920-planned monorails scurrying about the city.

       Coincidently, in their new Resnick Building, the Los Angeles County Museum is currently showing the Zumthor models, which are planned, if the money can be raised and the nearby Page Natural History Museum appeased, for ten years from now. I have equally mixed views about this large tar-like smear of a building (perceivable as that only from the air), raised upon stilts, and with no one “central” entrance. Perhaps in our isolate world, the several alternative entrances Zumthor proposes are inevitable, even preferable. But I do also have questions about the bowels of this audaciously flowing construction, which seem to be made up on dozens of tiny warrens. Are these all tiny galleries in which one can hardly fit larger paintings, let alone get a true perspective and relationship of works to one another, presented somewhat realistically in the model? Or are these just symbolic spaces? It’s hard to know. It may be possible, of course, that Zumthor’s construction might, at a later time, join the works I had just viewed across the street.

Los Angeles, August 25, 2013

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