“I’m missing Lee the architect already:
Certainly at the funeral HE would have in his understated way checked out Riverside Memorial Chapel to see if it had:
1) proper means of access and, especially egress, for a place of public assembly.
2) how the lobby could be improved to accommodate public congregating, especially mindful of seasons and weather, to check and retrieve outer garments.
3) seating made more comfortable, sight lines enhanced, lighting more flexible
4) audio reviewed, with special consideration for the hearing impaired.
5) any special amenities for the seated family, cushions, raised for viewing
6) stepping to the pulpit, speaking at pulpit. descending, back to seat.
7) ease exiting, accommodate pauses in aisles, lobby, and on sidewalk. And if the venue could be vacated in the 6 minutes, in accordance to the NYC Fire Department performance standards.
The check and punch lists would (should!) go on, and on, into eternity. Yes, eternity.
I taught senior thesis with him as a team as adjunct professors at City College for several years, in the early 70s, nearly 50 years ago but really only like yesterday. He enjoyed talking about those years whenever we met.
Lee was very much the professional architect, and when he taught was indeed the advocate for the architect. He viewed the student designs as an experienced, insightful architect while I acted as the advocate for the user.
I felt with Lee I wasn’t teaching the class, but rather learning with the class. In a way, we were all students of Lee.
And I must add it was Lee in his declarative mode who dominated the grading, I never liked giving out grades, thinking the students when graduated will be graded soon enough. He felt grades were appropriate.
Yes, Lee was judgmental, albeit in a soft voice that was sugar to his sometimes sharp reviews. This no doubt influenced me when I went into the next life to be a critic.
I especially liked it when class reviews were held in his office atop of the Plaza Hotel, in the former maids quarters, where he roosted for awhile, having been the architect for the hotel’s rehabilitation. (Yes, he had opinions about working for Donnie back then, which we shared since my Dad was the Trump interior decorator. But I have no more to say on that. We have enough sadness at present dealing with Lee’s death.)
I will say the Plaza was more pleasant than the ex Chevy facility on 133rd and Broadway.
Even after moving to LA. I enjoyed, staying in the illegal office bedroom, which gave me another reason to stay in touch with Lee, and to dine out on occasion with the wives.
For the record, the bill always was scrupulously split, with Lee, of course, doing the math, which I never questioned. I doubt anybody ever did.
And when the office was downtown, I loved it being above the culinary institute. I know he certainly did. Having lunch there with Lee, at his table, is a fond memory, even after we both went on diets.
For a Brooklyn born, Brooklyn Tech grad, subway commuter, street savvy New Yorker, he was exceptionally soft spoken and kind, to students as well as waiters, and also tolerant to colleagues, even the nasty ones who envied his success.
He even had a kind word for the bureaucrats here, and especially in India, who held up the design process, and worse, payments.
And he cared, not just for the clients. In particular, I remember him struggling with me of how should the 10,000 feral waifs living in the tunnels of the Calcutta train station be accommodated during the station’s reconstruction the office was planning.
It is a problem we never solved, like others Lee struggled with, in a life too short.
And I thought he was going to be immortal, like me, until, of course, we are not.”
Putting on my old battered hat as an architecture critic, which I was for a decade for the L.A. Times, my focus this week is downtown Los Angeles. If the ageless renown Frank Gehry can emerge as the designer of the latest addition to the hill, certainly I can, as an abiding commentator.
As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, Angelenos with a memory might recall the once grand residential topped hill was lobotomized a half century ago as an urban renewal project, with the hope of becoming a mixed-use district featuring the city’s cultural attractions.
Beginning with the sprawling Music Center, distinguished by the neo-classsic trio Chandler, Ahmanhson and Mark Taper theatres, built somewhat haphazardly over the years has been MOCA and Broad museums, the Colburn school and the Disney Concert Hall.
Despite providing photo ops for tourists, and designed by the preening Gehry, the glistening, curvaceous concert hall, frankly, has not as promised activated the area. Though promoted as L.A. ‘s Champs Elysees, the districts’ principal street, Grand Avenue, is not very grand.
But there is hope. At long last after much failed planning attempts, it appears a viable design has emerged for the critical central site across from the concert hall, known as parcels Q and w-2. and labeled Grand.
And grand, if ambitious, it will be, a $1 billion stacked conceit by Gehry featuring a 39 story residential tower, of condos and apartments. and a 20 story luxury hotel , with the base of the usual high end restaurants, retail and entertainment And yes, some of the apartments will designated as affordable.
Frankly, they appear boxy and functional in the renderings, though the project-friendly facades should lend it animation and interest, so says Gehry, who after decades has produced a design that makes both financial and urbane sense. That’s at least according to the developer, Related Companies ,in partnership with the China Communications Construction Group.
Most critically for the public is the frontage of the project, and the pedestrian plaza, facing a not distinctive or welcome entrance to the concert hall. To be sure, the hall works as an iconic work of sculpture, but not particularly well as architecture, providing a space and place for people to meet and mingle.
Gehry has explained that his original plan for the concert hall indicated a very public entrance, the building to serve as a “ living room for the city.”
I incidentally cited this is my original review recommending Gehry for the project. But it sadly was not in the final design, which Gehry subsequently claimed was compromised by the client.
It seems there has been a host of his other projects included in this blame game, which over the years have made one wary of Gehry’s presentations. Architects do have a way of saying one thing, what a client or the media want or likes to hear, and then designing another.
So while hoping the Grand as designed by Gehry will indeed revitalize Bunker Hill and that L.A. at last will get a grand boulevard, we at present have to be reserved and hold back judgment.
My goodness. Look what FB dug out of my past postings, and ran as a memory. Gehry is history, but it makes for a provocative and relevant read:
December 12, 2015 · Malibu ·
A slightly updated posting, in response to some comments received regarding my frank commentary on the Frank and Paul embrace: it’s really not about designing buildings, but rather about being a celebrity. Architecture is sadly secondary:
I don’t think it’s cynical to state that the noble pursuit of designing spaces and places for human endeavor is being corrupted by the cult of star architecture.
From my long tenure as an urban design critic, I see the scramble among a select gaggle of professionals to be anointed, as increasing insidious and insistent, and the effect on architecture students depressing.
This is no thanks in part to a celebrity obsessed media, and so I declare in my weekly commentary for 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net and on cityobserved.com. and other websites.
And so we have tomes such as Paul Goldberger’s “Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry,” reading more like “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump, with architecture as a social art subsumed by the architect as a social animal.
If anything, the read reveals Goldberger’s transition from when he was a solid, if not stolid, critic in his early years for the New York Times, and then the more fastidious New Yorker, to his present vain-glorious gazing at Vanity Fair, the glare unfortunately compromising.
As for the ever-grasping Gehry, noted is his transition from an aspiring architect of modest talent, to a self-aggrandizing, celebrity-schmoozer who sadly believes his own press clippings, and the finger to whomever doesn’t.
But Gehry with the gift of a grifter does know how to massage the media, as evidenced by Goldberger’s undiscerning biography, and clients as well, as evidenced by his hyped designs. Little is heard from the users, their advocates or the affected communities.
Granted, it is hard to blame some of the architecture elite for manipulations, given the competition in the profession for deep pocketed clients and prominent projects promising yet more publicity.
It is very much a merry, merry-go-round, unless of course it is not, and one fails to grab the gold ring, and hang on, resulting in what might be labeled, professional envy.
Also, running an office is expensive, especially when the principals have to be out and about pontificating at endless forums and glad handing clients, while the actual designs are being produced by the talent in the back rooms.
I recall it was the august Philip Johnson, who was to the manor born, commenting that to be a successful architect, as he was in his time, you had to be a whore.
It is all very depressing, if you think of the effect it has on conscientious peers with a trace of talent and good intentions, desperate for attention, if not a little love, while trying to piece together a practice.
The bad books they have written about themselves and the mountains of monographs documenting their projects tend to be embarrassing, even if just circulated among family, friends and clients.
Still, hope springs eternal, and I appreciate and embrace design. When focused on those who will actually be affected by the crafting of spaces and places – the users– it can elevate the human experience.
“You will be outraged,” declared the one line email I recently received heading the attachment from Los Angeles County detailing a Draft Environmental Report for 5900 Wilshire Boulevard.http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/index.html)
AS I comment on public radio KBU 99.1 and websites everywhere, the draft report details the demolition of the existing core buildings of the landmark L.A. County Museum of Art and replacing them with a smaller smattering of pavilions in the shape of a biomorphic blob sprawling over Wilshire Boulevard.
To be sure, a heat absorbing accretion is not particularly environmentally sensitive. Neither is demolishing nearly a half million square feet of existing construction composing LACMA that could more efficiently recycled, to say nothing of the toxics such as PCBs that might be released. And there are other environmental and health concerns.
The present LACMA might be fractured and flawed, a clutter of galleries and clashing styles, and does need better maintenance and graphics, as well as circulation. But it can and does work for viewing art, which, really, is what a museum is about.
And not mentioned in the draft report is that when all costs are calculated, it will probably cost a billion dollars and take at least five years to complete. That is a long time for the public to have to suffer makeshift exhibition spaces, and limited programs. Need we be reminded that this is a public institution, not a private social club for deep-pocketed patrons.
This protracted public problem also most likely will be after the glad-handing perpetuators of this colossal boondoggle are gone on to new hustles and fraudulent fame.
Just think how that monies could be better spent, such as eliminating all entrance fees, underwriting arts curriculum, and sponsoring artists housing.
A start would be putting a lid on the project’s consulting fees and excessive expenses being run up by the museum’s smarmy Michael Govan and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.
So, today I observe with a sickening sense of dread what I know, if allowed to be built, is going to be a social, environmental and architectural disaster, a landmark to be mocked for the ages, a bad L.A. joke.
Yes, the trusted writer of the email I received, a journalist experienced in the willful ways of civil serpents and shadow governments, was right: I am outraged. And you should be, too, if it will make any difference in a world increasingly being manipulated by an egomaniacal, elitist autocracy.
In this instance it is our elitist locals orchestrated by Govan and sycophants, who have blatantly hustled the County Board of Supervisors, LACMA being a county project.
But supervisors Sheila Keuhl, Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger can stop the project, especially now in the environmental review phase. The public has until December 15 to comment, in writing, fax or email, or attending one of several public hearing. Details are available by clicking here. (http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/files/NOA.pdf)
May democracy prevail.
It looks like Los Angeles, is going to get another architectural icon, in the hills west of the 405 freeway bordering Brentwood, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and on select websites everywhere.
Proposed on an immodest 447 acres, adjoining the already prominent parade there of the Getty and Skirball museums and cultural centers, will be a relatively modest, but distinctively sited campus for the heretofore-indistinct Berggruen Institute.
It is being designed by the internationally renowned firm of Herzog & de Meuron, with an assist by the workaday Gensler Associates, and landscapers Michael Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, in what’s described as an archaic style of concrete and untreated wood. Most of the site will be left undeveloped,
Whatever, expect it to be pricey. Though relatively new-on-the scene, the Institute emerging out of the upper echelons of the multi national finance fraternity is well endowed, headed by a majority of suits from the board rooms of banks and out of the back doors of governments.
Details were sketchy, other that it will be a linear campus, consisting of administrative offices, meeting rooms and a lecture hall, complemented by a cluster of residences for visiting scholars. and a home for the Berggruen family
From the perspective of a user advocate, given its size and setting, I expect the campus, as a mountain top village of sorts will be a most pleasant and desirable environment.
But there are questions, including how public will the Institute be; how many visitors can it expect and how will they be accommodated? Also, how many people will be working there, and where they could afford to live? And what will be the impact on the adjoining Mountaingate and Brentwood neighbors, if any, and on the already crowded 405 Freeway?
And for me as an arts and entertainment critic, there are other thoughts. Yes, it will be art, if you consider as I do that architecture is a social art creating places and places for human endeavor. It also will be interesting how the institute complements the neighboring very public Getty and Skirball.
As for judging its entertainment value, that is more of a stretch, if you as I think of entertainment as a performance or production, generating enjoyment, interest and diversion.
I have my doubts about the Institute, dedicated, as it says it is, to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance. That’s praiseworthy words.
But will it actually improve anyone’s life other that those associated with the Institute? Probably not, if it functions as so many non profit institutes do these days, as tax dodges, providing jobs for family and friends, gatherings of GQ grifters, networking for the not particularly needy, and select self anointed cerebral celebrities.
But certainly not all. A daughter happens to work as a staff attorney for institute dedicated to aiding the vulnerable, and marginalized, harmed by crime and violence; the institute’s resources going to real services and not for architecture or hosting indolent academics and pandering former politicians.
As for new ideas of good government, I’ll save that for another commentary.
Against my own advice not to get involved in personal zoning issues, I find I’m compelled to comment on the current city conundrum involving a proposed house on Portshead Road.
The issue has gone too public to ignore, especially since the Planning Commission, after a protracted hearing, declined to vote on the proposal for the 8.800 square foot project and instead kicked it to City Council.
Beyond the emotions it has generated –should the applicant be allowed to build two and a half times the size of his neighbors’ houses– there is a major planning issue involved, concerning the definition of neighborhood character., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.
Indeed, in a similar case recently, citing size, the city ruled against a property owner where all other conditions also had met, as they have on Portshead. This set an important precedent.
Nevertheless, the Portshead applicant went before the planning commission, obviously confident that his plans for what he described as his dream house would be acceptable.
However, there were objections, and a petition reportedly was circulated objecting to the size of the project. This prompted a lament by the applicant, which stirred a well-spring of sympathy and an antithetical petition to approve the project.
That sentiment was echoed at the commission hearing, no doubt a factor in it backing off from a decision. With a polite nod to the heart felt sentiments, I feel zoning is not an issue to be decided by petitions, circulated on behalf of whomever.
That should be the purview of the planning commission, and city council. And as often stated at hearings, zoning cases should not be based on how attractive the project or appealing the applicant, but on their compliance with city codes and applicable precedents.
In addition to the echoing of the phrase “neighborhood character” so were the terms “mansionization: and “mcmansion.” This struck a chord with me, for I am cited by Wikipedia as one of several authors that coined the phrases, specifically when I was the LA Times architecture critic in the 1980s. Having also written several books on planning immodestly made me an authority.
I first used the phrase in describing the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which in turn led to a domino effect that ultimately compromises the character of neighborhoods and accelerates hyper gentrification. .
In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.
He and his tearful wife pleaded that though a “mcmansion,” the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset.
Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. It therefore makes one wary, especially knowing that the larger the house in Malibu, the much larger the profit, say realtors who always seem ready to pump up properties to maximize their commissions.
.The size of the proposed Portshead project was defended by the applicant, who stated that it may be excessive, but he wanted to include such amenities as a gym and a screening room to make it a fun house for his family.
However ingenuous the remarks or not, the real issue persists whether the project is out of neighborhood character. It is a tough question, which calls for some common sense, and common courtesy, and frankly not crocodile tears.
Meanwhile, the applicant might want to consider a more modest house, which his respected architect said was possible, or build elsewhere where the project would be more in character. There are such streets in Malibu, though Portshead is not one of them.