EDIFICE COMPLEX MARS L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

We do appreciate the generosity of L. A.’s David Geffen, who as a well positioned player in the entertainment industry and a Malibu denizen amassed zillions, and has in turn been very generous endowing a host of cultural endeavors.
 
This has included a major addition to the Museum of Contemporary Arts downtown, and a landmark theatre. in Westwood, named naturally the Geffen. No doubt his buying and selling real estate in Malibu added a few drops to his overflowing bucket
 
But I must take strong exception to his latest burst of benevolence, $150 million to the rebuilding of the L..A, County Museum of Art. as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere.
 
If consummated, it will be the largest gift on record toward the construction of an American museum. And I sadly add perhaps one of the most misdirected.
 
The proposed design and construction of LACMA is, I feel, in a word, a bomb. I fear if pursued the project will not only be a colossal waste of money, including substantial public funds, but would subvert the city’s cultural spirit.
 
No doubt with a price tag approaching a billion dollars, it undoubtedly will drain funds from a multitude of art projects across Southern California,
 
In addition, the Geffen gift alternatively could, among other things, easily endow the museum – the city’s largest and most important — to eliminate its entrance fees, and magically open its doors to all, as the Hammer and Broad museums already do.
 
Meanwhile, spurred now by the gullible Geffen gift, the fund raising for the immodest brick-and mortar project stumbles forward. So does the design, which features a blob of a building bridging Wilshire Boulevard to replace the present fractured but functioning LACMA.
 
Admittedly, the museum could use some serious interior redesign, rehabilitation, and relandscaping to improve access and circulation.
 
True, a subtle restoration would be a real challenge to a design team, though not as easy and potentially not as dramatic as working with a cleared site. And certainly not if you are an over-reaching museum director, as Michael Govan apparently is, suffering as he does from an edifice complex.
 
Then there is his servile Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor, of limited museum experience and, as most architects, unlimited ambition. LACMA obviously is the commission of a life time, which has to be very enticing for an architect who seldom has worked beyond his conservative and confining country.
 
If this project is unfortunately pursued as it now seem it will be, when finished, Govan probably will move on, probably to New York, where he is said to yearn to become the director of the august Met. As for Zumthor, he most likely will go back to his Swiss hamlet
 
And L.A. will be stuck with a bomb of a costly building.
 

LA MOUNTAINTOP HOME FOR BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

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.

“NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER” QUESTIONED

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.
 

WHITHER THE HOME AND ARCHITECTURE

My latest for L.A.’s intellectual oasis.
 
https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/stuff-of-dreams/
 
The Stuff of Dreams: Bernard Friedman’s The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design (University of Texas Press, 2017)
 
By Sam Hall Kaplan
 
Bernard Friedman’s The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design was recently presented to me by an enduring friend, in deference to a haunting academic interest of mine. The hope was for a review, but given the escalating world housing crisis, and with all due respects to the earnest author, it was like a piece of meat thrown into the cage of an angry tiger.
 
Whither architecture when homelessness mounts? It is frankly hard to get excited about the aesthetics of design, let alone accept an invitation to sit on an architectural jury or review a book, in this age of obscene disparity and social fragmentation.
 
Nevertheless, the book is compelling, if only to those curious about the current drift of the design profession. Featured are 30 interviews with architects, educators, and writers, all of whom, according Friedman, “aspire to improve the quality of our lives through thoughtful design.” No doubt they do, but, with a few exceptions, most expose the profession’s self-absorption and the sorry lack of its social responsibilities. One imagines the interviews to have been conducted in the upper floors of the latest needle-like luxury residential tower, out of sight and sound of the hoi polloi below.
 
There is a lot of huffing and puffing in the book — and in today’s world — about residential design. But it should be noted that less than 2 percent of housing in America is designed by architects. Yet unquestionably it is the profession’s true love; as Friedman explains, homes are closer to architects’ hearts than the more richly rewarding commercial and institutional commissions. That stands to reason. After all, the dream of a home of one’s own has to be one of humanity’s more primordial fantasies — a manifestation of our deepest desires and anxieties, exceeding political prejudices, social pretensions, and personal finances.
 
According to therapists, this is very much a calming dream — no heart palpitations or reactive tossing and turning, just a fluttering of eyes in the REM stage of sleep. The dream is of an idealized shelter, secured in perpetuity by ownership, an iron-bound lease, or stringent rent control. And it isn’t just any shelter, either; rather, it’s one with a distinctive style — historic, modern, or futuristic, traditional or faddist — in a congenial community of escalating values where the dreamers bought or built last year, before the real estate bubbles inflated.
 
Call it an edifice complex; the dream persists, though it appears increasingly quixotic in the reality of spiraling inequality to which one awakes.
 
The fact is that fewer and fewer persons these Trumpian days have the resources to retain individual architects to create the singular homes of their dreams or to fashion interiors. Most are happy to have a roof over their heads. But don’t tell that to the design and development community luminaries and their institutional acolytes, to the aspiring star architects and billionaire builders. These include the closeted ego-maniacal Howard Roark clones as well as the Donald Trump types, eager to catch a trend and milk it for as much publicity and income as they can.
 
Still, the profession likes to pretend it is thoughtfully considerate of the potential occupant, the so-called user, be that a buyer or renter, wealthy or not. Progressive, affordable housing advocates, along with the few architects among them, may be exalted and even presented a plaque by their professional peers. But their programs and pleas are at best given lip service and occasional publicity at yet another self-aggrandizing Urban Land Institute seminar, or an academic think tank workshop.
 
To be sure, Friedman does his part, interviewing, among others, Andrew Freear, Marianne Cusato, Hadley Arnold, and Cameron Sinclair, all of whom are nobly promoting a range of socially and environmentally conscious designs in the far corners of the country. Sinclair, a former director of Architects for Humanity and now head of a design and development company that focuses on post-conflict reconstruction, lends a chilling perspective. In answer to Friedman’s question about whether residential architecture can be socially transformative, he declares: “If you really want to effect change in the world, you have to understand that utopia is dead. And the reason for that is that there is no silver bullet for the housing crisis, and we are closing in on what will be a global housing crisis.”
 
But as the book reveals, ego-driven celebrities still dominate the profession, typically not answering Friedman’s diligent questions, but talking about themselves or going off subject. We have architect Charles Gwathmey immodestly declaring, “the house I did for my parents, which I now occupy, was a groundbreaking moment in modern residential architecture in America. In particular, I think it changed the whole idea of American vernacular to a more European-based reference.”
 
At least Gwathmey is declarative. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately for the reader — other architects are more obtuse. These include two of L.A.’s own stars, Thom Mayne and Eric Owns Moss. In antithesis to an architectural maxim, they somehow take the simple and make it complicated. Some perspective or critical comments by Friedman could have helped, for it has been my experience that architects tend to say one thing to appear to be enlightened, or au courant, but design another. Illustrations of the projects discussed , instead of stock historic photographs, would also have been helpful; a little more show than tell, given the tendency of architects to obfuscate. And maybe there could have been a chapter entitled “Schadenfreude,” exposing the true nature of architecture’s competitive atmosphere.
 
But the central problem is this: With the price of renting modest apartments to buying humble housing in most major American cities and their sprawling suburbs going up and up, I feel it is simply intellectually indulgent to talk about the design and architecture of homes.
 
Think about the Millennials scrounging a life in increasingly popular Los Angeles, forever seductive San Francisco, and even an outlander outpost like Portland. (Of course, is some cases, deep-pocketed parents may buy houses for their struggling offspring — house which, of course, serve as a family investment and tax benefit. Welcome to the world of gentrification.) As for New York, “fugettaboutit.” If you hadn’t noticed, the highly polished Big Apple has become a senior assisted living facility for the one-percenters and their immodestly moneyed foreign relatives. I wasborn and ill-bred in Brooklyn, lived and worked in “the city” for several decades, and even co-wrote best-sellers about surviving there (The New York City Handbook) and in its suburbs (The Dream Deferred), but the sight of its current real estate excesses leaves me dazed.
 
As for my welcoming and pliant Los Angeles, its housing prices are more and more daunting. The homeless problem downtown is particularly disturbing — and shameful for any city government that pretends to be humane. Social and income inequality are the pressing concerns. In this environment, trying to find, much less to fashion, a home of one’s choice is like trying to catch a greased pig.
 
But Friedman tries to make the subject of his book relevant, and some interesting points are made. The august Richard Meier, the designer of the Getty and a contemporary of mine, declares in a burst of candor: “residential buildings are getting better because people realize they can make more money if they do a good building than if they do a mediocre building. “
 
And the respected architect and author Sarah Susanka states bluntly that if somebody wants a better house it will require an architect, and money: “That fact automatically puts it into what we might say is an elitist bucket, which is not what I think a lot of us who are architects would wish.”
 
The essay by columnist Meghan Daum might have been more appropriate as an epilogue rather than as an introduction. It is a somewhat indulgent ramble, describing well-designed houses as having an “almost aphrodisiacal quality,” enslaving us by putting us in debt and forever demanding our attention. But she concludes that they are also “the stuff of dreams.” Or, I might add, nightmares.

HYPE AND HUSTLE CONTINUE TO THREATEN L.A. MUSEUM

 
The deadhead design duo of the suave Los Angeles museum director Michael Govan and his servile Swiss architect Peter Zumthor staged another dog and pony show recently promoting yet another variation on their immodest plans for a new County Museum.
 
As I declare on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites everywhere, it deserves an update. I feel its soaring price tag of $600 million dollar and-counting-proposal and accompanying machinations need constant exposure as a hustle, or it will suck up millions in public and private funds.
 
As for the politicians and public benefactors being socially and politically pressured to support the project in the name of culture, let me predict here in blunt English that in time I expect it will bite them on the ass.
 
I really don’t care about that, for it’s my long experience with self-anointed so-called community leaders that most have no shame. Added to this mix at LACMA is Govan’s edifice complex, which he apparently acquired years ago when involved with the Guggenheim museum developing the heralded Bilbao museum designed by Frank Gehry.
 
What I care about is that this planning and design conceit is a sorry waste of time and money –we are talking millions, potentially one billion dollars here — that could be used for real culturally related projects.
 
My list includes subsidizing art education in under served public schools, art student scholarships, art programs for seniors, traveling exhibits.the list goes on and on.
 
At the latest promotion last week in the safe confines of the county museum, Govan and Zumthor were the only two on stage, no one to raise embarrassing questions there, nor were any allowed from the audience.
 
The presentation focused on the tweaking of the original design, replacing the existing museum with an ugly undulating black bob of 400,000 square feet, spilling across Wilshire Boulevard.
 
I would describe effort with the raw cliché of putting a mustache on a pig.
 
The color has now changed to tan, the blob is less curvaceous, and landscaping is promoted. But still to be demolished is the fractured though functioning and familiar museum, its encyclopedic collection packed away for several years, and no special interim exhibitions for which LACMA is justly famous.
 
But the rape of the museum –and make no mistake about it, that is what this plan is – is not really about design.
 
It is about power and egos, the curse of the desire for edifice architecture and wannabe celebrity architects, and not about architecture’s noble purpose of creating spaces and places for human endeavor.
 
 
 

ARCHITECTURE LOBBY QUESTIONS PROFESSION’S PRACTICES AND PAY

To observe the city you must appreciate architecture, how it shapes and misshapes spaces and places for human endeavor, be it working, playing, whatever.

For me, architecture has been both an occupation and preoccupation, as a critic, author, urban designer, developer or simply a homeowner. It continues to absorb me.

Architects are another matter, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites everywhere.

They are people, and like all people, good and bad, and many as designers with the skill, gifted or learned, to craft environments.

But I sadly observe architects as a profession is constantly being compromised by the cruel math dominating our society, of greed divided by fear, and megalomania by paranoia.

So, one might ask, in the world of development, populated by bureaucrats, bankers, builders and lawyers, whither architects? What value do they have, and how do they share it, if at all.

Those were the questions raised recently at a “think-in,” at UCLA, sponsored by the Architecture Lobby, a fledgling movement with chapters in select cities, including New York City, Chicago and now L.A.

Based incongruously in the historically preeminent white, male, elitist Yale School of Architecture, the lobby can be described as a clique of agent provocateurs.
The Lobby defines itself as an activist organization “trying to undo practical and conceptual constructs that both limit the relevance and financial rewards of the architectural profession.”

We’re talking here of an industry with a history of abusing rank-and-file architects, specifically by low pay, overtime demands and withholding creative credit.

The stories of gross inequities and unsavory behavior are legend, particularly by star architects and big firms, as if they had a license to be arrogant.

Led by Peggy Deamer of Yale, and joined by a panel of locals, the talk-in at UCLA focused on a number of controversial issues sure to raise the hackles of design firms, and, in general, the building industry.

These included what labor laws might apply to architecture, what could be new models for fees, and generally how living conditions for all can be improved.

Raised was the possibility of forming a guild or a union, however slim, given the romanticized notion that architecture is not a career but a calling, which is often used as a guise by management to shortchange staff.

Not much hope was expressed that the A.I.A. oligarchy might enter the fray on behalf architecture’s worker bees, beholden as it is to the profession’s principals.

There also was a panel on the media, and how it might overcome its obsession with star architects, and be more resistant to being compromised by the star firms. Noted was the increased blurring of the line between critic and publicist.

It was suggested if they would instead focus on design issues that affect people they perhaps would generate more public interest in architecture.  Not present was the mainstream media.

Indeed, only about two dozen people attended the Talk-In at UCLA, which not incidentally is offering, as do other designs schools, a full slate of lectures featuring wannabe star architects talking about their projects.

Students might find those self-aggrandizing offerings engaging, but unquestionably the issues raised by the Architecture Lobby are more challenging and perhaps prescient.  The profession should take note.

10.22.16

BEYOND MALIBU AND INTO THE FUTURE L.A., NOT!

 

Having focused on parochial planning issues in my recent commentaries for public radio KBU, in print and on various websites,, I thought perhaps a more universal perspective was needed, if only for a break.

With this in mind, and in a gesture of hope over experience, I attended a symposium on the future of Los Angeles.

Through the years I have gone to many, particularly back in the days of print when I was a design critic for the L.A. Times and several other publications.

Perhaps now that I’m an octogenarian, I frankly feel focusing on the future is an indulgence; an excuse not to deal with the present.

Whether labeled symposiums, conferences, or workshops, the gatherings prompt the infamous quip among the free loading media of, “call it anything, but don’t call me late for your lunch.”

The light feedings aside, the gatherings of late usually have turned out to be a parade of self-promotions for the principal speakers and a pageant for their self-serving sponsors.

These include the academic urban institutes justifying their own existence and paying homage to their benefactors, and tenure. And then there are the self-satisfied foundations with their supercilious staff secure in their sinecures.

There is also the assorted independent, non-profit think tanks, some admittedly I occasionally wrote for and whose largess I once enjoyed.

Most are staffed with articulate, earnest wonks, good government types, and indeed engaging. Though a few I must add sadly are simply well groomed, glad-handed grifters.

Whatever, in retrospect it is still mostly a mystery how they exactly affect policy as they purport to do, and improve anybody’s quality of life other than their own.

Nevertheless, I found myself at the recent Los Angeles Times Future Cities Summit, for, quoting the newspaper, “a discussion on urban development, resiliency, architecture and the design of the urban environment.” This is grist for my mill.

There also was the promise of the Times to “convene the world’s foremost thinkers, policymakers, developers, entrepreneurs and industry stars for a conversation on shaping the city of the future.”

My former employer frankly has not been doing well, and I was curious to witness its latest endeavor as an event planner and so-called summit sponsor, and perhaps see some former colleagues.

I did indeed saw a few, and that was pleasurable. But I have to report the Summit was not. It was a pretentious affair, and deserves to be criticized, indeed as if I would do if still writing as an unforgiving, if unloved,  critic for the paper.

The estimated 250 or so curious, half filling that the 500 plus seat Broad auditorium in Santa Monica, regrettably heard very little about the future of Los Angeles, and a lot of what the guests were doing at present. That is when they could get a word in edgewise.

The moderators were Times staffers who arguably might be decent deadline writers, but not necessarily discerning futurists and discussion facilitators. This made the speakers and the audience skittish.

There was a second string FEMA official reviewing preparation for the next disaster: boring. And art curator and gallery operator Paul Schimmel talking about a vibrant downtown arts district. Nothing new here and how lucky he was to be there, not mentioning his ignominious departure from MOCA.

But he did adroitly avoid answering a question about the egregious plans for a new LACMA and how it might negatively affect the city’s future cultural scene, but not its director’s edifice complex.

Particularly discursive was a panel discussion on how L.A.’s housing shortage and homeless problem might be solved, weighed down by a wordy and distracted moderator.

The only nugget came from was Tanya Tull of Partnering for Change, who declared the answer to homelessness, is a house, but stopped there.

Their was no real reaction from the architects on the panels, Michael Maltzan and Brian Lane, who did not seem especially inspired to lend a design perspective. Good architects do not necessarily make for good visionaries.

A cautious architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, did not press the issue, other than to comment, as he has in the past, that Los Angeles would have to face up to the challenge of a growing and changing population. As my annoying Green Amazon parrot squawks. having perched for years in a newsroom, “Stop the presses!”

The depth of discussion was like the paper these days: thin.

And so it went, prompting of the audience in this new age of communications to turn their attention from the stage to their I phones, for whatever.

Though if indeed you are interested in the future of cities, I found some excellent informed presentations on a TED playlist. Check it out.

https://www.ted.com/playlists/29/our_future_in_cities?

 

 

DARK CLOUD HOVERS OVER L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

While the exhibits continue to engage, a dark cloud still hovers over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as I comment on my weekly City Observed on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art – LACMA for short – continues to be one of the city’s more iconic cultural institutions, for me always enlightening if not educational, a place where I return to regularly to find something of interest.

Most recently it was the very different and diverting Rain Room, a site specific installation melding science and technology to create an art work , that is if you can call a large darkened room where water falls constantly, except not on you, thanks to sensors. you walk over.

It’s a captivating and communal experience, the stuff of selfies and sharing with others a wonderous 15 minutes which is what each group of about two dozen are allowed to stand between the rain drops in a steady downfall. Everyone exits smiling, if a little damp..

No wonder the installation created by the artist collective Random International has sold out when first exhibited in the group’s base in London, then in New York Museum of Modern Art, and now in Los Angeles for an extended tour through the Summer.

It is such exhibits that lend attending a museum as LACMA a memorable moment. And this in turn is what lends institutions a sense of place and history, and need to be cherished and protected.

To enhance their stature, and better serve a wide a population as possible., I also think they should not charge admission, to their regular and special exhibits.

That is why I applaud such museums as the Hammer in Westwood, the Broad downtown and the Getty above Brentwood being free , and why I have urged LACMA to also be, especially since it is partially supported by county funds.

This is also why I am opposed to the audacious plans of director Michael Govan to replace the LA County Museum, yes, demolishing the existing core buildings, replacing them  with a biomorphic blub sprawling over Wilshire Boulevard. Aside from the questionable design by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, is the price tag—now $600 million, but sure to rise to a billion when all costs are calculated –and there construction of at least five years.

To be sure, there are problems with the existing museum: it is a fractured clutter of galleries. It needs better maintenance, better connections and graphics. And patched together as it is, it is not pretty. But it can and does work viewing for the art. And that ultimately is what a museum is about.

I raise these arguments again because it seems Govan is becoming even more persistent in satisfying his edifice complex, and continues to spare no expense promoting his vision.   At present the black model is on display in Italy, at the Venice Architecture Biennale , which this year I thought was to focus on “social housing.”

Commenting on this might be discursive, but for me it is urgent, for I consider the Zumthor and Govan conceit a dark cloud over LACMA. I am very much concerned over its threatened future, and you should be, too.

 

 

LAUTNER HOUSE ACQUIRED BY MUSEUM

 

Good news for architecture buffs and Southern California’s rich tradition of singular residential designs.

In a first for the LA County Museum of Art, it announced the acquisition of the iconic Sheats-Goldstein House designed by John Lautner, a very much original and, I think, an under-appreciated architect.

The striking house high in the hills of the isolated Beverly Crest community is distinguished by a triangular concrete exterior that appear to be pried apart by walls of glass, approached by a stone walkway past a pool.

The spectacular setting of the house with sweeping views of Los Angeles is further distinguished by lush landscaping that contain a prominent structure crafted by the sculptor James Turrell. It also is being donated by the current owner, James Goldstein, along with several singular art works.

The house is probably best known as the setting for various movies, including the Coen brother’s classic The Big Lebowski. It was built in 1963 for UCLA professor Paul and artist Helen Sheats, and sold to the eccentric Goldstein in 1972, which in the succeeding years retained Lautner to update it, until 1994 when the architect died.

A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Launder’s loved to talk about his buildings, each a unique marriage between architecture and engineering. And I loved to listen as the architecture critic of the LA Times 30 years ago as he held court dressed always in a fashionable white suit in his studio atop the Roosevelt Hotel.

He had time, for his practice sadly was limited, which he explained to me,“ I’m afraid I am just not into the superficial facades with all its phony rationales that seem to preoccupy architecture these days. ”

And then I recall quite vividly he turned to me as a critic to snap, ’You people have let them get away with it; you and those sheep-like clients who want to be trendy, even if it doesn’t wear well or work.”

You had to love the guy, and I proudly wrote in support of his nomination for the coveted AIA’s Gold Medal 30 years. He didn’t get it. He was just not popular then.

But now one of his iconic designs will be a museum piece, which actually I believe is much more impressive than a title being tacked onto his name.

This report was aired on my arts and entertainment commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu, net everywhere.

 

 

 

Hooray: Pritzker Prize to Chilean Architect for Social Housing

Today, on 97.5 KBU FM, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites, a departure from the usual touting of cultural attractions in and around Los Angeles, to comment on the recent awarding of the 2016 Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture, to Alejandro Aravena.

Not only is the award noteworthy this year for tapping a relatively unknown designer in Chile, –most previous honorees have been from mainstream United States and western Europe – but for its focus on social housing.

This really sets Aravena apart, declared the Pritzker jury. which this year included the British Richard Rogers and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Beyer. The prize comes with a $100,000 award but perhaps more importantly is usually followed with a swarm of international commissions.

If so, it will hopefully lend additional attention to the groundswell here and broad for affordable, well designed, user-friendly housing, that also serves and involves the communities where located.

The 48 year old Aravena – that is relatively young for an accomplished architect,– is best know for his modestly inexpensive residential projects, and his commitment to create sustainable, affordable and resilent cities.

In the past, with a few exceptions, the focus of the designs of the architects honored have been on flashy forms and iconic buidings, stand out projects that generated media attention for its sponsors and celebrity status for its architects.

This increasingly high end bent in the profession was duly noted by this year’s intrepid Pritzker jury, which in a statement prefacing the award declared –quote:

The role of the architect is now being challenged to serve greater social and humanitarian needs, and Alejandro Aravena has clearly, generously and fully responded to this challenge. Unquote.

The statement and award frankly warms my heart, for in the years past as an urban affairs reporter for the New York Times ,and later as the architecture and urban design critic for the L.A. Times, I immodestly spotlighted social housing .

The definition I cited in my writings and teaching over the years was that first and foremost, architecture is a social art, used to create spaces and places for human endeavor.

I still believe that.  Thank you, Pritzker jury , for remind me of that

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and is the arts and entertainment observed, heard locally on 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net, and read on cityobserved.com and discerning websites.