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Sam Hall Kaplan

Architects Honor Two Local Legends

April 14, 1985

Two local legends, one recently created and the other abiding, have been tapped for honors by the American Institute of Architects.

The recently created legend is the design kit of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games that was conceived by Jon Jerde, Deborah Sussman, Paul Prejza and others, managed by David Meckel and implemented by dozens of other inspired local individuals and design firms.

The abiding legend is architectural writer Esther McCoy, who, in an impressive collection of articles and books over the last few decades, has documented the rise of design and designers in California.

The AIA cited McCoy and the Olympic design team, along with five other individuals and four organizations, for "distinguished achievements that enhance or influence the environment and the architectural profession." They will be honored by the institute at its convention in San Francisco in June.

McCoy's books include "Five California Architects," which, since its publication in 1960, has become a classic, and her recent and acclaimed "The Second Generation" (Peregrine Smith). From her home tucked into a hillside in Santa Monica's Ocean Park, McCoy, at the age of 80, continues to view the local design scene with a rare perspective and an engaging enthusiasm. (A profile of McCoy appears in today's Opinion section.)

In its announcement, the AIA declared that McCoy "is one of this century's great American writers on architecture . . . at once a historian, critic, essayist and memoirist--a writer who illuminates through keen observation and who expands our esthetic sensibilities through her choice of subject matter."

Nice thoughts, but one must wonder why it has taken the AIA so long to recognize McCoy's contribution to architecture. Perhaps, if she had written from the perspective of New York City's West Side or Washington, D.C.'s northwest instead of about the West Coast from the West Coast, the institute might have responded more quickly.

As for the design for the Olympics, it was created to "express a moment rather than memorialize an epic," according to Jerde. It consisted of a so-called kit of architectural elements, such as columns and arches, used in various combinations at nearly 100 sites where athletic and cultural events were held.

Included in the kit was a select palette of colors and simple patterns which, in addition to being eye-catching, lent a code to the facilities. The look was dubbed "festive federalism" and created a tantalizing temporal facade for the Games.

"The startling economy of means displayed in the design of the facilities for these Games, coupled with their colorful thematic intensity, has set a new standard of innovative design that is certain to affect the look of future Olympic Games," declared the nomination. "If there was a special gold medal for creative ingenuity, the U .S. Olympic design should win it."

Other Awards: After announcing the winners in February, the California Council of the AIA finally put together a package of descriptive data and photos of its annual design awards. Of course, they came after publicists for various winners had sent out their slick releases. And then the chapter wonders why the awards do not get much exposure.

Among those winning a merit award, as opposed to the higher honor award, was John Aleksich Associates for the Albert Gersten Pavilion at Loyola Marymount University; Daniel Dworsky & Associates for a school for the blind in Fremont, Calif.; and Raymond Kappe and Lotery & Boccato for the Santa Monica Bus Administration facility.

I mention the merit winners because after viewing the packages and visiting some of the sites, I feel they should have won honors, certainly when judged against some of the buildings that did.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row by Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis, the rehabilitation of the Highlands Inn in Carmel by Shaw & Marquis Associates, the Camino Alto Court in Mill Valley and the Montgomery/ Washington Street multi-use tower in San Francisco by Kaplan/McLaughlin/ Diaz were deserving of honors.

However, the Oxley residence in La Jolla by Rob Wellington Quigley, the Maoil house in San Rafael by Fernau & Hartman and the Pacific Townhouses in Santa Monica and the Eats restaurant in El Segundo by Rebecca Binder warranted recognition, but not top honors. Though well detailed and distinctive, the designs appeared to me to be strained and self-conscious.

Also Honoring Designs . . . the California Building Officials, an association of local government officials who have on occasion sat on the other side of the counter when an architect has brought in his or her set of plans to see if they meet various code requirements. Unlike architects, this is not a group known to give out awards capriciously.

The association's awards for residences went to two projects in Beverly Hills; one a neoclassic-styled mansion designed by Kamram Khavarani and the other a condominium complex by Richard Bliven.

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